The late Micheál Travers, Ballyshannon and Dublin
The death of Micheál Travers, Ballyshannon and Dublin, evoked sadness and fond memories, lots of talk and a tune or two was played to honour a man who will be remembered as a brilliant educator, a wonderful husband, father, brother and much more. His brother Pauric delivered the following eulogy at a packed funeral Mass in St Gabriel's Church, Dollymount:
“There is a short valedictory dialogue in one of Shakespeare’s history plays which seems apposite for this occasion:
“I did not think to shed a tear in all my miseries but thou has forced me...”
“So Let’s dry our eyes and thus far hear me, and when I am forgotten, as I shall be, say this of me: I taught thee.”
(Shakespeare on the fall of Wolsey from Henry VIII].
Micheál, Michael, Mick – the different versions of his Christian name mark the stages of his life’s journey – he was always Micheál to his Ballyshannon family. In the midst of the beautiful music which he selected for this morning’s service, you may have noticed the two airs played by Mary and John on the concertina and tin whistle which were especially meaningful: Buachaill Ón Éirne – a boy from the Erne -which he was in spades –and William Allingham’s Emigrant’s Farewell to Ballyshannon, popularly known as Adieu to Ballyshannon, which was originally published in the Dublin University Magazine exactly one hundred and sixty years ago. Like Allingham, Micheál roamed a happy boy along the winding banks of Erne .
The second oldest of five boys and one girl, Micheál learned early the need to fight his corner and argue his case. He was reputedly the good looking one which my sister Mary wouldn’t agree with; and the clever one, which needless to say, I would dispute. But what we would all agree with is that we loved him dearly and always will.
Without romanticising it, his childhood was the mirror opposite of the repressed Irish childhood beloved of literary memoirs. Like a lot of Irish towns, Ballyshannon then was a somewhat down at heel place, economically, but it sustained a vibrant social, cultural and community life which made it a great place to grow up. It was the Brothers for schooling and sport – Micheál was a talented footballer- the nuns for music lessons, – Micheál learned the violin and graduated to coronet in the brass and reed band and to the musical society. This love of the fiddle, music and singing stayed with him throughout his life.
We are talking now of the early and mid-1960s “between the Chatterley ban and the Beatles first LP” as it were: the winds of change were felt even in Ballyshannon. Micheál and others formed their own rock and roll band called ‘The Erratics’ – a geologically inspired name which, I suppose, is appropriate for a group which modelled themselves on the Rolling Stones. I think there is still a tape in circulation of one of the performances of the Erratics – perhaps we can look forward to a commercial re-release and posthumous fame.
Micheál took from our mother a belief in the transformative power of education. After leaving certificate, there were choices to be made and inevitably roads taken and not taken. In his case, there was never really much doubt: he didn’t dwell too long on the financially attractive offer of a position as a trainee actuary: instead it was off to Coláiste Phádraig in 1966 and a career in Primary Teaching.
He loved St Pats and especially the cohort of friends he made there – close, firm and fast friends who have stuck together over the years, sharing the highs and lows of career and family life. Some of them are here today – during his illness he benefitted greatly from their support.
Like many of his generation of NTs, after graduating from St Pats Micheál did the evening BA in UCD and the HDip but he remained committed to primary teaching. He started his teaching career in Drimnagh Castle before moving to Scoil Fhursa in Kilmore West, Coolock. He enjoyed the challenge and the camaraderie of joining the staff of a newly established school in a developing working class suburb. He stayed 13 years, becoming deeply embedded in the school community. He was particularly proud of his involvement with the local youth club and a protracted project to build a premises - which still survives today- I think it is now used as a boxing club. Last night at the wake, it was lovely to meet friends and colleagues from those days.
As well as a deep commitment to working with disadvantaged young people, Micheál had a passionate attachment to children with special education needs. He taught a special class in Scoil Fhursa and returned to St Pats to do the Special Education diploma which he said had a formative influence. In 1983, he was appointed principal of St Michael’s House school in Raheny, a position he held for 15 years. He found it demanding but rewarding. He threw himself into the work and into wider cause of special education through organisations such as IATSE.
In 1998, he joined the Inspectorate. I remember at the time asking him whether he has any qualms about the move. He replied that he had only one reservation: being a teacher was so much the heart of his self-identity that he didn’t know how he would feel not to be a teacher. He needn’t have worried. He enjoyed the inspectorate and admired and respected his new colleagues. He joined at a period of reorganisation and of significant development particularly in relation to policy and provision for special education needs. He took great satisfaction from being able to make his own contribution to the transformation which has taken place in this area.
Micheál was a classic life-long learner, always trying to update and renew his knowledge and understanding. As a young teacher, he was actively involved in the Teachers Study Group, an interesting early example of teacher empowerment and self-development. To enhance his work in the Inspectorate, he did the Birmingham University Course for Professionals working with Autistic children.
More recently he completed the taught elements of Ed D programme in St Pats, enjoying in particular the stimulation of a cohort of like-minded teachers and the opportunity to reflect on and write about issues in special education and policy development Unfortunately his illness meant that he could not complete the course but he did complete a thesis for the award of an MPhil. He also continued his involvement on a number of boards of management, the Independent Appeals Committee for Reasonable Accommodation on Certificate Examinations and the Cross Border Centre for Autism in Middletown in Armagh.
During his illness, Micheál intermittently kept a journal. In relation to his professional career, he wrote: “Teacher, Principal, Inspector: I found all three roles challenging and fulfilling but I achieved a mastery of none.” That is a characteristically modest self-assessment which does him less than justice.
Over the years, he made a positive impact on many people’s lives, not least his family and friends. In his final illness which he bore with great fortitude, he continued to teach us all - about family and friendship and what matters and what doesn’t. So maybe, after all, Shakespeare’s epitaph or a slight variation of it comes closest to summing up the man and his work: ‘I was a teacher and I taught thee’. He would probably settle for that.”
Micheál is sadly missed by his wife Anna; son Hugh; daughters Sinead and Una; sons-in-law Kevin and Grant; daughter-in-law Claire; brothers John, Anthony, Pauric; sister Mary; grandchildren, nieces and nephews and a wide circle of friends and colleagues.