Updated: 06/09/17 : 05:06:59
Printable Version   Bookmark and Share Share This


Sligo Sixty Seven winner was....better access

By Eugene McGloin
Political Editor

THE SLIGO skyline changed little enough as the revolution of ''free'' secondary education rumbled into view.

Not at first anyway but in the half century since we have seen many changes.

Not just to the skyline either; it can be argued that the real revolution in Ireland was ''free'' education.

The cosy notion was (is?) that hauling down the Union Jack in Dublin Castle fifty years beforehand was the Real Deal, that that was Freedom.

No, not quite the best fit but then neither was ''free'' secondary education free, in any sense, from Day One.

That wasn't what made September 1967 special: Its main merit was that it widened the ACCESS to secondary education.

It was a revolution driven by ordinary women, themselves locked out of just about everything just then, and their children starved by elites of full access.

Up to that the sphere of secondary education was (too) much in the hands of wealthy and well-to-do.

The Catholic Church initially gained most from ''free'' education but probably paid the biggest price for it too but that irony is a debate for another day.

Social Tide

A poet much loved in Sligo, the late John Montague, memorably described the patrons of ballroom chains set up by Albert Reynolds after his Summerhill College years.

''Shoals of minnows'' was how Montague memorably mirror-imaged the first turning of the social tide in the Ireland of the Sixties.

That same phrase perfectly time-capsules the scene(s) as shoals arrived at the doors of secondary schools across Ireland in September 1967.

New Classrooms

They must have been both secretly excited AND unsure in those weeks and months before we arrived in Summerhill, the Diocesan college.

New classrooms were built to greet us at Summerhill but they 'hid' themselves out the back.

That incongruity didn't quite shoehorn so neatly into the brave new world we heard so much about that summer.

Meanwhile, the shoals were let swim freely for a year before any attempt was made to 'stream' the minnows.

Stream? One of the wickednesses our 'free' generation brought as a value from the deposed British system was caste/class though we never dared name it as that.

Too Cruel

Oh no, but within Ireland we kept our sensuality for Separateness and nurtured it....gave it different names before we occasionally culled it, culling sometimes too cruel.

In the next decade after ''free'' education Bob Geldof would memorably write of an Ireland in which ''the traps had been sprung long before we were born.''

In the South anyway, Geldof's ideas allowed young people have access to passages of text -- namely, his songs -- which were (a) neither prescribed by patricians (b) nor proscribed or banned by a bureaucracy poked by bishops.

Tidal Waves

The tsunami of September Sixty Seven caused several tidal waves in Irish society in subsequent decades but these have evened out now.

The children of the 'children of 67' are in charge in so many places in Ireland now. Theirs is a work in progress.

Like Robert Frost's little horse and passenger we ''have miles to go'' before we sleep and rest easy.

It remains to be seen, and to be shown, that all or any of September Sixty Seven made a (permanent) difference, in terms of quality.

Cartels Power

There's the housing crisis, the power of cartels in every thread of Irish life, the abuse of wealth by bosses and bankers, inequality even in high-profile public bodies.

That -- and much else -- could suggest that, like the Sligo skyline of Sixty Seven, the evidence of (quality) change is scant enough.