Pat doesn’t go into great detail about his school life in his autobiography. Instead of viewing school as a place for education, Pat describes it as a place that gave him “some sort of escape” where “reality could easily be forgotten.” (O’Mara, 52) From this quote, I understood that for Pat, there was little enthusiasm for his schoolwork or a genuine interest in learning. He doesn’t provide much information on his time in school but rather, the impact school had during his childhood and the relationships he had with the people he met there.
Pat attended two schools during his childhood. The first school he attended was St Vincent’s in Norfolk Street before he was transferred to St Peter’s in Seel Street. St Peter’s was an English school with the majority of students being Irish-Catholic boys whilst the teachers were British. This seemed to be paradoxical for Pat, as he says the ‘English-Irish schooling was an intense love of the British Empire and an equally intense hatred for England as opposed to Ireland.’ (O’Mara, 57) In his autobiography, Pat comments on how this impacted his perception of his Irish roots and how ‘the sound of a patriotic Irish air will make me want to get out my shillelagh for the old wrongs of Ireland’ (O’Mara, 57). His time in education gives insight into the history of England and Ireland and the lasting effects of the Great Famine during the mid 19th century, but also the neglect of the British Government who caused millions to die.
The tensions become a significant period in not just Pat’s life, but throughout history as ‘the British had an enduring, yet uneasy, relationship with their Irish counterparts.’ (Smith & Worley 2018). He reflects on this throughout his time at school and it becomes easier to understand why there were tensions when his school had ‘patronised and Britishised’ (O’Mara, 57) him whilst his mother ‘Irishised’ (O’Mara, 57) him.
There is no denying that school was an escape from his home life, as Pat could distract himself with his school friends and temporarily forget the suffering his family faced living with an abusive father. Pat had many friends during his school life and of many different nationalities: ‘Frankie Roza, half-caste Protestant Manilla boy…Jackie Sanchez, fiery yet amiable Spanish boy…Freddie Seegar, comedian, of German-Irish parents.’ (O’Mara, 57) He mentions how the schoolboys would often talk about their fathers and it’s during this period in Pat’s life that racism becomes prevalent when one boy asks: ‘Is your father a nigger?’ (O’Mara, 63). Pat intentionally uses this quote to highlight how there were racial tensions throughout his school life that would appear again later on in 1919, when the riots would occur. The tensions show how it was slowly manifesting into the violence that would happen later on in his life and foreshadow the riots in Liverpool.
Pat’s school friends left school around the age of fourteen to begin a life of labour. He recalls how ‘all my pals had left school and were working’ (O’Mara, 95) which only made Pat lose interest in his education as it ‘held little charm’ (O’Mara, 95) for him. Once source I looked at indicated that pupils at school during this time felt as though school had made them ‘a better workman.’ (Rose 1993) It reveals that Pat was only interested in earning money like his friends but also provides an understanding of his attitude towards work.
His experiences with his school friends and the time he spent in school seems to reflect the hardship many minorities faced during this period. Although school was escapism from his home life, it is evident that Pat found no escape from the political and social issues in Britain.
Just like Pat, Pauline Wiltshire found an escape through school – why not check that blogpost out now?
O’Mara, Pat. The Autobiography of a Liverpool Slummy. The Bluecoat Press. 1997
Rose, Jonathan. (1993) Willingly to School: The Working-Class Response to Elementary Education in Britain, 1875–1918. Journal of British Studies. P128.
Smith, Evan, and Matthew Worley. “Introduction: The British Left and Ireland in the Twentieth Century.” Contemporary British History: The British Left and Ireland in the Twentieth Century 32.4 (2018) p437
Image 1: O’Mara, Pat. The Autobiography of a Liverpool Slummy. ‘A Carpentry lesson at the Bluecoat School (1900’s)’. The Bluecoat Press. 1997. p52
Image 2: Young, Phil & Jim Bellew. Whitbread Book of Scouseology Volume Two Merseyside Life 1900-1987.p 46.