In loving memory of
Mary Byard (nee Kenrick)
A Dia Dean Trocaire
HISTORICAL PEOPLE OF BALLINGARRY (Courtesy of www.ballingarry.net)
Don Byard (1940-1996)
(Born: 22nd Jan. 1940 — Died: 24th Feb. 1996)
by Don Byard
“How did you ever finish up here ?” is a question often posed to me nowadays and indeed I suppose that I often ask myself the same question and indeed I have to take myself back many years to trace the origins of that move. I had started my teaching career in the country of the Scarteen Black and Tans under the slopes of the Galtee Mountains and had then spent over two years quite happily with the Christian Brothers in Carrick-on-Suir. I had spent one term in ‘digs’ in Carrick Beg and shared in some of the many attractions that Carrick had to offer even in those days in the late fifties and early sixties when I surprised all those old hand in the staff room one day by announcing that as it was my birthday and that I was now no longer a teenager - a term which had just been creeping into popular use and had connotations even at that stage of immaturity and a certain degree of wild abandon.
After a term in ’digs’ it had been suggested to me that I could just as easily drive to work from Fethard and the prospects of having a car for a young teacher was a dream I could not pass as it seemed to open up so many prospects to one who had experienced the frustrations of waiting hours for public transport, adjusting your routines on a Sunday so that it might be necessary to leave home for a lift after dinner to get to Clonmel to catch a late evening bus to Carrick with the prospects of spending hours waiting and waiting. I had tried ‘thumbing’ a few times and seemed to lack the skills for making my appeal gain the vital seat and a few times returned from the outskirts of Clonmel on a Sunday afternoon to ‘kill time’ until the one and only bus to Carrick came along about eight o’clock. The idea of being able to plan my own schedules and the independence offered was too good to be overlooked. My introduction to motoring is another story but after graduating from a dodgy Morris Minor to one of the first Mini’s on the scene- when such a car was for sale at £469 and could be bought for about £420 as an introductory offer to get over the sales resistance to the introduction of this new concept in motoring. My days with the Mini were happy ones and if ever a car earned its keep this one - FHI 856 - certainly did and saw most corners of Ireland and was usually loaded way beyond the designer’s idea of optimum capacity. In these cars I travelled to Carrick for over two years and was happily doing so in September 1961 when things suddenly took an unexpected turn.
Ballingarry up to that time had been just the name of a place that I had never seen. I knew it was ‘somewhere beyond Killenaule’ almost as if it was physically cut off in some way from the rest of the country. I had a vague recollection of going there for a car trailer of anthracite with John Whyte and collecting that load at the old mine site at Clashduff and being more intrigued by the whole process of coal mining as seen from the passenger seat of a car than in the location of the place and of course we never went near the actual village of Ballingarry that day but I was not even to know that. When I started teaching in 1959 a job had been advertised in Ballingarry and the good sisters in the convent in Fethard had offered to say some prayers for Michael Coady’s successful candidature as he was visiting Fethard at the stage. Coady was not successful ! His Gold Medal on graduation was for English and that in Christian Doctrine carried more weight with a former Diocesan Examiner, the late Fr. Michael Lee who was then P.P. of the place and so it was that another colleague, Sean Darcy became Principal in Ballingarry in 1959. In September 1961 I had seen an advertisement for a Principal in Ballingarry Boys’ N.S. on the paper and just said to myself that Darcy must have moved on and paid it no further attention.
However fate took a hand when somebody whose name I never learned passed away in Mullinahone. You may well ask what a death in Mullinahone could have to do with the whole saga for me but stranger things have happened from time to time. At that stage in my life I had returned to an old family duty, almost a tradition, of playing the church organ in the Augustinian Abbey in Fethard and was quite friendly with all the friars then stationed there. When I returned from school in Carrick one day I was met at dinner time in Fethard by a beaming Fr. Tony Leddin from the Abbey who announced to me that he had great news for me. He had been to a funeral that day in Mullinahone where he got into a chat with the P.P. of Ballingarry who casually asked him if he happened to know any young teacher who might be interested in a job as Principal in Ballingarry and he, Fr. Leddin, said that he knew just the one for the job and that he would bring him to Ballingarry that night. I am afraid that I left Fr.Leddin rather deflated when I told him that I had seen the advertisement for the job a month previously and had concluded that Sean Darcy had moved on and was not interested further in any moves as I was quite happy teaching with the brothers in Carrick.
The discussion then started on the ‘pros’ rather than the ‘cons’ of a job in Ballingarry and I have to say that I was showing quite a marked reluctance to all the plans that were being made. I was told the value of a Principal’s Allowance, the benefits of the experience of teaching in a two-teacher school if it was not my intention to stay forever in Carrick and even the difference in the mileage from Fethard to Ballingarry as opposed to Fethard from Carrick-on-Suir. In the end he more or less begged me to come with him to Ballingarry as he had given his word at that funeral in Mullinahone that we would go to Ballingarry that evening.
And so to Ballingarry we went on that day at then end of September 1961 and when we reached the village we were first shown to the curate’s house where I was both pleasantly surprised and amazed to find a curate who had an amazing selection of the best recordings available of opera and a hi-fi system to do them justice. He was also quite a connoisseur of art and already his front room was looking quite like a gallery. This was my introduction to Fr. John McGrath then curate of Ballingarry who was certainly both a dynamic man with ideas so far ahead of his time and yet rooted in all the traditional values of that time. We enjoyed a short recital before departing for the P.P.’s residence and never even thinking of asking any questions about the main purpose of our visit. Our visit to the P.P. was more formal but quite brief. Out of deference to Fr. Leddin I could not show my lack of enthusiasm but expressed an interest in the position, told him how I had seen the advertisement in the papers but was not really thinking about any moves at the time as I was quite happy in Carrick. I promised to think about his kind offer of the job and departed for home, satisfied that Fr. Leddin’s reputation was intact and that I had left the two Ballingarry priests in peace.
I mentioned the episode to the brothers in Carrick the following day and it did not merit any major coverage in the news of the day as we viewed it all quite objectively and mentioned again some of the benefits and possible drawbacks of such a move. Again my return home for dinner after school was to be greeted by another surprise as there was a telegram awaiting me from the P.P. of Ballingarry who had decided to waste no time and dispatched the message “APPOINTED PRINCIPAL BALLINGARRY N.S. MICHAEL LEE P.P.” This was getting serious and very suddenly at that and called for some very definite action on my part. A quick visit to the Augustinians raised no surprises and I began to wonder if further moves had been made without my knowledge. It was definitely time for serious thinking.
On arriving at school in Carrick the following morning I put my cards on the table and we had quite a lengthy discussion on the merits and demerits of my proposed moved if I was to make it. I have to confess that the brothers adopted a very objective stand on the whole issue and whether they were glad to see the end of me I felt that they handled the whole discussion very professionally and in the end we favoured a decision to go to Ballingarry. My discussion with the Principal were equally frank and helpful and it was agreed that I would stay in carrick until they had a reply to an advertisement to fill the position I was going to vacate. I notified my District Inspector as a matter of courtesy and contacted Fr. lee that I would be making arrangements to take up the position and i went home satisfied that all the comings and goings were over and a decision had finally been made. How wrong I was !
On the following morning my first visitor was my District Inspector who asked me some salient question which only proved to me how ‘green’ I was in relation to my proposed move. had I seen the school ? Did I discuss it with the previous Principal ? Did I know why he had left ? Did I not realise that he was a strong strapping lad of over six feet who had found the going too tough in Ballingarry and whose predecessor had got out of the place because of the discipline problems there ? He said that it was in his interest to see a teacher in the school as it was in his district but that he would hate to see me walking into a situation that I could not handle. He said: “You would need to be some sort of a missionary to go to that place !” I said that I had notified the P.P. of my intentions to accept and he advised me that I could just as easy notify him that I had changed my mind as I had nothing binding signed as yet which contractually obliged me to go.
I was dumbfounded. If I did not go I was reneging on my commitment to Fr. Lee. If I did go and I made a mess of my new appointment I could hardly expect much sympathy from my District Inspector as he could have reminded me that he had advised me and that I knew too much to accept well-meant advice when it was given in my interest. I certainly felt in a quandary. I discussed it with the brothers again and they said to think for a little while and not to rush things and perhaps have a word with Sean Darcy and get a first-hand opinion on the situation as he saw it.
My journey home that evening was slow and troubled as i mulled over the whole dilemma in which I found myself and after dinner I made a quick trip to the Abbey to pass on some of my problem to Fr. Leddin for whom I was beginning to entertain some murderous thoughts as I felt that he handed landed me in this whole mess. he was taken aback by this new development and played a very safe hand when he offered to pray for me. My thoughts were far from prayers at the time. I decided that my best bet was to contact Sean Darcy and arrange to meet him and so it was that on the following evening I arranged a trip to Thurles for a full discussion on the developing situation.