I suspect that most people in Ireland associate the June Bank Holiday with last minute cramming for the Inter/Junior Certificate and and the Leaving Certificate. I certainly do! I was in the Book Centre in Waterford today and couldn’t but notice an anxious- looking mother gathering up all the essentials for her son who is due to sit the Leaving - pens, pencils, ruler, calculator, geometry set ….. It was when she asked about geometry sets that I felt that wave of panic coming over me about theorems, calculus, sets and every conceivable kind of angle, triangle and dreaded equations ….. The Conferdation of Kilkenny shot into my mind as well. What date? Was it before or after the Battle of Clontarf? I was in such a tizz before the Inter Cert that I lost all sense of when anything happened.
I was incredibly lucky to be living in Drogheda for my secondary school years and the big release for pre-exam nerves was to go to Baltray Golf Club, a few miles out the road, to watch the East of Ireland Golf Championships. Oh, the fresh air blowing in from the sea and the joy of seeing players like Pat Mulcare, Mark Gannon, Roddy Carr, Arthur Pierce drive the ball a mile up that glorious links. All thoughts of exams dissovled as I watched these ‘fine things’ stride up the fairways, chip in from bunkers, sink impossible putts …..
I don’t know how it has been for other people but the June Bank Holiday has remained very significant during my life since those times before big school exams. Tennis was always incredibly important to me and the most memorable victory of my career was at the Greystones Senior Open over the June Bank Holiday in 1980. My father retired after 40 years in the bank that weekend and I felt I should be at his retirement party. However, he insisted that I play in the Greystones Tournament. I ended up in the final on the Monday, playing a long-time friend, Sandra Drum who was from Greystones Club. We slogged it out for over three hours, with each of us losing and saving match points as the crowd gathered to watch this duel. Coming to the net was never my forte but on about my eighth match point, punch-drunk from exhaustion, I made a mad rush to the net to face Sandra who was already there. The volley rally that ensued felt like it lasted about ten minutes and amazingly, I managed to pay tribute to Father, by miraculously angling the ball just enough that Sandra couldn’t quite reach it. Game, Set and Match. Suddenly I realised that the angles from Leaving Cert Maths had their moments!
June Bank Holiday, 1995 saw me arriving home from hospital with a new baby and not a notion how to do even the basics like changing nappies, or bathing him. How I wished I’d swotted up on this like I had for exams and practiced for tennis tournaments. Why had no one told me that it took an hour to get a baby grow on and that babies necks are all floppy. Maybe they had but I didn’t want to hear a thing about it.
Just as the June Bank Holiday was associated with the arrival of a new member of the family, it was also the weekend on which my mother died. That was three years ago and was another of those milestones for which I wasn’t prepared. Can one ever be truly prepared for the death of a parent?
I can feel the tension building as the Junior and Leaving Cert exams loom. No doubt, I’ll have my annual nightmare about looking blankly at the Maths paper while everyone else is happily drawing circles with brand new compasses and smiling gleefully at the words ‘Pythagoras’ theorem, written in deepest, darkest bold. Does that ring any bells, school or otherwise?