The article below appeared in The Irish Times Magazine on May 30th 2015.
Back when students had time to daydream
Who says schooldays aren’t the best days of our lives? This charming photo of a group of young women sitting under a tree on a sunny day at St Mary’s Dominican Convent in Cabra, Dublin says otherwise. It’s so vivid you can almost smell the grass and hear a bird chirping away among the branches. (Indulge me. Anyhow, there were twice as many birds in those days – so it’s a statistical probability).
What is it that speaks so strongly of summer in the image? The short-sleeved Aertex shirts which, for anyone who went to boarding-school in Ireland around the 1960s, are instantly redolent of chilly post-Easter hockey sessions. The pushed-up sleeves of cardigans. The upturned face of the girl seated third from left, basking in the heat like a sunflower.
The shot is dominated, not – as you might expect – by the Reverend Mother perched on her folding chair in the foreground, but by the massive bulk of the church. It looms over the scene, its forbidding straight squareness only barely softened by its beautiful rose window and the exuberant, untamed branches of the nearby tree.
The nun, in fact, casts a modest shadow. Her posture, as she leans towards the girls, suggests affection rather than regulation – although she certainly hasn’t cast off any of her regulation regalia in honour of the bright weather.
As for the girls, there are a baker’s dozen of them, every one – whether her head is bent over her book or, as with the two mischief-makers on the bench at the right, occupied with something rather less cerebral – a clearly defined individual.
Are senior-level secondary-school students allowed to sit outside on the grass and daydream nowadays? If health and safety doesn’t prevent it, exam pressures almost certainly do. With the darkest days of the exam season almost upon us, we wish all the best to students of every gender and scholastic disposition. There’ll be time for sunshine and daydreaming again, guys. There will.
* This picture taken from Irish Times Archives from 1965. The original article which accompanied the 1965 photo was a piece about St Mary’s Cabra school by Richard Stewart.