When I was 13


I turned 12 (my 13th year) in January and was all stressed out about secondary school. Back then you had do do your ‘entrance exams’ and if you made a mess of these you were consigned to the educational slow lane for the next 5 to 6 years.

I wanted to go to the same school as all my friends but my vicarious parents were having none of that. I had two choices – Cholaiste Chriost Rí – a bastion of Irish speaking and gaelic football. Luckily for me, I scored an E in the Irish entrance exam which counter balanced my A in maths to convince my parents that I’d be put into the class with the knuckle draggers.

The alternative was a place called St. Francis Capuchin College, Rochestown. this was a Victorian pile run by men in brown dresses. out in the countryside. I had come from a sweet suburban school built in the 1970’s and was now sitting in a place that resembled something from a gothic/catholic horror.

I did better in this entrance exam and coupled with the Capuchins‘ policy of equality for all and no streaming it was decided that this is where I’d spend the next 5 years. (back then you didn’t ask the 12 year old whether they thought it was a good idea or not. They didn’t have a clue and they were better off not being asked. If they were asked what they wanted they’d have spent the rest of their life stuck in front of an Atari.)

Once that momentous decision was out of the way I had to get my confirmation out of the way. Despite the superficial bravado of these days I was actually a deeply spiritual child and had it not been for the ban on ‘impure thoughts’ and ‘impure actions’ (and marriage, come to think of it) I’d have been a great priest. Having just read that sentence and in light of recent ‘revelations’ about the actions of priests in Ireland it might make me sound like a bit of a pervert but it is the total opposite that I’m trying to convey.

Anyway, the ‘confo’ was a great financial success (blue polyester three piece suit, black shoes, cream shirt and blue tie – underwear and socks supplied by model’s mum) and I was able to go on the ‘school tour’

To Amsterdam

And so began a lifelong interest in the ways of the Dutch.

Some of the more memorable events of this trip to Amsterdam were:

My first passport and flight in an aeroplane – I have a distinct memory of stuffing my pants pockets with as many ‘lemon scented towelettes’ as they would carry.

First trip outside the Emerald Isle (my father was 25 when he first left, my son was 3 months on his first trip).

First trip to the red light district in Amsterdam (not last)

First (and last) trip to Brussels and the European Parliament.

First (and last) visit to the Delta project. However, this had a deep and lasting impression on me and was one of those moments where I knew I wanted to be an engineer (more than anything else as opposed to some Saul-like moment).

I bought my mother a little delft windmill. she still has it on the sideboard at home.

Because of that trip and because I had no strong desire to spend another summer in a field in Ireland in paramilitary garb I got a ‘buy’ on the summer camp with the Scouts.


The other major event of 1983 (for me) can be summarised by the following words:







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