I was really only 15 but it was my 16th year. Go back to when I was 3 if this is a bit confusing.
When I was 15 it was 1986.
The year of Chernobyl.
The year of my Inter Cert (that, like old points for the Leaving Cert, dates you. A bit like remembering money before decimalisation)
The year I started driving in earnest – possibly the only up-side to having your father die young was you got to drive the family car at the age of 15. I’d nearly put it in my will that they couldn’t drive the car if I thought they wanted to.
The year I went to Kanderstag and smoked cigars and listened to the Pogues for 2 weeks.
I suppose the most significant thing for me, aside from taking on the role of ‘eldest male’ in the family, was doing my Inter Cert (or, if you’re not from this fair land, my Intermediate Certificate). I was blindly oblivious to the low road of ‘pass’ subjects so marched happily to the scaffold doing something ridiculous like 9 ‘honours’ – although I think things like history, geography (the oxbow lake anyone?) were all at a common level.
Still, this was like the entrance exam to secondary school.
If you fucked it up you’d be breaking rocks for the rest of your life. The stress was legend.
I had all the usual subjects and the unusual combination of Latin and Mechanical Drawing. (as opposed to Art and Commerce). I liked both subjects and the teachers. The latin teacher was an old missionary priest called Fr. Donatus. Having spent a lifetime helping out in ‘Black Africa’ he was rewarded by teaching a bunch of ungrateful pups the nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative and ablative of both regular and irregular Latin verbs .
Still, I appreciated it and Fr. Donatus (meaning the gifted one) makes it into my top 5 teachers of all time. Mainly because he took what he did seriously (vows of poverty, etc. and he had the patience of Job when it came to dealing with us. He was also very, very good at teaching Latin. So good, in fact that I took Latin for the Leaving cert as well.
The exams themselves were more to be feared than actually that much of a big deal. It was more of a step on the way to becoming an adult. Y’know, the whole protocol of cramming, the exam hall, the invigilator, the constant stress and worry.
Just to give you a flavour of what it was like back then most of us used to be marched off by our parents on the morning of a big exam to mass at 07:30 to pray for success in our exams. I mean, if I told you that that was happening in the most hardcore Madrasah you’d think, yea, par for the course really. But that was just over 20 years ago in this green and pleasant land.
In this context, when you look at the ‘Celtic Tiger’ it was really about the radical secularisation of a country where the church had held power over the people for centuries.
And we blew it all on Range Rovers and fake tits. Serves us right really.
there was one other big event in 1986.
The Inter Results Night.
Back then there was a major moral outrage as the papers were plastered with pictures of 15 and 16 year olds blind drunk and pissing in the street (and that was just the girls) the morning after the Inter Results Night. As you struggled to hold down your corn flakes you’d pray to God that you weren’t in the paper for you were surely pissed and making a fool of yourself, along with everybody else.
After 3 1/2 pints of Carling Black Label with Brian Coughlan and his brother ‘Gus in the Washington Inn we ended up in Chandra’s ‘Nite’ Club. this was part of the Grand Parade Hotel which was mainly famous for a venue called Sir Henry’s. Here, the likes of U2, Nirvana, Sonic Youth and The Pogues all plyed their trade.
And where I had my first shift.
If you have ever wondered whether it is possible to kiss the same girl for 2 hours non-stop and maintain a horse’s handbrake for the whole shift I can confirm that it is possible.
The only down side to this life changing event was that the backing track wasn’t provided by my beloved Pogues, or even something like the Clash, or even U2. No it was provided by a man known to my Father-in-Law as Christy Burke (He calls Salman Rushdie Simon Rushdie and Giorgio Armani George O’Mahony)
Of course I was instantly ‘in love’.
She wasn’t and the following Saturday I took the walk of shame home as I had been given my first ’50’.