At boarding school, to relieve the tedium of our incarceration we greatly looked forward to exeat Sundays. These were two Sundays a month when we were free after morning chapel, until evening at eight o’clock. This was a boon to those who lived within easy reach of Dublin and were able to go home. If boys from the country, as I was, were to avail of the freedom of an exeat Sunday their parents had to submit names and addresses of relations or friends near the city to whom they could go, or give permission for their son to go home with a friend. Before leaving school the headmaster gave an exeat slip to each departing boy for his parent or host to sign to confirm that he had indeed been for the day where he said he would be.
One Sunday a boy, Ken, from Bray invited me out. The day arrived and it was critical to catch the earlier bus to Bray to be in time for lunch. We collected our exeat slips and ran for the gate and out onto Blackhall Place where we were just in time to catch a No 72 bus. As we approached Bachelor’s Walk we positioned ourselves on the platform and before the bus stopped we jumped, and ran along the quay. Ken leading, we ran across O’Connell Bridge, down Aston Quay and just in time for the single decker No 45 bus to Bray. When we arrived I was glad that we could walk, for it seemed to me that Ken with his lumbering run, ran everywhere.
Ken’s parents welcomed me warmly with appetising smells wafting from the kitchen and a familiar programme on the wireless. At the end of a fine Sunday lunch Ken beckoned me from the table and informed me that we were going to the pictures. I had never been to the pictures on a Sunday before, and it was certainly something that I wouldn’t mention in my next letter home.
Before we arrived at the cinema, I already felt guilty. Suddenly Ken broke into a run; we were late for the film. Having missed the opening, I sat consumed by guilt in the smoky cinema for the duration of the film, and emerged into the late Sunday afternoon to start running again. This time to Bray Wanderers football ground where Ken decided that if we were quick we would see the end of the match without having to pay. We arrived at the terrace and could see only the backs of the crowd. We pushed our way to the front. No sooner had we positioned ourselves with a good view of the pitch than the referee blew the full-time whistle. To my great relief we walked home.
After tea, sitting at the fire Ken suddenly jumped up: ‘We’re late.’ He grabbed his bag, we said our good-byes and out the door. Before we were fifty yards up the footpath Ken stopped: ‘The exeat slips.’ He ran back, and when he returned with the signed slips he kept running. It soon became clear we weren’t going to make the bus. To be late back to school after an exeat meant forfeiting the next one. Ahead of us propped against the wall was a bike. Ken grabbed it.
‘Get up.’ he shouted. I jumped onto the crossbar and holding tight to the handlebar I kept my head down. Ken pedalled as hard as he could. As we turned onto the seafront I felt his laboured breathing behind me, and we could see at the far end of the promenade that the bus was still there. When we were about a hundred yards from it the bus began to move. Ken, breathless, gasped: ‘Shout! Shout!’ I shouted and waved frantically. The conductor saw us and stopped the bus. I got down, Ken dumped the bike and we jumped on. From Aston Quay, we ran to the No 72 bus and from the No 72 we ran to the big schoolroom and arrived just in time for roll call.
With all the running, the guilt of going to the pictures on a Sunday and having been an accessory to the theft of a bicycle, I was determined not to, and never did, avail of an exeat Sunday with Ken again.