My secondary schooling (ages thirteen to eighteen) occurred at an Irish language school run by Dominican nuns. It was called Scoil Caitríona, that is, St. Catherine's.
I found myself wondering a few days ago who it was named after. (Or named for, as my American readers would say-- and come to think of it, it makes more sense.) St. Catherine of Siena?
The funny thing is that I don't remember ever wondering this during my years in the school. Not once.
I currently work in the James Joyce Library in University College Dublin. I probably say the words 'James Joyce Library' several times a day. But a picture of James Joyce, or a thought of James Joyce, never comes into my head. It just slides off the tongue now.
I liked Scoil Catríona, but the Catholic environment didn't impact on me much at the time. I had a brief but intense religious conversion on my summer holidays, after my first year, and I remember looking approvingly at a statue of St. Francis (or was it St. Anthony?) when I returned. That passed, however.
I'm quite pleased that I was never anti-Catholic. I quite liked the school's religious pictures, statues, etc. and I didn't mind the prayers before class at all. I hated religion class but we didn't learn very much religion in it. It was mostly personal development and pop psychology and other fuzzy stuff.
I was anti-Irish language, though, and anti-nationalist. Not all the time. I passed through different phases. I had several things to contend with. As I've mentioned before, I was (intermittently) very drawn to romantic nationalism that was agrarian, traditionalist, revivalist, sentimental, and so forth. But the Irish nationalism around me (I don't mean in Scoil Caitríona, but in Ireland in general) was none of these things. It was urban, anti-traditionalist, anti-sentimental, quite often anti-religious, and usually cynical. That confused me and made no sense to me, although I wouldn't have been able to articulate this confusion.
Come to think of it, one of the many reasons I was anti-Irish language was because its supporters were so vague about why they wanted to revive Irish. "We're Irish and we should speak our own language", they'd say. But why should Irish be our language? Why not English, after all? It does the job.
It didn't make any sense to me that they were revivalists and traditionalists when it came to the Irish language, but they weren't noticeably so in any other regard. They seemed entirely modern and progressive and hardheaded in other respects. Again, I wouldn't have been able to even think this through, certainly not express it. But it was undoubtedly there, and I even expressed something close to it in some satirical poems.
(Yes, I was a weird kid even to be thinking about this stuff. Socrates famously said that the unexamined life is not worth living. For me, it's not so much not worth living as simply impossible, and this has always been the way for me. I've always needed to be consistent.)
I still don't really adhere to the 'matter-of-fact' nationalism that so many of my contemporaries seem to espouse. Why should any particular territory have its own government? What's so obvious and necessary about that? If we're not going to care about reviving traditions in general, why revive a language? If we are going to accept globalization and homogenization ("become cosmopolitan and outward-looking"), why get perversely sentimental about Irishness when it comes to the World Cup or when we're making movies and albums? How can we emphasise our traditions and distinctiveness when it comes to seeking the tourist dollar, but cringe at them all the rest of the time?
I didn't intend that rant. I was only going to remark on never having wondered who St. Catherine was. Maybe I should write more about my schooldays.