By Andrew Bushe
Dublin — Derry’s St. Columb’s College holds a unique position in Nobel history as the only school in the world with two Nobel laureates on its past pupil rolls : poet Seamus Heaney, who took the Literature prize in 1995, and now John Hume, winner of the peace prize.
But if past experience is anything to go by, the 1,750 pupils may not get a day off when Hume and joint winner David Trimble are awarded their citations in Oslo in December.
"We tried that in 1995 when Seamus Heaney was the laureate and the Department of Education refused us permission to give a free day," said the college president, the Most Rev. John Walsh.
"I just wonder will they be consistent this time. We’ll definitely try and we’ll definitely honor John Hume in the school by inviting him in for the boys to show their appreciation."
Other prominent schoolmates of Hume and Heaney include Seamus Mallon, now deputy first minister in Northern Ireland, and playwright Brian Friel.
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
Hume was not only a pupil but also a teacher in the 238-year-old school. Hume left the school in 1954 and Heaney was three years junior to him and left in 1957.
Walsh himself was a pupil of Hume when he taught French and history in St. Columb’s between 1962 and 1967, at which time the laureate left to pursue politics full time.
"He was a rather good teacher," Walsh told RTE. "He would have used the target language — that’s modern parlance — he would have taught in French most of the time when other teachers would have taught through English. That was innovative.
"I also never saw him use corporal punishment. In schools in Ireland corporal punishment was used liberally. John Hume would never have resorted to that. One would admire him for that."
Walsh said there was a great "buzz" in the school after the Nobel Prize announcement.
"Boys and teachers are delighted," he said. "John Hume is much admired in Derry. People respect his adherence to principle. They respect the enormous courage that he has displayed over the years."