Passed/Failed: Fergal Keane

An Education in the Life of Fergal Keane OBE, BBC Foreign Correspondent, author and presenter of the Radio 4 programme `Resigning Issues'
Click to follow
The Independent Online
`Letters Home' by Fergal Keane is published next Thursday

Primary school: For me there was a long process of going from school to school. My father, who had come first in Greek at school, spoke fluent Irish and when we moved to Dublin I went to an Irish-speaking school. In my two years at Scoil Bhride I had a huge grounding in the politics of the Irish state - although for me it was too tinged with the Green of nationalism.

I was there for two years, then went to Miss Carr's, a preparatory school. She was a fine, solid woman. I won my first prize, for my work on King Arthur. At eight I went to St Mary's College, which I think Joyce mentions playing rugby against.

This was a time of great tension and shouting at home - and of corporal punishment at school. My mother, who was very much against corporal punishment, moved me at nine to Terenure College, a marvellous school run by Carmelite (as opposed at Armalite!) brothers. They were wise, agreeable men and it had an easy atmosphere.

Move to Cork: I was 10 when the family split up. We left my father and moved to Cork, my mother's home town. St Joseph's was a culture shock. It was a "national", a state primary school, very solid academically but very tough. On my first day a big boy sitting in front of me asked if I was "handy". I didn't realise it meant "tough" and that this was a challenge to a fight.

In the second of my two years there, I remember standing in the playground in the middle of winter with the rain lashing down and boys fighting. I thought to myself, "My God, I've got to get out!"

Secondary school: At 12 I passed the entrance exam to Presentation College, a public school where all my uncles had gone. It was run by the Presentation Brothers, who I call the political wing of the Christian Brothers (they had broken away). The headmaster, Brother Jerome, had worked in the developing world and had a real mission for change in Ireland. Instead of religious instruction every day, he introduced two classes of philosophy, which in Ireland at the time was revolutionary.

He set up a group of boys to visit the elderly poor and raise money by a fast. There are several housing estates throughout Cork which were built through this scheme.

In and out of trouble: I got into a lot of trouble: helping to smuggle a vicious terrier into class; conspiring to stuff a dead bird into a teacher's case. Instead of cracking down, Jerome insisted that I join the school debating society - and I won the Provincial Gold Medal for Public Speaking (about police brutality in Ireland).

I was late for him all my time at school; in January 1999 I heard he was ill - and arrived at the hospital 30 minutes late.

University: I got six Honours in Intermediate Cert (GCSEs) and five Honours in "Leaving Cert" (A-levels). The plan had been for me to go to college but from the age of 13 I had wanted to write and travel: to be a foreign correspondent. My uncle introduced me to a newspaper owner who offered me a job. I said "Yes" immediately.

Irish language: The grounding in the Irish language I had at Scoil Bhride has never left me. In a foreign country when I'm on the phone and don't wish people to understand what I'm saying, I speak Irish and no Serb listening in is going to crack the code.

Interview by Jonathan Sale

Comments