'Mention of his name brings a smile and happy memories': Tributes paid to Cork teacher

The Echo columnist John Arnold pays tribute to his late former teacher John Hickson, saying the former St Colman's principal "had that great ability to make students want to learn". 
'Mention of his name brings a smile and happy memories': Tributes paid to Cork teacher

The late John Hickson has been described as a fine teacher and principal, "easy-going, smiling and good for a laugh". Picture courtesy of his family.

When I went to study in St Colman’s College, Fermoy in the autumn of 1969 it was a completely new and strange experience. Coming from the familiarity of a small rural national school Colman’s seemed enormous.

That year was special for me of course as I started my secondary education. For the college it was special also as the ‘New Building’ was opened for the very first time. Close on 130 of us started in the college that year -boys from all over the Diocese of Cloyne.

Boarding was still very much part of college life so we had four classes of first years and each class was representative of parishes from Waterford to the Kerry and Limerick borders. It was an exciting era in the college history and a new teacher joined the staff cohort that year.

That man was John Hickson and for the next thirty nine years he taught in the college - with a short sojourn in Clare. We knew he was a Kerryman by birth and therefore a passionate Gaelic football follower. Kerry won the All Ireland in 1969 and 1970 and John wasn’t slow in reminding any sports-mad young Corkonians about the King of Gaelic football Mick O’Connell and Co.

Thankfully before our term in Colman’s came to an end we had ‘glorious 1973’ when Cork brought Sam home - in fairness to Mr Hickson he was gracious in defeat. Born in Lispole and educated in the local national school and then in Dingle and UCD, he taught initially in Churchtown in Dublin.

Whilst in the capital John met Mary Daffy from Clare, who became the love of his life. They married in 1967 and came to Fermoy two years later, and truly Kerry and Dublin’s loss was Fermoy’s gain.

During my time in the college John Hickson taught me both English and history. 

To this day I still appreciate the love of education and that yearning to find out more and more that he bestowed.

From Donal Lehane in ‘primary’ school I brought a great grá for Irish and Mr Hickson also was imbued in the values of the Irish language, music and culture. The early 1970s was an era of remarkable change in Irish education. The old mixture of ‘stick and carrot’ was disappearing and teachers like Mr Hickson had that great ability to make students want to learn, rather than being forced to learn.

We loved his classes as he was easy-going, smiling and good for a laugh - yet he made ‘lessons’ interesting and ensured we got the work done. The late Dick Henchion was another teacher in Colman’s that was laid-back but so effective. John Hickson could never get me to grasp grammar or comprehension but fostered a love of the English language that I still have.

Similarly with history – he was more upset than me that I didn’t get Honours in Leaving Cert history but that little ‘mishap’ never dimmed my love for all aspects of history, and I can attribute that to Mr Hickson. After half a century the greatest tribute that can be paid to any former teacher is that mention of his name brings a smile and happy memories, and that’s how Mr Hickson is still recalled.

St Colman’s College was founded in 1858 and has a proud history as a top-class educational centre. In 2002, John Hickson added a new chapter to the college’s story when he became the first lay principal of St Colman’s, whilst Fr Donal Roberts served as the last president until the following year.

John held the position of college principal until his retirement in 2008. Four years later his world was shattered when his beloved Mary died. At John’s funeral mass last Monday, the chief celebrant, his great friend Fr Donal Roberts quoted poignantly from a letter written by Mary shortly before her death.

Her words to John were: “I am sure and certain we will meet again…. Think of me every morning - I’ll be waiting for you John to wake up…when at last you have to leave this world I know you will find me; your beloved Mary”.

So many of John’s former teaching colleagues and pupils returned to Fermoy on Sunday and Monday to pay tribute to John, and to sympathise with his four daughters Deirdre, Mary, Joan and Katie, his sister Rita and his beloved grandchildren.

Pupils from the College he loved and served so well formed a guard of honour as he bade farewell to Fermoy. The Motto of St Colman’s College is ‘Dílis de Dhia agus d’Éireann’ –‘Faithful to God and to Ireland’, a fitting summary to the life and work of John Hickson.

Rest in peace now Mr Hickson, and thanks for everything.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Echo 130Echo 130

Have you downloaded your FREE ie logo  App?

People holding phone with App

It's all about Cork!

Have you downloaded your FREE ie logo  App?

It's all about Cork!

App Store LogoGoogle Play Logo

Podcast: 1000 Cork songs 
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Crowley talks to John Dolan

Listen Here

Contact Us Cookie Policy Privacy Policy Terms and Conditions

© Evening Echo Ltd, Linn Dubh, Assumption Road, Blackpool, Cork. Registered in Ireland: 523713

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more