I have been thinking about my mam all week. It began with a thing on the radio about the experience of people who use their left hands to write and the way schools treated them in times past. 

My mother was eight years of age when sent to a convent boarding school, due to difficult circumstances for my grandmother and grandfather. Her older sister was 14 years older than her and away nursing in England. So my scared and lonely mam was sent off to Skerries, a seaside town on the outside of Dublin.

She was left handed. The nuns tried to slap that out of her. When she wrote with her left hand she was hit with a ruler. When she wrote with her right hand she was slow, so she was hit with a ruler. While we were growing up she would make a joke about it all saying her right hand never knew what the left hand was doing. The biggest impact it had was that she didn’t finish school and always thought she wasn’t clever enough

You would know just what a terribly tragic thing that was if you knew her. She read ferociously. She would read old copies of Dickens. She had actually finished Joyce’s Ulysses. She loved Yeats’ poetry and would just sit reading it while drinking tea while the twintub gurgled away. 

But the nuns could never beat knitting out of her left hand. She wasn’t able to teach me to knit because I am right handed. But she would sit and create aran jumpers, fluffy cardigans and baby jumpsuits, all emerging from the dark nights sitting watching Minder, Starsky and Hutch and Hill Street Blues. Her aran jumpers were something to behold. She could follow complex patterns, picked up from the wool shop in Camden Street, reading them once and checking them every so often, and letting her left hand work its magic. 

Despite all of her obvious talents she never fully recovered from the deep seated insecurity instilled by a hateful teaching system.

Thanks be to God all of those days are over. I have a brilliant son, who excels at many things who writes with his left hand, kicks with his right foot and who has never known a day when his teachers have done anything other than praise and encourage him. 

His older brother has just finished school, having finished his A levels and very soon he will go to University to begin the next chapter of a life that fills his parents with pride unsurpassed. So far his experience of teachers has been of mentors, encouragers, and persuaders. From Scoil na Fuiseoige where he was part of a family where everyone is treated with love and care from day one to the tearful last day, to St Malachy’s where he has grown to be a man and discovered his vocation lies in the law. Through all of those years when he wobbled or worried he wasn’t good enough, he met teachers that showed him he absolutely was/is. Teaching is a different country for my children to what it was for their grandmother.

Our only sadness this week is that his grandmother and his two grandfathers aren’t here as he plans college. But I have no doubt they are somewhere bursting with pride.


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