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The school history was put together by jack Reagan in 1977, shortly before the school's final demise.
REFLECTIONS ON SCOTUS ACADEMY by JACK REAGAN
For those of us who have been connected with Scotus Academy from the start, away back in September 1953, these are particularly sad times. It is a difficult job to write what is in effect an obituary for a child so young. Scotus has scarcely lasted a full generation-and yet we started with such hopes and ambitions. It has to be said that we had no illusions about the struggle that would be required to make the school survive. From the beginning it was made clear to both parents and pupils that there would be two problems that would be with us for a long time. One, quite simply, was finance, for the school had to make its own way or die; and the second, and perhaps more subtle, was the opposition to the whole idea of Scotus, and what Scotus represented, from a proportion of the clergy and the Catholic population of Edinburgh. It is difficult to express in words the nature of that opposition, and yet it was there, and it stemmed from the fact that we were a fee-paying school and that the Christian Brothers were an Irish order. And so, as far as those of us who were pupils were concerned, we had to prove that the school was worthwhile and could be judged as the equal of any in the only way that schools can be judged: on the basis of academic achievement, standards of behaviour, and prowess in the fields of sport, the arts and related recreational activities. I believe that over the years the proof has been provided. But we never got over the problems of finance, despite the valiant and untiring efforts of the parents' committee and the school staff in general, so that we now come to the present sorry situation.
The idea of a school like Scotus had been talked about in Edinburgh for many years, and it fell to the late Archbishop McDonald to take the initiative and invite the Christian Brothers to Scotland. After long months of discussions the Order agreed to open the school and then began the search for suitable premises. Beechwood House, with its 25 or so acres was eventually bought and converted into a school with 70 pupils as the first intake. The house had belonged to Lord Boothby, who took a keen interest in the affairs of Scotus in those early years. Interestingly enough, it was a house which had been much admired by the Duke of Cumberland as he passed through Edinburgh with his army on the way to smash the Highland clans at Culloden. Indeed, the Duke wrote that-if he had to stay in Scotland-then Beechwood House was the home he would choose.
The house has never lost any of its Georgian elegance, but the grounds have consistently proved difficult to maintain, and at the time when the school opened they had almost reverted to the wild. I remember seeing a fox stroll jauntily across the back field behind the house, and one particularly mad hunt when three rabbits had burrowed their way into the walled garden, which was Brother Hastings' pride and joy. We eventually cornered the beasts and then followed, believe it or not, a great theological discussion as to whether they should be killed. Two of them ended up in the pot, but the third was saved by one of my classmates who said he would take it home. He lived in a small house near Tollcross and his parents were not at all pleased when he appeared home that night with a live rabbit in his shoe-bag. He brought it back rather shamefacedly in the morning, and about two days later we had rabbit stew on the menu for school dinners. At that time a local farmer had rented out the front field as grazing for his cattle and there were in addition a couple of neurotic donkeys. I mention this because, although the front field had not been leveled off as it is now, it was still the only place on the hill where there was any sort of level space at all. So that was where we learned to play rugby.
There was a spring and a little bum which ran through this level stretch, and so inevitably the course of the burn was taken as the centre line of the rugby field.
The result was that Scotus Academicians developed a style of rugby which was all their own. Quite simply, the object was to try to tackle your opponent so that he fell either in a cowpat or in the burn; and of course your opponent had to develop a sort of jig and sidestep which avoided this fate. In later years we moved to Murray- field, where the basic skills were allowed rather more room for expression, but we had learned something from playing amid the cows and the donkeys and those first Scotus rugby teams enjoyed a fair measure of success.
Our full back was Philip Smith, who played with great elegance, but who deserves a special mention because he was the first Scotus pupil to achieve inter- national recognition, playing golf for both the Scottish Schoolboys and the Scotland Youth team. The major difficulty in maintaining any sort of consistency as far as rugby was concerned was the sheer lack of numbers in the school roll, and so as the years went by there took place a fair amount of diversification. Perhaps we achieved our greatest successes in fencing, in the late sixties, but the boys did well too in curling, hockey and squash, and indeed the current squash team has few equals in Scotland.
Throughout the history of the school we have been blessed with a particularly devoted group of teachers, and this was especially true in the early days when Scotus was staffed with men devoted not only to the ideals of academic excellence, but also to the idea that the academy should survive. I believe that the struggle drove the first rector, Brother Russell, to an early grave while it took a terrible toll of the health of a number of the others.
The first lay teacher was Mr Tom Curran, in science, and he was followed soon after by the late Mr Fergus Byrne, a much-loved teacher of mathematics. The standards which they set ate reflected in the fact that of the 20 or so boys in First Year in 1953, five subsequently took university degrees, three more took art college diplomas, another is now a priest, another an accountant, and so on. From that time, standards have continued to improve, and in fact in one year, 1968, 10 pupils went up to university. That was the year when the first pupil from Scotus to join the Christian Brothers, Bruce Laidlaw, took his final vows. We have also provided six priests, five of them currently working in this diocese, and the other in New Zealand. It's a record we can be proud of, reflecting the high standards of religious teaching at the school.
But while at the academic and sporting levels, Scotus pupils have regularly proved their worth and the value of the kind of education they were receiving, the battle behind the scenes to make ends meet financially was unremitting. As the school grew, more accommodation was needed, and so between 1957 and the mid- sixties the brothers embarked on an ambitious and expensive expansion programme. New classrooms were built behind Beechwood House; the old stables were converted first into a gymnasium and then, as the pressures on space continued, into classrooms; a tarmac play area was provided and the front field leveled for games facilities. All of this cost money-money which the school quite simply did not have. Then in 1971 it seemed as if all the problems could be resolved, when the brothers came to an agreement with a development company to build offices and a completely new school. Despite the fact that over the next two years, a whole series of different plans were presented to the local planning authority, none was passed and the result of this inexplicable animosity was that eventually the development scheme fell through.
But perhaps had things been different from the beginning, then the problems might have been easier to overcome. It has to be remembered that, when we opened, the fees were only £12 per term. Seven years later, when I left, they were still only £20 per term and in retrospect it is safe to say that such a scale of fees was quite unrealistic. They covered the running costs and little else, and the burden of trying to find additional finance fell upon the parents committee. The major annual event was the garden fete, the first of which raised an amazing £600, which might not sound much in today's terms, but which was a colossal sum of money then. A number of members of that first parents' committee retain their interest in the school to this day, most notably Mr Jim Donoghue. The tragedy is that all their efforts should have come to nothing. And yet perhaps, that is not strictly true. For 20 years and more, the school has produced a particular breed of young men. In the early days, because we saw ourselves as pioneers, we had a pride in belonging to Scotus. That pride has continued among the boys right down to the present day. There has always, too, been a great feeling of kinship among the former pupils, and that will never be lost.
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8 November: Duns Scotus
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