“Come over here you idiotic riny so everyone can see how green you are!”
“Riny Flynn. Riny Flynn. You can’t see down him. You can’t see in.”
I detested the boys at the Galway School and their arrogant self assuredness. They knew they were ignorant and were proud that no matter what they did in school they would become magistrates or politicians like their long absent fathers. Their only goal in life was to avoid the pandybat they all deserved. They moved as a mass on the sports fields and loved the filth and stench that followed them everywhere. Their eyes were the bulging eyes of fish gasping their last breaths on the fishing boat decks in Galway. Fishermen with muddy boots rubbed and kicked the nets. They would never catch me.
“But if you’re wanting a fresh fish my young lad there’s no point in going any further to market. Your mum will love ‘um. Ha ha ha!”
Ignorance. Stupidity. I never understood why the school held out such inconsistencies as models for conduct. The football fields were bestial swamps. In the quiet study hall where we learned our texts and sums reason and faith floated through the air like diaphanous gardens spreading the translucent light of the glowing lamps. But how was I to concentrate with notes passing back and forth between students with rude limericks and dirty jokes sending snickers into every corner of the room. The schools in Dublin were not like this. They had hearthrugs and fireplaces, not cold slimy ditches where bullies threw weaker boys.
“Flynn, are you asleep? I said conjugate the verb amo.”
“Amo, amare, amavi, amatum. Sir.”
“Yes and what does it mean boy.”
“‘To love’ Sir.”
“And who do you love boy?”
“The three persons within the Godhead; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As our beloved Savior said ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it thou shalt’
“Enough Flynn this is a Latin class not a religion class.”
Then the cat calls and hoots would start quietly.
“Flynn the Pope. Flynn the poop. Holy Mary Mistress of God. Have mercy on them’s like us.”
“Hurry up ‘Father James’ the boat leaves in one hour. And there’s only one boat a week from Galway that’ll put you on the boat to Rome. You don’t want to break their hearts at the Irish Pontifical College now do you! Highest honors in theology at Trinity College. We’ll miss you my boy but they’ve never seen one like you I wager, not even in Rome.”
And they hadn’t. Away from Ireland at last and free of the miasma of paralysis everywhere you turned in Dublin I soared in Rome. It was everything I wanted. The professors were scholars and brilliant theologians. By the second week of the term I had shown them the clever replies a Trinity graduate could make to their questions about the Creed. I breathed in theology, Greek, apologetics, the beautiful Latin liturgy as it was sung in Rome. Up at 5am, cold shower, Matins, breakfast, class until noon. Lunch was served in the refectory with its 16th century wooden panels and glorious windows. Professors ate with us, drawing us out on the intricacies of canon law and liturgical practices, the nature of sin, the glories of the architecture of St Peters. Afternoon class. Sunlight. Warmth. Beauty. Evensong. Compline. Bed.
Each church season outdid the one before it in the splendor of the Masses – All Souls’ Day, Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter. I was riding a wave of ecclesiastical brilliance that my classmate sod busters from Armagh found impossible to comprehend. My preceptor, Father Duncan, quickly understood how different I was and began including me as an acolyte for funeral masses and marriages and baptisms, introducing me after each service to more and more literati and Church nobility. Then came the individual research tutorials with visiting European church scholars, the dinner invitations, the Papal receptions. “Drink up, James. You won’t find champaign waiting for you when you get back to the bogs. Enjoy it while you can!” And I did.
“Now James,” said Father Abbott, “you must go into the field. For our Savior said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest.” You have learned well these past five years, so now you must go spread the fruits of your learning. You will undoubtedly be delighted to learn that Cardinal McCarthy himself has named you to the post of Director of Studies at the Galway School. We will miss you Father but are delighted that the Lord has…”
I didn’t hear anything else he said. The Galway School. Director of Studies. Only days after the ordination that made me one of the most respected clerics at the Irish Pontifical College in Rome God had made me Director of Studies at a third rate boarding school in Galway, the very one I had never wanted to see again. I would be teaching the ignoramus children of my Galway School classmates. Protest was useless; I knew more about the vow of obedience than perhaps anyone else in Rome. On the other hand, I knew more about drinking than perhaps anyone…, ok, well maybe not more about drinking. But I could still drink.
And drink I did. Slowly at first. I could still get through the Mass. The social occasions I loved so dearly were getting trickier as I tried to time my drinks. 8pm one glass. 9pm one glass. 10pm my ass.
They had to carry me on board the steamer. The College arranged for the ship’s chaplain to keep me locked in my cabin. No ship’s chaplain from London to Galway. I don’t even remember arriving in Galway.
“Father Flynn what has happened to you?”
“Father Flynn is here again, here again, here again.”
“Who will bring him beer again, beer again, beer again.”