It's easy to forget to say thanks to people who have helped you out along the way, especially people who are older and no longer in your life. That's why I'm happy to have the opportunity to say thanks (via an Irish Times article today on 'teachers that have inspired') to the legendary Hugh Barney O'Brien, my old history and English teacher. Hugh continues to power on as a huge voice for justice, rattling cages, volunteering, teaching history in the community, publishing books, being part of the drama scene, helping others, and enjoying life along the way. He also survived having me as a student (not easy I'm sure). 'Some man for one man!'. Here's what I said in the paper: >>
Inspirational teachers, Irish Times
Ruairí McKiernan on Hugh Barney O'Brien
"I particularly enjoyed history", says Ruairí McKiernan of his days at St. Aidan's Comprehensive in Cootehill, Co. Cavan. "I had a phenomenal teacher called Hugh Barney O'Brien. He is a local historian and dramatist. He had a small part in Father Ted at one stage." McKiernan recalls "He was stern, but he was also fun. A great character who wasn't afraid to provide a bit of comedy to engage the class. It was so obvious that he enjoyed what he was doing. His animation made us excited about history. So many teachers aren't into what they are teaching and it becomes clear to the student".l
The lessons have stayed with McKiernan. "He basically taught us critical inquiry. To question the source and the accuracy of everything. That's been invaluable for me...He gave me a great interest in history, politics, and media, and how the worldworks. This in turn has influenced me in my campaigning and understanding the importance of making your own media and getting your voice heard."
McKiernan is worried about talk of removing history as a compulsory Junior Cert subject. "It takes away a fundamental tenet of any society, which is to understand your history. Politically, it is quite dangerous as well. To understand politics, you need to understand history. If we all had a bit of that, we'd have a much healthier society and people would be more engaged in how the country is run."
McKieran continues to be inspired by his former teacher. "He's retired now and is a community activist who still campaigns, teaches and publishes. He's influenced me hugely and my main message to him would be 'Thank you'. Thanks for serving me and inspiring me and serving the community at large beyond the walls of the classroom"
- Article by Joanne Hunt, Irish Times (Back to School supplement).
A selection of Ruairí's articles published in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Sunday Times, the Huffington Post, and other publications.