Schooling makes all the difference for young Ray

Continuing our series, where we asked local prominent citizens to pen a letter to themselves at age 16, here Dr Burn remembers an earlier – and perhaps more innocent – time.

Our series will conclude this Friday, with the Tribune editor, Karan Gabriel, sharing her letter to her 16-year-old self.

Dear Ray,

At 16, World War II was just completed. VE Day, as we called it, was on the Feast of the Assumption, when we had a holiday from school anyway. It was a day of overwhelming joy and happiness with huge throngs of people throughout the city and with very little poor behaviour, if any, though I did see people making love in Hyde Park.

During the previous five years everything was serious; families lost fathers, sons and daughters, school friends lost older brothers. There was rationing. Everyone was working.

Looking back after many decades, I realise now the fullness of the great debt I  (and you) owe to our parents and to our teachers. No until you look back on your own children and grandchildren and you see what your children do for theirs, does it really become manifest just what parents do for their children and how much they put up with, and of how much they deprive themselves, for the benefit of the children.

You went to a small parish school. Sister Pierre took sixth class; she was a martinet whom I know recognise as a nun dedicated to teaching. In those days, most children left school at the end of year 6 and went out to work – they swept floors in the shops, delivered telegrams, lucky ones got apprenticeships. Few went onto secondary school and, of these, two thirds left after the intermediate certificate (year 9). You were among the half dozen who stayed back to 5pm each day and came to school on Saturday mornings for extra teaching. You didn’t think it was an imposition – you did it because that was what you were told to do. And so, this selected six out of a class of 60 got bursaries which paid your fees through high school.

In secondary school you studied the subjects laid down – no choices. The Christian Brothers encouraged study and the concept of a disruptive class was something that was not then known. But the main interest in the school was football and athletics. However, in your final year again, you will be among the selected half-dozen to stay back afternoons, come back some evenings, and come in on Saturday mornings – so that you will get what is called an Exhibition, to pay the fees at university. But you, the 16-year-old to whom I am writing, all this was to come your following year.

Something which you at 16 cannot comprehend is that a couple of miles away, at Santa Sabina College, is the diligent student and basketball star Ann Daniel, who is your destiny.

Dr Ray Burn with his 'destiny', Dr Ann Daniel.

Dr Ray Burn with his 'destiny', Dr Ann Daniel.