A summer morning in the early 1990s. He was about 15, a pupil at Wesley College, one of the rugby-playing* Protestant schools of south Dublin that both boys attended. (Victoria went to a girls’ school, Rathdown – not a rugby school unless there were some shenanigans that were well hidden.)
For some reason I was at home in Co Wicklow, skiving off work. Susan was elsewhere.
The phone rings.
Hello, is that Professor Monkhouse?
It’s Brian Duffy here, deputy head at Wesley.
What can I do for you, Mr Duffy?
Well, I’m ringing to let you know that I’ve suspended Hugh from school for the rest of the day.
Do you want to know why?
If you want to tell me, Mr Duffy, and I sense that you do.
This was not the response he expected. I had the impression that it enraged him.
He was talking and laughing in the library. I asked him to stop. I left for a few minutes and when I returned he was up to his old tricks. I didn’t care for his attitude, so I’ve sent him home.
Well, Mr Duffy, thanks for letting me know.
Is that all you have to say? Do you have any response?
Since you ask, I think that’s rather pathetic. Infantile even.
He went ballistic. “I’ll have you know that I have only his best interests at heart … ” and more in similar vein. When he’d finished ranting I thanked him again and said goodbye.
The school was about 12 miles from home, and buses were not frequent in the middle of the day, but after a while Hugh rang me from a phone box in Enniskerry and I drove the 1.5 miles to collect him. He noted the hint of a smile on my lips. The rest of the day was pleasant enough.
Petty rules and irrational discipline in a school where prizewinners and pupils honoured at Speech Days often, inexplicably, had the same surnames as governors and members of staff. Incredible, isn’t it?
Not long afterwards Mr Duffy was appointed head of High School, another south Dublin Protestant school, though less rugby. Like Hugh, he has passed to life upon another shore. Perhaps they have met once again in that greater light.
* Before I sign off, let me tell you of an occasion when in the second form (age 13 I guess) Hugh collided with a huge sixth form rugby jock, Leinster trialist Eric Miller if memory serves. Little Hughie said, “hey you, watch where you’re going, you fat fecker”. Within seconds he’d learnt that alliterative skill does not overcome instant karma.
Psalm 119 verse 99 goes “I have more understanding than my teachers”, well known to Hugh from his chorister days. It was a maxim that he took to heart and made his own.
Happy birthday, big man.