Dr Patrick McEvoy, a past pupil of St MacNissi’s College and now a retired doctor, penned this short poem shortly after visiting his alma mater a few years ago. He has very kindly allowed it to be published on this website and has added a few thoughts about it.
The Rocky Road
Famine hands wrought this scenic road
that bore us hesitantly to school
meandering daily by bay and cliff
from Larne and Glenarm to Garron Point
then homeward, weary with relief.
Dunmaul’s Golgotha still stands sentinel,
sun low-slanting from the west
sharply lights up limestone headlands,
shadowing deep the basalt cliff,
setting alight the gold of whin.
Below, a battlemented tower
redolent of music in times past
juts above a stand of pines,
the mythic, wrinkled Sea of Moyle
draws my nostalgic eye to Mull.
Heady garlic-perfumed air
induces memory, of youthful hurlers
eager, confident, vigorous and able
yet each nurturing a quiet dread-
irregular verb, quadratic, periodic table….
A row of cannon sea-ward pointing
guards a lone and meditative priest
who strolls with breviary in hand,
lips twitching with the Songs of David,
‘… Laudate Pueri Dominum…’.
Sonorous the choir practice intones
amid a lingering scent of incense
polyphony, Gregorian or Latin hymns,
diagonal light through coloured apse
strikes burnished gold before it fades.
Now evident only in retrospect,
the subtle loneliness of each soul,
the individual striving shoot
belonging, but here not at home,
sprouting from a common root
Of study-hall, chapel, classroom and ‘dorm’
tasked to find each his own way
into battle with life’s realism
forward, upward, and then beyond
towards vistas only dimly seen.
Hurts implanted at that stage
[and they, perhaps, were not a few] overlay the beauty of this place
with mixed emotion, mood and memory,
the ethos of learning, growth and grace.
Let light, joy, healing, forgiveness
and gratitude utterly expunge
each tear we all shed than or since
recreating in spirit and in mind
all those nurtured in this space.
Ghost-like, this spring afternoon
by the cannons facing o’er the wall
I hear the cheers that come down,
down the many years between,
from the field beneath Dunmaul.
Where are they now who once did share
my vigils in this wild and solemn place?
I catch glimpse – a radio voice,
a media face, hint of triumph or of loss,
vocations to Africa and to God,
Some to teaching or medicine aspired,
and, cresting the waves of Europe or America,
an occasional scholastic or engineer,
others in commerce, politics, the arts,
and many a quiet life, or death.
What, then, of all our former mentors,
those feared but much respected ones?
We little reckoned their frustration
and aspiration on our behalf’
who scattered the seed, oft out of season.
Their uniqueness and value from us hidden
by soutane, academic gown and habit,
through seemingly endless exhortation
cajoled us with book, chalk and epithet,
and, not infrequently, inspiration.
Mostly gone, now, to their reward,
may they, in turn, now hear the cheers
resounding clearly down the years
and reap the riches they once did sow
in these fields beneath Dunmaul.
Many a hand wrought the rocky path
and spurred us on relentlessly
to face the heights and depths of life,
from the Tower at Garron, now to point me
homeward replete with joys, and grief.
Thoughts on the Rocky Road
On a brilliant May evening some years ago, scholars all departed at the end of day, on a rare revisit to the scenes of my adolescence I strolled round the silent campus. My mind unbidden rolled out a reel of half-forgotten young faces almost fifty years departed from those paths, to be replaced by generation, all at the same age.
Many at St Killian’s may be only dimly aware of the Garron Tower continuity of heritage, begun in far-off 1952 as St MacNissi’s College, a ‘junior seminary’ staffed by diocesan priests, St Louis sisters and [not many] lay men; a school of boarders, day-boys from Larne, Ballymena and The Glens – a resident community with commuters.
The bleakest of places at times [especially winter!], but a treasure most of the year; a unique building at its core, the Romanesque chapel a gem at its heart, an education offered to rich and poor alike as good as any on in the Europe of the time. I, like may others, have cause to treasure the hard-won knowledge that was shovelled into our [frequently] unreceptive and unappreciative minds.
The incomparable and kindly Fr Patsy McKavanagh penned the rousing and lyrical words and music of the old school song, ‘There’s a Tower on a hill in an Antrim glen that looks o’er the Sea of Moyle….’. Quotations from it recur through my composition, along with the school motto ‘Et Velle et Perficere’ [both to aspire and achieve].
The scene described will be [over-?] familiar to all at St Killian’s. I wish the school and all its people full and continuing success. St MacNissi’s lives on, subsumed under the banner of the new, but serving the self-same mission. I am not a believer in history as continuity; it is heritage that is invaluable and to be treasured. My meditation in verse is timeless.
Derry, June 2015.