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The Dominie's Dilemma
The Dominie's Dilemma
The following story was written by William Macphail "Clach Oich", 19 Gravir. Fionn is the nick name of William's cousin, John Roderick Macphail; the dominie was Peter Macdonald of Stirling, who suffered at Gravir School from 1883 to 1890.
In the distant past there lived and ruled for a space of time, within the village school at Ceann Loch Odhairn (at Gravir), one well remembered by the older generation under the name of "Padruig Mor", whose faults and merits I can neither laud or lampoon with any degree of certainty. They are buried in oblivion with the bones; suffice to say he was a simple, quiet, inoffensive man, truly a type of dominie ill-suited for the Herculean task of keeping unruly elements under his charge in the paths of virtue and knowledge.
I would not however have the reader imagine he was wholly unfit to rule, or that he did not exercise his exclusive privileges for the good of the school and the welfare of his pupils, as nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, he was the plaything of fate, the victim of his own good nature and that of his predecessor's golden rule "Spare the rod, spoil the child", thus sowing the thorns which our dominie of a surety was to reap.
Unfortunately for his own prestige, and the dignity of his profession, "Alma Mater" did not include among the other degrees for which he was qualified. the manly art of self-defence, so very essential to the dominies of those faraway days, when lawlessness was rife in the classroom. As a consequence, not being scientifically trained to meet the enemy on equal terms, and with his own weapons, the dominie's term of office was one long nightmare.
His waking and sleepless hours being continually haunted and overshadowed by the sinister presence in the school, of two hefty youths, well known in their day as "Fionn and Roshan". These young ruffians, who feared no man and respected no rule or law, had rendered school hours wretched and intolerable by their avowed and implacable hatred towards the dominie. While gentle methods and kid glove tactics had ignominiously failed to bring order out of chaos or to combat these flagrant breaches of discipline which had assumed such alarming proportions as to become a daily feature of the school routine.
The dominie driven to distraction, resolved to embark upon other and more drastic measures for the purpose of counteracting this cankerous growth that was gnawing at his vitals, blasting his career and undermining the whole fabric of law and order within his jurisdiction. He had spared the rod with calamitous results, but he was determined to wield the birch and use his fists indiscriminately with severity against the aggressors who had flouted his law, scorned his rule and dragged his own and the school's good name down the gutter. Having decided on his future line of action, he threw down the gage of battle and when the ominous tidings were whispered from mouth to mouth in the school, a fever of excitement prevailed. The climax which could not be unduly delayed in such a tense atmosphere came swift and sudden one day while a fight was being fought in the playground between two rival factions in the school, Fionn and Roshan acting as umpires in this fiercely contested struggle.
During this rough and tumble scrimmage with nature's weapons, hard blows were exchanged on both sides. No quarter was asked and none given. Dominic hearing the noise of the fray, rushed forth to the scene of battle. Armed with a stout oaken cudgel, which he brought bustily into play on the bare pates and scantily clad backs of the more aggressive of the combatants, vanquishing some and defending himself from the fury of the rest with the courage and expertness of a much younger and more skilful exponent of the game.
But alas, he was hopelessly outnumbered, and the end loomed in sight with dramatic suddenness when the intrepid Roshan, in a bold and menacing tone accused him of taking "sides" in a quarrel that did not concern him. Deliberately butting him in the stomach, he challenged him to a bout of fisticuffs. This was Fionn's chance to show his hand and likewise his mettle. The dominie's skills and prowess with the cudgel had fanned into flame the smouldering fires of his long cherished hate and envy. Rushing in among the crowd, who scattered at his approach like chaff before the wind, he advanced on the dominie now at bay, with his back to the classroom wall, but still breathing defiance at his enemies, plying the cudgel to right and left, with a courage born of desperation and worthy of a nobler cause.
Like a savage bull dog unleashed, Fionn sprang at the dominie and snatching the cudgel out of his hands he broke it in two, throwing the pieces among the crowd, who greeted the disowning of their common foe with shouts and cries of derisive laughter. To the utter detriment and despair of the dominie, rendered desperate at the loss of his weapon and beset on all sides, like Samson shorn of his locks, he was exposed to the fury of his enemies. Yet proudly jealous of his rights and dignity and burning with indignation at the ignominy of this enforced outrage made up his mind he would meet these ruffians with their own weapons - the bare fists and by administering a dose of his own medicine he would satisfy the claims of justice and mete out to them the punishment they so richly deserved.
Goaded by their jibes and jeers and with remarkable agility for a man of his years, the dominie flinging caution to the wind adopted a fighting attitude. Aiming a series of uppercuts at his tormentors, which however fell wide of their mark, he tried to close with them. This resolute stand on the part of the dominie, and singular demonstration of the manly art, that under other circumstances might have gained the applause of a less fickle and unruly mob, proved rash and presumptuous on this occasion and tended to hasten rather than impede the end fate had in store for him. He had reckoned without the nimble and unfailing qualities, the fighting instinct dominating every thought and move of the witty Fionn, and the elusive Roshan who combined the low cunning and craftiness of the fox, with the slipperiness of an eel and for youth in their adolescent years, the stubbornness of a mule, with the vigour and strength of an ox.
The racial characteristics stood them in good stead in this, their last encounter with the dominie. They met and repelled the first mad rush of his onslaught by concentrated action and likewise evaded and parried his strokes by skilful manoeuvering and cat like movements of their hands and bodies. Thus he was outwitted by natural cunning and outfought to the point of exhaustion by superior fighting skills and reckless daring attributes acquired of daily fighting practice and experience in the stern school of reality.
The end came with a warning shout from the crowd to confuse the dominie and throw him off his guard then with the dominie at a disadvantage Fionn and Roshan opened out simultaneously, with lightening-like rapidity sending him a number of blows to the head and the body where they landed with resounding thuds. The unfortunate man groaned and for one brief moment he staggered, then sagging at the knees he collapsed unconscious at his enemies' feet. Knocked out for the count amid scenes of the wildest enthusiasm on the part of the frenzied mob, who seeing their hereditary enemy lying low rent the air with their yells and acclamations hailing Fionn and Roshan as the victors and heroes of the school.
This was the end; the measure of his misfortunes was filled up. Zero hour had arrived for the dominie, insulted, injured and humiliated before the whole school and by the two he feared and hated the most, the detested Fionn and the despised Roshan. His cup of bitterness was full to the brim and he drained it to the dregs. This amazing exploit, and the last of many, ended the school career of our two friends; they were expelled in due course as a pair of incorrigible undesirables.
Pairc Historical Society