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In COVID-19 times can we still look at the bright side of life? Thoughts by Marc Kaptein, Parent and Medical Director, Pfizer the Netherlands

Dear fellow parents of SCC students, the last couple of months have been a rollercoaster for all of us; children had to leave school in March, parents had to adapt quickly to that reality, children were attending classes remotely, SCC staff had to adjust to online teaching and prepare for the return of students in September. Now that our children have returned to school we need to accept that, despite all measures, staff or students may be infected with COVID-19(if even the president of the USA gets it…) and quarantines are warranted by the Irish authorities. My daughter Julia who, after a “close contact”, tested negative to our relief, is quarantined until October 8th. Despite this quarantine situation I want to quote the lovely German couple that accommodated her; “without this situation we would have never met!” So, always look at the bright side of life!

That’s great, but how and when can we return to pre-COVID normality, you may ask. Basically, there are three scenario’s possible. Firstly, the virus can no longer be contained, a large majority of world citizens will get contaminated, many will get seriously ill and millions die. The end result will be that group immunity is achieved and the virus slowly fades out. This scenario, while I’m writing it down, is not only scary but also unacceptable to me.

The second scenario hinges on significant scientific progress of the treatment of COVID-19 patients above and beyond the current options; virus inhibitors, immune system modulating medication and blood thinners. This would allow for the virus to go around the world population without the devastating effect and reach the much desired group immunity. Unfortunately new drugs, that would make this scenario a realistic option, won’t be available before the end of 2021 (if ever) and health care systems may collapse under the massive patient demand.

The third and most likely scenario in my opinion, is a safe and effective vaccine or, even better, vaccines. This, I guess, is also a good moment for my disclaimer; I am working for Pfizer, so my knowledge is specific to the vaccine we’re developing. Please understand that my view is coloured by the information I have access to. Working in the pharmaceutical sector I am convinced the first corona vaccine may be approved just before or after New Year. However, may I remind you, I always look at the bright side of life!

A question I often get is; how did you guys get your vaccine developed so quickly -and- can we be sure that it is rigorously tested and safe? I will try to answer those questions by pointing out a few key factors that have helped in achieving the almost impossible.

Firstly, the vaccine Pfizer/BioNTech has developed is a so-called mRNA vaccine. The key difference with other vaccine technologies is that the “vector” which is the vehicle that gets the “pay load” (Corona spike protein or genetic mRNA code for that spike protein) into the cell is a fully synthetic, non-pathogenic nano particle, not an inactivated virus. Because we don’t need to produce these “vehicle” viruses in mammalian cell cultures in large bio reactors (which is a tricky and time consuming process) in massive quantities we’ve been able to produce candidate vaccines for testing months quicker. Secondly, we’ve chosen to do multiple steps in parallel. For instance, we’ve combined phase II and III clinical trials and we’ve started manufacturing of the vaccine before we’ve been granted approval. This saves years in development and manufacturing time. Although these decisions increase the financial risks (in case of failure) it does not affect  patients safety or rigorousness of our clinical trial program. Thirdly, governments worked alongside with us to accelerate approval processes. Both EMA and FDA have decided on so-called “rolling reviews” which means that they will review data when available rather than waiting for us to submit a full dossier. This saves up to 9 months compared to regular approval processes without affecting the objectivity or rigor of the process.

My personal experience over the last couple of months has been that impossible things were done in days and little miracles in weeks. Unlikely partnerships were forged and friendships started. This also holds true for SCC,  we can only overcome this extremely challenging period together. With my own eyes I’ve seen the extraordinary amount of work that Mark Boobbyer and the COVID team have put in to prepare and find solutions for each and every unique students  problem or situation. Without COVID-19  I would’ve never been in close contact with the COVID team at school. So I stand with my motto; always look at the bright side of life! I hope you do too!

Marc Kaptein,

Medical Director

Pfizer the Netherlands

For those parents who were able to attend this talk by Patrick Foster we were treated to an insight into the world of someone whose life almost ended through an addiction to gambling. Patrick was a young man who was hugely successful in sport and then in his career but lost everything through gambling and was within minutes of taking his own life.

 

Trish Dunlop (parent to pupils in Forms V & III) reports on last weekend’s parents’ trip to Seville.

A group of parents and family emerged from the winter drear last weekend, ably led by the Warden, Cathy and Michael O’Shaughnessy, and burst into Summer. It seems we had all been checking the forecast anxiously, and the sun shone brightly for the Columban cohort.

We stayed at a wonderfully located hotel, always only a walk away from the best that Seville has to offer a visitor. Just as well, since most parents seemed to be brandishing state of the art step-counters and activity tracking devices which we would then compare and contrast at suitable junctures. How many flights was it up to the top of the bell tower?

It was a pleasure to meet members of the St. Columba’s wider community as we all gathered that evening, spirits were high and we embarked on a weekend of chat, laughter and learning about the joys that Andalusia had to offer.

In stunning sunshine, we walked through the winding streets of Seville as we visited the Moorish Palace and Gardens, the stunning Cathedral, up thirty-five ramps to the bell tower giving a wonderful view of the city. The sensual discovery continued relentlessly – the orange dotted trees and brightly coloured produce as we walked the streets, the wafting scents of lavender, orange blossom and jasmine, the mosaic decoration on sandy golden stone and all punctuated by delicious food and drinks (often with a distant strain of flamenco-style music). All the while the chat and laughter continued. The day was a lovely combination of guided and “free” exploration, at times coming together as a group and at other times opting to “do our own thing” which seemed to be just the right approach.

Sunday started with a robust breakfast before taking a bus ride to Cordoba. Cordoba was a true revelation – its grand history announced by the iconic “Roman Bridge” that greeted us as we disembarked. Set up to explore museums of art and history, we were again “free-ranging” on the hilly streets that sloped up away from the River Guadalquivir.

Most remarkable – in its mixed traditional styles – is the “Mosque” or “Cordoba Cathedral”. We found the visit very moving and had the benefit of a very passionate and dedicated guide. We learned about the layers and layers of Cordoba’s history which are carved into the fabric of the “mosque”, together with its continued dedication to its true purpose of sacred worship.

We returned to Seville on the bus, which gave us a much-needed opportunity to count our steps again. A quick turnaround and off out again to a lively last supper together. The Warden kept us on our toes with the tour quiz, with all teams securing excellent marks on our self-corrected answer sheets. Last late drinks at the hotel, before the reality set in: an early return to less sunny climes via Ryanair.

The beauty of Seville and Cordoba extended beyond the architecture, the sensual pleasures, and the history. Their beauty can also be found in how the cities are lived, everywhere its residents can be seen enjoying eating, shopping, strolling and spending time with each other. For a brief interlude, and thanks to the super efforts of Cathy Boobbyer, the Warden and Michael O’Shaughnessy, we parents and family members of the St. Columba’s community were part of the beating heart of Andalusia, and we are all the better for it.

Below is an album of photographs from the trip.

On Friday, 15th February, in support of the Schools Mental Health Awareness week, the Parents Association organised a parent walk in the hills above the school. An early morning start, on a gloriously sunny clear day, the parents were transported from the School car park up to the starting point of the walk. A local authority on the area joined the group giving an informative talk during the walk. There was also a viewing of a Cairn located just above the school car park. Following the walk, the parents retired back at school to enjoy a hot cup of tea and coffee in Whitehall. The Walks in the area above the school are superb. For Parents that are not familiar with the region or may enjoy the great outdoors , we encourage you to join us on our next one.

Pizza and movie night in Tibradden Junior Common Room. Housemaster, Scott Crombie recently sent us a photograph of the students enjoying their new sofa’s and 55inch television set which were donated by the Parents Association. An enjoyable new addition to the house. Beginning to look a lot like home. They’re the envy of the other houses.

Upcoming Events

Friday, 15th March is the final coffee morning for the Parents Association for this year. It would be wonderful if as many parents as possible would join the PA for tea/coffee and eats in the Drawing Room in Whitehall from 11h30 onwards.

Rev Owen will be holding a short prayer service in the Chapel at 11 o’clock before the coffee morning.

The 2nd Hand Uniform shop will be open from 11h45 to 12h45 for those parents wishing to purchase any 2 Hand items or cricket uniform.

Coffee Morning & Guest Speaker

A wonderful coffee morning was shared with around 60 parents in the Drawing Room in Whitehall on Friday morning. Thank you to our wonderful guest speaker, John Lonergan, who presented a thought provoking talk on “Parenting – The Challenges and the Rewards.” Having spent 24 years as the Governor of Mountjoy Prison, retiring in 2010, John has spoken for over 20 years on the topic of parenting, sharing his personal experiences as both a parent and grandparent.

John’s presentation on Friday was light-hearted with a simple matter-of-fact manner accompanied by charming anecdotes. As John rightfully pointed out, “there is no other task, that is as demanding, challenging, responsible, complicated and never-ending as, parenting.” There is no end to the list of skills and competencies that are expected of us.

John concluded that our primary goal as parents should be to guide and nurture our children to becoming mature, capable, independent, responsible and self-sufficient adults. Thank you John for emphasizing the importance of communication and consensus. For reminding us too of the joy of parenthood and for making us realise that parenting is often a two-way learning process.

Thank you parents for joining us and we hope to see you at the next PA event on the 15th Feb – see details below.

Recent Purchases by the Parents Association

In December the PA committee purchased five sofas and a television for the Common Room in Tibradden House. Once the television cabinet is completed, the TV will be installed. These will be welcome new additions for the comfort of the students in the House.

Next Get Together Event

To coincide with Mental Health week in the school the Parents’ Association is organising a walk for parents on 15th February at 9.00 am. This will last for about an hour and a half and we will be back at the school in time to have a coffee or tea before the Parent-Teacher meeting at 11.00am.

The Parents’ Association & the National Association of COMPASS would like to extend an invitation to all parents to a presentation on “Your Parental Wellbeing and its’ Impact on your Children” on Saturday 17th November, 2018 at 10.30 a.m at Midleton College, Co. Cork. Full details are available here or visit the COMPASS website here.

The Parents’ Association would like to inform parents that the National Parents Council Post-Primary Conference will take place on Saturday October 13th 2018 at the Clayton Hotel Liffey Valley. Full invitation and event details here.

All prospective pupils and their parents are very welcome to our annual Open Day during the morning of Saturday 29th September. No booking is needed: just turn up and you will be guided by pupils to the  Lower Argyle reception point, where you can meet staff and current parents. From here, Prefects will take tours of the grounds, including the beautiful Chapel, the Library, the Science Block, dormitories and the sports facilities.

The day starts at 10am, from when visitors are welcome, and concludes at 1pm, so ideally you should have arrived by 11.30am.

Note: if using Google Maps you will be sent to the wrong entrance (beside Marlay Nursing Home). Instead, the main entrance is via Kilmashogue Lane at the other end of College Road. See here for full directions.

Queries about Admission and places should go to Amanda Morris, Admissions Officer, via admissions@stcolumbas.ie or by phone or the Contact Form.

July 3rd 2018

Somewhere way back, when we were first putting together the plans to celebrate 175 years since the foundation of St. Columba’s College, I had the idea that after all the balls and receptions and drinking and partying we should finish it all off with something that reminded us of our very beginnings back in 1843 and take a pilgrimage to Iona, the place most closely associated with Columba himself, after whom the College is named. It all seemed like a good idea at the time!

Some people will know all about Columba, one of the three patron saints of Ireland, along with St. Patrick and St. Brigid. Many will not. Born into a royal family in 6thcentury Ireland, he gave up his royal position in order to become a monk at a time when Ireland was, for the only time in its history, the centre of scholarship, learning and spirituality in Europe, following the collapse of the Roman Empire. However, in 563 AD, a battle was fought following a copyright dispute over the ownership of a Bible, and Columba, ashamed that he had not prevented the bloodshed, imposed on himself a penance, to go into exile from his beloved Ireland and take the gospel to Scotland, then inhabited by the pagan Picts.

The story goes that he set off in a leather coracle from the north coast, probably from somewhere near Derry, where he had established a monastery, accompanied by a band of fellow-monks. He landed initially either on Islay or the Mull of Kintyre but as he could still see Ireland he decided to carry on and reached Iona, a tiny island off the shore of Mull. Here he was granted land to establish a new monastery, which became the epicentre of outreach into Scotland, where the monks travelled to convert the Picts and ultimately brought their faith right down into the north of England, where they founded settlements such as that on Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumberland. As they say, the rest is history.

The plan therefore is to retrace the exile of Columba and sail from Ireland to Iona, where we will celebrate our heritage with a service in the Abbey, tour the island and experience a tiny slice of what inspired Columba and his early followers. As it happens, before anyone tells me that our voyage is not following the original route, we are sailing directly to Iona from Tory Island, on the northernmost tip of Donegal, a distance of about 100 miles and 24 hours, weather dependant…it could be shorter or a lot longer! When we arrive we will be met by a group of 25 fellow pilgrims, a mixture of staff, Fellows, Old Columbans and parents, who will be travelling by the land route, leaving on the following morning: fly to Glasgow, bus to Oban, ferry to Mull, bus to Fionnphort, ferry to Iona.

I am grateful to a few people as mad as myself for making this trip possible. My wife Cathy for planning the overland trip and the stay on Iona; Ted Sherwood, who has been just as enthusiastic about this caper as I am; and Dr. Michael Brogan, a wild-eyed doctor from Donegal, whose boat, the MacDuagh (named after Saint Colman MacDuagh – a contemporary and apparent friend of Columba), a 40 foot Galway hooker, is our own leather coracle for our exile. Luckily he is skippering the boat and bringing his own crew to guide us across the Atlantic.

Let me introduce my merry band of monks, 2018 style:

  • Ted Sherwood (Former Head of Geography at SCC)
  • Jenny Bulbulia (Old Columban and Current Fellow)
  • Trish Dunlop (Current Parent)
  • Ian Dunlop (Current Parent)
  • Jane Caldwell (Wife of the Chairman of the Fellows)

We meet tomorrow morning, Wednesday 4thJuly, at 9.30 a.m. to drive up to Donegal to meet the MacDuagh. In my luggage I will have three items: a bottle of whiskey to present to the King of Tory Island, who will then bless our voyage, a leg of lamb, to be roasted on the journey (don’t ask me how…), and the Mioseach. This last one needs an explanation.

In 1843, when the College was founded, one of the founding Fellows presented the College with the Mioseach, a very early Celtic Christian artefact, a book shrine, for holding a Bible or psalter. This box was so valuable that it was loaned to the National Archaeological Museum, where it still sits, while a perfect copy was made, which sits in the Warden’s study at the College. The original was sold to the Museum in 2004 for 1.5 million euros! The copy will be on board, not the original!

So there we are. I will send updates whenever possible and a few photos.

July 6th 2018

We meet at 9.30 a.m. by the sports hall for the off. Wonderful to be presented with a pennant by Terry and Rosie Johnson, with SCC 1843 on it, to be attached to the mast of the Mac Duagh. The drive through Donegal is glorious and we arrived at the Tory Island ferry in good time. We are met on Tory not only by the Mac Duagh and its crew but by the King of Tory himself. He does not disappoint. He has been King for 50 years and regales us with endless tales. He is delighted with his bottle of whiskey but disappointed that we are not staying for the craic in the evening, which is due to start at 10.00 p.m.

The Mac Duagh is a fantastic boat. Originally built about 140 years ago it was fully restored in the 1970’s by Dr. Michael Brogan and is one of the small remaining class of Galway hookers. He and the older two of his companions have negotiated the north west and the north east passages together so we are not in the hands of amateurs! As it turns out that is a good thing.

We set off at 7.00 p.m. and are soon joined a school of porpoises, who have come to check us out. At that point I begin to feel distinctly nauseous and continued to do so for the next 15 hours! My visions of sipping a cool drink on deck, while watching the sun set were dashed! It was not a happy night. Those early Irish monks must have been made of stern stuff and I am delighted that I did not follow through on my early plan to row a leather coracle across the Atlantic. In the morning I am told that the crossing has been surprisingly rough and I am not the only one to have been struggling. Perhaps everyone is trying to make me feel better! By the time I am feeling vaguely human again we are approaching Iona and for the last two hours it is a sheer joy to sit on deck watching the islands slide by and cruising gently into Iona. We arrive at about 1.00 p.m. but stay on board for a further three hours cooking the lamb and snacking on crabs claws and lobster. Thankfully they stay down.

Meanwhile the larger party meet at Dublin Airport in the wee hours and everything goes like clockwork. They arrive at about 4.45 p.m. on Iona and we are there to welcome them. We are staying in the St. Columba Hotel just by the Abbey, a hotel with a fantastic view of the sound. What a place this is! A lovely dinner, then an introduction to Columba himself from our very own Adomnan (Columba’s biographer), Richard Brett, who has set the scene for the two days ahead.  Then impromptu music for a couple of hours in the lounge, with Michael Brogan on the fiddle, another of the crew on the squeeze box and one of the waiters joining in with his fiddle! A few contributions from the floor are also added. A great night and much to look forward to in the days ahead.

July 7th 2018

We meet mid-morning for a tour of the island, strolling off to the other side of the island. Some then choose to carry on to the far south to St. Columba’s Bay, where the saint is said to have first landed back in 563. Small green stones on the beach are said to be the tears of Columba, weeping for his beloved Ireland. Others return to the pier to have a ride out in the MacDuagh. A great day with lots of leisure time too. One of the dinghies coming in from the boat is accompanied by dolphins at touching distance. Another good dinner and then a singing competition between the tables. We rope in a couple of visitors to act as judges, much to their own astonishment and good humour. My table was definitely the best but some misses out on the big prize. The evening then turns quite lively and noisy and goes on and on…I am not sure when or if everyone gets to bed. Happily with a group of adults that is not my problem.

The next morning we meet early and get the boat to Staffa, a small island about 30 minutes up the coast, the home of the extraordinary Fingal’s Cave, immortalised by Mendelssohn. Again we are investigated by dolphins. The island has the most amazing basalt columns and massive caves, with nesting puffins as well. I hate to say it but it is much more spectacular than the Giants’ Causeway! A truly memorable visit in the most serene conditions. Wow, this place is beautiful! We can see north to Skye and south to Islay, west to Tiree and Coll, while everything to the east is Mull. But we could return a hundred times and never get the same benign conditions. We are truly blessed. In case one gets the impression that being a monk in the 6thcentury was a piece of cake in an idyllic paradise, it is worth remembering that for much of the year this place is bleak in the extreme and not for the faint-hearted. For now we are not complaining.

After lunch we all traipse off to the Abbey for a service of thanksgiving. The Abbey dominates the community, watching over the sound, while on the way one passes the graveyard which supposedly contains the graves of many of the kings of Scotland as well as some of the Norse kings. Macbeth is said to be buried there although it is impossible to know. A simple service, magical, simple, profound, a really special time, led by Daniel Owen, a short talk by Ninian Falkiner, lovely hymns. It has been good to remind ourselves of our spiritual heritage and our spirits have been uplifted and fed.

A few of us slope off to watch England beat Sweden in the World Cup quarter final…another spiritual experience.

A spectacular weekend’s activities concluded last night with a lovely Chapel service at 6pm. Old Columbans from around the world, parents, staff and pupils took part in a huge variety of events blessed with perfect weather.

It all kicked off with the Old Columban Society drinks party in the Dining Hall of Trinity College, Dublin, with almost 300 attending. President of the Society Ian Fraser welcomed everyone, and the Chairman of the Fellows Gavin Caldwell also spoke. Simultaneously a large gathering of Sixth Formers and their parents were in the College at the traditional Leavers’ dinner. See an album of photos here.

The next day marked the annual St Columba’s Day celebrations, with the Chapel service followed by prize-giving in the Sports Hall. The speakers were Gavin Caldwell, the Warden, and Senior Prefect Kitty Morris, while there were presentations of various kinds by pupils such as Tiernan Mullane (drama), Grace Goulding, Isabelle Townshend and Orla Conlon-Batey (poetry), André Stokes, Tania Stokes, Sam Lawrence, Alex Lawrence and the Junior Choir under Mr McDonald (all music), and science pupils. Former Wardens Tim Macey and Lindsay Haslett were in attendance, and there was a filmed greeting from David Gibbs.

A fine lunch was had on Chapel Square, the BSR and Dining Hall in the sunshine.

Then the weekend really got going for Old Columbans and other visitors, with 400 people attending the Ball in the Sports Hall, preceded by a lovely drinks gathering in the Warden’s Garden. The Warden welcomed all at the Ball, asking OCs to stand according to the Warden of their time. A splendid meal was capped by a male-voice choir staff appearance by Barry Finn, Julian Girdham, Tristan Clarke, Eunan McDonald, Fraser Morris and John Fanagan, who performed two songs with familiar tunes but unfamiliar lyrics (adapted to the College traditions). The band Duvet played until 1.30pm, and eventually all drifted off in the small hours.

Sunday was much more informal, but equally enjoyable. Cricket, golf and hiking went on in the continuing sunshine, there were tours by the Sub-Warden, an art exhibition in Whitehall by Old Columbans, bouncy castles for smaller family members, and then a delicious barbeque on Chapel Square produced by surely-exhausted caterers.

The Chapel service was the perfect end. Mrs Malone-Brady had been rehearsing earlier with the choir, who sang several pieces, including Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’ and Holst’s ‘Turn Back O Man’. The former Chaplain, Reverend Michael Heaney, read the first lesson and Gavin Caldwell the second. Prayers were said for all parts of the College community by the Chaplain, the Sub-Warden Julian Girdham, Christopher Hone, Sinéad Clarkin and Alex Owens, and traditional hymns were rousingly sung.

The sun was still shining strongly as the campus settled into peacefulness.

Particular thanks are due to the 175 Committee under chair Rosie Johnson, and organisers on-the-ground Sonia Young and Cathy Boobbyer as well as many many other helpers. Our thanks also go to Patrick Hugh Lynch for generously being at all events and photographing them; albums are here (TCD) and here (SCC).

Check out a Twitter timeline of weekend events here.