Miss Mary Peoples Of Manor Kilbride N.S.

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From Donegal to Manor Kilbride

Miss Mary Agnes Peoples was born in 1904 in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal and came as a teacher, to St. Brigid’s National School, Manor Kilbride, in about the year 1930. Mr. Garret O’Sullivan from Kenmare, Co. Kerry was Principal at the time and he and his family lived in the teacher’s residence which was the building next door to the school. The school and teacher’s residence were twin buildings, beautifully constructed in Wicklow cut granite.

Miss Peoples lived at Stoneyford near Oldcourt for a time and then lived in Harold’s Cross. She may have travelled by tram to the Lambe before the arrival of the Paragon Bus Company. In my time, she travelled by the C.I.E. number 65 bus, and like many Kilbride people who used the buses, she left her bicycle inside the gate of Tilly Hamilton’s house at The Lambe bus stop. She would pick up her bicycle each school morning at Tilly’s house and cycle the rest of the journey, which was about 3 miles, to the remote school at Knockatillane.

Sugar Sticks and Penny Toffees

Mr. Garret O’Sullivan died suddenly in 1932. Miss Peoples managed the school on her own for a year or so before the arrival of the new principal, Mr. Sean Newman who came from Ballivor, Co. Meath. She then taught junior infants, senior infants, first class and second class.  The junior part of the school was separated from the senior side by a partition. Her job was not an easy one and she would often become impatient and any one of her pupils could become the victim of her distressed state. Corporal punishment was legal in those days and she would hit you on the knuckles with her short hard stick. Later she would be sorry for her actions. She had a little store of sugar sticks and penny toffees and liquorice that she would have bought at Mooney’s shop and she would hold a raffle for a penny toffee. You had to guess a number between 1 and 20. The child on whom she had earlier inflicted the most punishment, inevitably would be the one that won the toffee. Mr. Newman taught from third class to sixth. Some years there was a seventh class. Miss Peoples also taught singing and sewing to the senior classes. These were considered very important school subjects in those days.

The ‘Peck’

Her nickname was Peck. This name cropped up when she was teaching the class Glenn Miller’s “The Woodpecker song.”  It included the line “hear him pickin’ out the melody, peck, peck, peckin’ at the same old  tree.” One of the girls associated the “ peck ” with the teacher and that was that; it stuck and everybody called her Peck from then on, though not to her face of course.

A Very Glamorous Lady

Miss Mary Peoples was unique. There was nobody like her around these parts at that time. She was a very glamorous lady and always wore stylish clothes, makeup and jewellery. Her wavy auburn hair was beautifully groomed and kept in place with hairpins and clips. She often wore long beaded necklaces, tied in a knot. She used to twirl her hair up at the back so that it sat nicely in a wavy roll. Sometimes, if she had to fix her hair or makeup during the day, she would ask a girl to help her, holding her little mirror up to her, or holding the hair in place while she fixed the hairpins.

In the morning, when she arrived at school, the fire had to be lit. It was a very cold building with a wooden floor, huge high windows and a high ceiling. The older children used to help with lighting the fire. Old pieces of newspaper would be crumpled up and placed in the grate. Then a few sticks and coal would be laid on top of the paper and the paper would be lit.  Miss peoples wore a plastic mack and a kind of plastic pleated bonnet, on wet mornings cycling to school from The Lambe.  Often, her nylon stockings and her shoes would be soaking wet and she would have to take them off to dry them at the fire. Her makeup would be ruined and she would have to apply more powder and lipstick in our presence as there were no staff rooms or teacher’s toilets in those days. We children didn’t have much sympathy for her at the time and we used to think this was hilarious. We even delighted in giggling and talking among ourselves afterwards about her hardship; we couldn’t relate to her problems, perhaps because we thought she was so different to us. She was kind natured and many a wet morning, she offered a place at the fireside to a child who had also become wet from the rain on their journey walking to school.

A Passion for Nature & Gaeilge

Miss Peoples was passionate about nature and encouraged her pupils to be keen observers of the world around them. She was fluent in the Irish language and nature study was conducted through Irish. Before we left second class we knew the Irish names of all the common birds and flowers. She taught us about the habitats and the nature of various birds and mammals and about the migration of birds.  She would tell us to watch the movements of the birds, how the geese would fly in formation, how the starlings would flock together in the autumn, and how the swallows would prepare to depart for Africa at the end of summer, lining up on the telephone wires. We learned to recognise the different bird’s eggs. We were expected to observe the birds building their nests, to look out for bird’s nests on our way to or from school and to report what we had observed. It was a delight to discover a nest in a wall or bush and to watch the progress from egg to fledgling- na gcearcaigh oga. On frosty days, if she spotted or heard a bird in the schoolyard, she would ask urgently for a “piosa lon” from each of us and she would put the bread out for the hungry spideog, smolach or dreoilin.  All our little tales went into a journal which she was writing in the school. It was called Iolar Chille Bhride- “The Kilbride Eagle”. In it were put all our reports “as Gaeilge” of what we saw on our way to school. The sight of a hare, badger’s sett, or fox’s den made a worthy story for the journal and spotting a red squirrel at The Branch would be a cause of great excitement. The “Evening Press”, a popular national newspaper at the time, carried an article about this on 6th April 1961 when the school was 99 years old.

We collected and learned the Irish names of all the common wild flowers –“cam an ime”, “ lus an chromchhinn ”, “sabhaircin”, “bainne bo bleachtain” “noinin”, “pluirini sneachta ”. We would gather bunches of these and bring them in to school where Miss Peoples would place them in jars for display. She would point out how the dandelions and daisies closed their petals in the evening. We were taught to appreciate the abundant fruits and flowers of the hedgerow, “an sceach geal”, “an draighnean donn”,  “na smeara dubha”.

Songs & Music

She had a great knowledge of music and an extensive repertoire of songs in Irish and English. In the junior classes we learned Irish nursery rhymes like “Is feidir liom rith mar an coinin ”, “Bhi leprechaun faoi scath na gcrann”, “O is maith liom mi na Bealtaine”, Bheir mi o”, “ Hey little hen” and lullabies, like “Seothin Seo-ho” and “Brahm’s lullaby” with Irish words. She taught us the tonic solfa and the rudiments of music. The modulator was used regularly. It was a long chart which was hung in front of the blackboard. We learned the scales, arpeggios and intervals of the major scale. She would use a tuning fork and a pointer and point to the “doh” first. We would sing it and then be expected to sing any interval of her choice, “doh- soh, doh -fah  doh – ti etc. The senior classes would come to her classroom in the afternoons to learn the songs. She played the harmonium to accompany us. She trained the school choir for big events such as the annual catechism exam and singing exam which were very formal and serious occasions in those days. The children would be taught to sing in two part harmony.  We would learn special hymns for The First Communion and the Confirmation and Christmas. “Bring flowers of the rarest”, “Heart of Jesus Sacred Heart”, “ I’ll sing a hymn to Mary” . In Kathleen Cullen’s time, they did a play in Kilbride Hall called “The message of Fatima”. For this, the children were taught plainchant – “O Sanctissima” , “The Magnificat” and “Salve Regina”. They also learned Gunod’s “Ave Maria” and “Panis Angelicus”.  Moore’s melodies were popular and Stephen Foster songs, for instance the Negro Spiritual “ Massa’s in de cold ground” , “Beautiful Dreamer” , “ Poor old Joe”, “Way down upon the Swannee river”, “The sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home”, and many more. “Cill Cais ” and “Sean O’Duibhir an Ghleanna” were other great songs in her repertoire.”. Kathleen Cullen remembers when Miss Peoples took some of the children over to the home building where Molly O’Sullivan, Gareth’s sister, lived for some time after his death. There was a gramophone there and Miss Peoples taught the children to waltz to the music of Strauss. This was about the year 1940.

We learned many good songs in Irish and English and new songs were added very often, so that each new class would learn different songs. We had a little blue covered booklet called “Abair amhran” which contained the words of many of these songs.  “Cruacha glas na hEireann” was a favourite in my time in the early 60’s and the beautiful air “An Leanbh Sidhe ”. We learned “Sancta Lucia” with English words. Much of her music came from Donegal which I think was of particular benefit to us who would not otherwise have been exposed to it.

The Sewing Inspector!

Needlework also was a compulsory subject for girls at school. Unfortunately Miss Peoples was not fond of teaching sewing or knitting as was evident from the bad humour which would regularly overcome her during these classes. There was tremendous pressure on everybody to produce a complete neat sampler for the sewing inspector whose visit was anxiously expected before the end of the school year. In it had to be placed, a sample each of tacking, hemming, backstitching, a French seam, a run and fell seam, buttonhole, and darning. It must have been extremely difficult for Miss Peoples to get us to follow her instructions because she would nearly always lose her patience and complain that our efforts were appalling. There were sure to be a few girls in tears by the end of sewing class; in fact she would be close to tears herself, exclaiming  “God give me patience. I’d be better off sweeping the roads! ” We were taught knitting, plain and purl. The most dreaded task was “turning the heel of the sock”. It caused ructions. Very few people could honestly say that they ever mastered this piece of 4 needled perplexity.  The sewing inspector would inevitably arrive and poor Miss Peoples always showed signs of defeat at the end of that particular day.

An Inspiration in her Community

My grandmother, Mrs Mary Craul at the shop in Manor Kilbride, was a close friend and Miss Peoples would come for a visit every couple of weeks and they would have tea together. She would impart her secrets to my Grandmother, whom I’m certain would have been a loyal confidant.

Mary Peoples married John de Freine, late in life, perhaps when she was in her late 50’s. She retired in 1965 having given 35 years of service to St. Brigid’s schoolchildren and on January 8th 1966, Rev. Fr. Crinion p.p., on behalf of the parish, presented her with a painting of Ballyward Bridge.  She died on March 7th 1980 at Our Lady’s Hospice, Harold’s Cross and is buried at Mount Jerome cemetery. She had spent the best years of her life in Manor Kilbride, many miles away from her beloved Donegal. She was an inspirational teacher who enriched our community with her wonderful store of knowledge.

Ar dheis De go raibh a hanam dilis.   




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