When We Were Kings and Queens of the Road: Austin Comerton

Austin Comerton was born in Ballinasloe Co. Galway in 1953: After completing secondary school, he worked at the Bank of Ireland before going into business in his mid twenties. He emigrated to Canada in 1988 with his wife and two daughters.
He worked in the Office Furniture industry for a number of years before moving to a satellite communications company. His career offered the opportunity to travel to most parts of Canada and the USA. He retired in 2012. Retirement has enabled more travel, golf, cycling, kayaking and time for grandchildren.
In 2005 he commenced broadcasting an Irish show on an ethnic radio station and migrated to establishing an internet station in 2016, Irish Radio Canada, which he continues to operate. He maintains close connections to Ireland through his radio work and is a regular annual visitor.

My earliest school memory is sitting on the floor as part of a row of children, two groups facing each other and swaying to and fro as we sang “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”. That was Baby Infants in the convent in Ballinasloe. I started school at three as my birthday is in mid October and, I guess, my Mother must have persuaded the nuns I was ready for school.

I am the youngest of six and at the time we were living about 1.6km from the school and we walked. My father did not have a car then and I have vague recollections of sitting on the small saddle attached to the bar of his bicycle.

Childhood photos from Austin

On returning to school for the second year, I was moved from Middle Infants to High Infants. There were four classes; Baby, Junior, Middle and High Infants. I would have been 4 at that point in time. From then until I did my leaving in 1970, I was always the youngest in my class, by as much as two years.

At the age of 5, I started at St Grellan’s NS. It was an all boys school with seven classes, each with their own teacher. We moved house while I was in 2nd or 3rd class to about 500 metres from the school. I recall before that move, my sister would cycle home at lunchtime and on her return trip would deliver a hot lunch.

School, in many ways was unremarkable. Aside for one unforgettable day, when I was repeatedly slapped for putting my hands in my pockets,. That was the day I was moved from middle to high infants and there was no desk available so was put standing against the wall for the remaining period until a desk was moved into the classroom. Being bored and uncomfortable, I stuck my hands into my pockets.

At 10 years of age, in 5th class, my Dad was transferred to Ballyhaunis. This was a three room school, with turf fire heating and outside toilets. Shank’s Mare was the normal mode of transport. Moving from a seven teacher to a three teacher school took a little adaptation. Being a small school, there was no 7th class, so I started secondary school at 11. We were again transferred in May that year and I completed my 1st year and 2nd year in the Carmelite College in Moate. I was then sent to boarding school in Ballinasloe where I did my leaving in 1970 at the age of 16.

There are teachers that stand out in my memory that I can thank for helping me along the way. Moving at those stages in my life left me with a detached sense of belonging to place. I claim Ballinasloe as where I am from, but then qualify it by adding that I’m not really from anywhere. The period in life when many form rooted connections did not happen. I was also too young to participate in sports with my peers.

What I learned from this period of my life is that being among emotional peers is more important that being among academic equals. It’s possible to catch up academically, but not in maturity.

On behalf of the Museum of Childhood Ireland, and Robert Burns, we would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all of our wonderful participants for their time and their stories. We are thrilled to be presenting this project and we hope you will enjoy following along with us in the coming weeks.

Have a story on this topic and want to get involved? Contact us on our social media sites, or email us at cbrowne@museumofchildhood.ie – we would love to hear from you!

By Chloe Browne

Chloe Browne is an Irish writer, curator and Art Historian, with a keen interest in objects and social history.