First lectures at University College Galway 1953

Extract from ‘Memoir of an Irish Economist – Working Class Manchester to Irish Academia’ by  Labhrás Ó Nualláin  

University College Galway

University College Galway

 First day as Lecturer in UCG, Oct. 1953
           Awaiting me on that first day was a note from Professor O’Buachalla, at the Porter’s Desk in the archway that opened into the Quadrangle. The note stated that he was away and set out the names of the courses that I would be teaching, through Irish only.  With the help of the staff in the Registrar’s office I learnt that lectures were to commence on the following Monday, and that the courses which had been allocated to me were to be distributed over the Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturday mornings.  When I was supplied with a copy of the Calendar, I expected to find a description of the courses which I would be called upon to teach. To my surprise, and dismay, I found that there were no such outlines for the Commerce Course to be found in the 1952-‘53 Calendar.  I had to go back as far as the College Calendar for 1948, before I found that essential information I was seeking.  I then obtained copies of the relevant examination papers for a number of previous years, and armed with these vital sources I was able to draft out my opening lectures for a few weeks ahead.  However,the time-table meant that I could not get to Dublin to see my family at weekends. It took me about five or six weeks, with the co-operation of one or two academics who were willing to adjust their own lecture time tabling, together with the assistance and good will of my students, before I was able to have my class room schedule so adjusted that I could take some of the lectures on Wednesdays and Thursdays and so be able to travel to Dublin on the Friday afternoon train.
I noticed that several members of the teaching staff were in the habit of going into their lecture halls dressed in their black gowns and for a few weeks I adopted that mode of dress, as I had brought with me that black barrister’s gown, originally the property of  ‘the Pope’, Eoin O’Mahony, which was passed on to me during my period as a law student at Trinity College during the mid-Forties.  At that time Honours Law students, as I was, were obliged to wear the gowns, which could be rented from the porters lodge at the main gates, at a charge of one shilling a day.
I had to admit that the wearing of gowns for teachers was a good protection from white chalk dust, of which there was plenty, when writing out accountancy problems, on the ancient wooden adjustable blackboards in the Greek Hall. It did not take me long to acquire confidence when I stood before my students and dispensed words of wisdom, particularly when I was presenting lectures on the Economic History of Britain and Ireland, two topics in which I had long been interested.  I had a good grinding over the years in coping with Accountancy, both in theory and practice and I found no difficulty with the terminology involved, even through Irish. The Business Organisation course, as presented in the College Calendar was elementary, as was the Statistics course, of one term only.  Economic Geography (2nd Commerce), was at a fairly acceptable level and again I experienced no difficulties in the area of terminology, as I think neither did the students.
Students of high calibre
 In the 1950s and 1960s, the majority of the Commerce students and also many of the Arts students had obtained their secondary level education up to Leaving Certificate examination, through Irish. During the 1950s and 1960s, these students would have full proficiency in speaking in Irish, and they played a leading part in the students Gaelic Society, An Cumann Éigse. Their examination scripts also indicated a good command of the Irish language.
On the whole, they were of high calibre and did quite well, some of them reaching a very high standard in the Degree examinations.  One thing did surprise me, even in my early years of teaching at U.C.G. was to hear most of these students as they were leaving the classroom at the end of the class, turn and speak to each other in English. By comparison with the young University students I had known at UCD and Trinity College in the 1940s and early 50s, the UCG.students certainly appeared to be less mature. I have in mind the day students who participated in the student debating societies, at UCD such as the Commerce Society, the Cumann Gaelach, the Literary and Debating Society and especially those students in the UCD Company in the LDF  during the years 1941–1947.
As I worked my way through courses as laid down in the old College Calendars, I was struck by the similarity between the Commerce course at Galway and the B. Comm. course I had experienced some ten years previously at U.C.D. Teaching through Irish presented no problems for me, whatever about the students. My morale had been boosted by my experiences speaking at outdoor Clann na Poblachta meetings in various parts of the country, irrespective of whether I was standing in an open cattle truck or on the side of a ditch at  ‘after –Mass’ meetings.  Here at College, there was no danger of hecklers or people shouting me down, or asking awkward questions. The students had apparently been well conditioned at their secondary schools to accept whatever their teachers told them.
In those early years in my time at UCG, there were no such modern teaching aids such as overhead projectors, slides or microphones.  Indeed, teaching in those days was all ‘Chalk and  Talk’. 
Labhrás O’Nualláin


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