We had good times but it was a tough old school!

St Catherine's High School, Holmfield, formerly Catholic High School and before that of course, St Thomas Moore's school
St Catherine's High School, Holmfield, formerly Catholic High School and before that of course, St Thomas Moore's school
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St Thomas Moore’s: tough and rough. A school to be reckoned with!

Having read Mr D O’Hara’s account of how his memories of his halcyon days were the happiest school days of his teaching career. I am not one for dampening the man’s obvious fervour as he describes the great times he had with the students he taught and the colleagues he worked with.

When I read this article and digested what he had to say it took me back, in fact I was taken aback! Was this the same school that I went to from 1968-1972; the same St Thomas Moore’s that was, in my opinion, one level above an approved school; a school so rough and tough that other schools and pupils would quake in fear when they talked about Tommy Moore’s?

This school at the time was made up of some of the toughest, roughest and hardest families in Halifax. Many of these families came over from Ireland after the 2nd World War and the vast majority came over in the 1960s to do all the hard manual work that the English of the time would not do. I remember the family names and families that made St Thomas Moore’s a school to be reckoned with, especially when it came to fighting.

As a young lad I remember my elder brothers, John and Patrick, talking about those hard times; the hardship that most working class families had to endure. There was always a lot of friction between the other schools at Holmfield, ie, J H Whitley, Holy Trinity and Highlands, who were predominantly protestant, whilst Tommy Moore’s was the Catholic school in the area. There were many stories recounted on how the boys from St Thomas Moore’s marauded the very playgrounds of those school.

I am sure Mr O’Hara’s reflections of the pupils he taught and the colleagues he worked with, the headmaster Mr O’Reilly. Mr Smith, Mr Ruane, Mrs Fraince and many more who ran the school with strong disciplinarian ethics. I have to say I don’t remember Mr O’Hara during my time between 1968-1972, it may have been a happy time for him, but for me, my memories are of a school that let many of its pupils down.

I remember that one of my most popular subjects was French, when the teacher felt dictating the lesson. For the most part he would leave us to chat and talk among ourselves, whilst he put his feet up reading the national racing paper and picking his horses for the following day. There was always someone standing guard in the corridor in case the headmaster was on the prowl, meantime, me and the lads would be dramatising the battle of Britain with pencils and pens on A4 paper.

A few years later myself and a few ex-school mates had an occasion to bump into our old French teacher, where do you think it was? Yes, you guessed it, the local Ladbrokes Bookmakers. He was pleased to see us but gave us a rye smile when we said, “Paddy, the only thing you taught us was how to place a bet, work out how many doubles or trebles were in a Yankee and a Round Robin”. We all had a laugh about this then we parted.

As I retorted Tommy Moore’s was both rough and tough with teachers, who had to be made of stern stuff. A couple of teachers, who will remain nameless, who were very bullish in dishing out discipline, give you a severe strapping for next to nothing. In one class, we had a teacher, who looked like Hannibal Lecter’s father. He really was a nasty piece of work, during the lesson he grabbed one of the pupils and bounced his head off the radiator; yes that teacher was scary!

Don’t get me wrong, there were some good times at St Thomas Moore’s and I’m sure there will be other ex-pupils who will give you a nice flattering spin and opinions of their school days.

Over the years I have reflected, laughed and occasionally screamed when one thinks about the poor level of education that school gave us, thus leaving many pupils woefully unprepared for a career or employment.

I don’t contest that Mr O’Hara enjoyed his time at the old school or that they weren’t memorable, but I do take issue with his implication that all Catholics and people from Halifax were somehow labelled as nervous neurotics; merely because one parent came to remonstrate about something he did not allude to.

Back in the day, there were many schools who failed to give their pupils a decent level of education; the unfortunate thing is that Ofsted reports state that in 2012, many of our schools are still failing to provide our children with a level of tuition that will enable them to be ready for adult life.

I only hope that they are not as tough or as rough as my old school, St Thomas Moore’s.

Joseph Stokes

Pye Nest Gardens