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I life less ordinary
In the final months of his battle with cancer, TONY GREGORY sat down with Hot Press to discuss his life and career. Knowing it would be his final interview he was in a reflective frame of mind.
Jason O'Toole, 23 Jan 2009
Did you feel privileged getting into university when you came from a working class background?
The funny thing about getting to university was that I didn’t know what a university was when I was in second level school! Trinity College was, for me, a wall along Pearse Street and had the Book of Kells. It meant nothing to me. It may sound very strange now but, at that time, the privilege was getting into second-level school. The vast majority of the kids from my area either left school when they finished primary school, or went into what was called the local Tech or vocational school, or got an apprenticeship. My father would have had the same approach because everybody he worked with at the docks had their kids leave school early. That’s what he thought would happen with me. Whereas my mother, who was from Offaly, like our friend Mr Cowen, had a different experience. Rural people’s experience was that the only way out of poverty was through education. So, from the time I started in primary school my mother was preparing me – showing me how to write, getting me to practise at home and so on. She got me through primary school into the scholarship class, which was a Corporation scholarship, to O’Connell’s Schools.
It would’ve been unusual for an inner city kid like yourself to get accepted in O’Connell’s back then, as the Christian Brothers had a policy for that particular school of refusing entry to the local community. I know this because I attended the same school.
That’s correct – it was unusual. The local kids went to Saint Canice’s Primary on the North Circular Road – no local kids in the ‘50s went to O’Connell’s. To walk from my house to Canice’s you had to walk past O’Connell’s. I’d see all these fellas in their red blazers, and gold braid and red caps getting off buses and walking sedately down to O’Connell’s, while the ragtag from the local area – including myself – went up to Canice’s. Now, the Christian Brothers in both schools lived in the same house. It was segregation! Class segregation. How I ended up in O’Connell’s was there was a scholarship. It was a miserable amount of money but it made all the difference. If I didn’t get the scholarship, I was going to the Tech in Parnell Square.