Éasca Péasca (Easy Peasy): Student Stories – Scoil Rois

Student Story by: Carrie Ann Gobnait McKenna

My story begins in the quaint town of Carrickmacross, nestled in County Monaghan, also known as the “Farney County.” It was the year 1985 when my memorable journey at Scoil Rois commenced. This journey introduced me to the rich world of Gaeilge, Gaelic football, Irish dancing, and even a wee bit of French. Scoil Rois was founded in 1985, ironically occupying what used to be a Protestant school, right across from the St. Louis convent. These two buildings were among the town’s oldest standing structures.

The school building had three floors, with two of them visible from the town’s main street. As a wee girl, it appeared massive and slightly intimidating with its winding stone steps and creaky wooden floors. I couldn’t fully appreciate the history and beauty within those walls at that time.

Beneath the building, hidden behind imposing wooden doors (which we were forbidden to enter, but my rebellious nature sometimes got the best of me), lay the remnants of the town’s once-bustling train tracks. My imagination would run wild, pondering how far those tracks might take me, even though the town’s train station had closed down in 1947.

Initially consisting of just four rooms, Scoil Rois expanded over the years with the addition of several prefabricated buildings. Our schoolyard was perpetually muddy, and we’d often leave with mud up to our knees. Thankfully, our uniforms were brown, YES BROWN! which seemed fitting given the schoolyard’s condition.

Scoil Rois was led by one teacher/principal, the man, the myth, the legend – Micheal MacSuibhne, also known as Maistir MacSuibhne. Hailing from Ballyvourney in the Gaeltacht region of southeast County Cork, Maistir had a thick Cork accent to match his thick jet-black mustache.

He was the heart and soul of the school, teaching us Gaelic football and Camogie/Hurling from the tender age of six. We played daily tournaments in the yard, with teams named after cities like Learpholl (Liverpool) and Manchain (Manchester) for soccer, and Gaelic football teams bearing names like Baile Atha Cliath, Muineachan, and Ard Mhacha. These playtimes were the highlight of my day, as I realized early on that I was more of an athlete than a scholar.

Carrie on far right.

Winning the All-Ireland

After school, we’d engage in football matches wearing our maroon jerseys against other national schools in the county, including Latton, Aghnamullen, and Killany, to name a few. It was during one of these matches when I was around twelve that I was invited to try out for the Monaghan county under 14 team. Little did I know that this opportunity would lead to playing midfield for Monaghan and winning my first All-Ireland Title.

Our school trips were not your typical national school outings. On one occasion, three classes embarked on a journey to Ballyvourney, Co. Cork, lasting about three days. For those familiar with Ireland’s geography, this was quite a journey from Ulster before the motorways were built. Maistir MacSuibhne arranged for us to be hosted by local families, and we played football against the local bunscoil. We were just 32km from Beal Na Blath, where “The Big Fellow,” Michael Collins, was assassinated, and we had the opportunity to visit his memorial.

Maistir MacSuibhne had deep roots in Ballyvourney and took immense pride in his village’s history. In fact, he was so passionate about the village’s heritage that he had several of his female students chose the name of its most famous medieval resident as their Confirmation name. Saint Gobnait of the 6th century was the patron Saint of Bees and Iron Workers, with her feast day on February 11th. Many of us from Scoil Rois, including myself (Carrie Ann Gobnait McKenna), adopted her name.

Although the school expanded over the years, moving to a new modern building and changing its uniform, the memories of that older school remain irreplaceable. The trips we took, the friendships I forged, and the lessons I learned continue to bring a smile to my face and warm my heart.

Reflecting on those times now, I realize that, growing up in a border town, I was too young to grasp the significance of our heritage, language, and history. Some things that seemed so “normal” then hold deeper meaning for me now.
My parents would pack us into our Nissin Bluebird every Saturday morning and take us to the nearest swimming pool, which, back then, was across the “border” in Newry, or sometimes we’d venture further to the Olympic-size pool in Dungannon. At the “border,” our car would be stopped by the British army, and they’d search it for reasons I couldn’t fathom.

Living away from Ireland for as long as I have has deepened my connection to my homeland, even more so than some friends and family who never left. My humble beginnings in a small school in Carrickmacross seem distant now, but my gratitude for that time has grown immensely over the years. Memories of Maistir MacSuibhne and the history he taught in Gaeilge (even though I’m pretty sure he thought I wasn’t listening) come back vividly more and more often.

Many years have passed since my days at Scoil Rois, secondary school at Inver College, studying at DKIT, living in Madrid, and ending up in Pittsburgh. Despite all the changes, I often think back to my beginnings at Scoil Rois.

I’d happily return to those days in a heartbeat. I’d gladly go up to the blackboard to explain a math problem, even if I didn’t know the answer. I’d willingly ruin my new runners on a football pitch that was 99% mud. I wish every child could have as many happy memories of their school years as I do.

I continue to play Gaelic football, but now I’m the only Irish-born player on a team comprised of strong Irish-Americans and members of other ethnicities. The Pittsburgh Banshees represent my most cherished connection to the life I once had, and I take great pride in having won three national titles with this fantastic team of athletes.

I’ve built a life and a home for myself here in Pittsburgh, and I now have two beautiful daughters, Sienna, aged five, and Sadie, aged four. My greatest wish for them is to have a strong, influential teacher like Maistir MacSuibhne was to me, to attend a school as warm and welcoming as Scoil Rois, and to carry on our heritage by speaking our national language and playing our country’s sports.

Maistir MacSuibhne has since retired from teaching, leaving behind a thriving school. I write this as a tribute to a remarkable teacher and an exceptional individual who shaped generations of students, instilling in them a love for their heritage, language, and sports.

Carrie Ann Gobnait McKenna is originally from Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan. She immigrated to Pittsburgh in 2003 through the Walsh Visa Program. With a background in hospitality management and airline fraud investigations, she has worked in the IT industry for the past 15 years.

Find this column and others from the November 2023 issue here!

Marie Young

Marie Young

*Marie Young is a native of Dublin, moving to Pittsburgh in 2001. She is the Irish language instructor for The LCTL Department at the University of Pittsburgh. She is married to a fellow Irish man John and has 3 children, Jack (22), Ronan (14), and Tiernan (8).

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