BY EBRIMA G. SANKAREH, Editor-in-Chief
Legendary 19th Century American novelist, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his penname, Mark Twain, once said: “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see” and on hearing the sad and shocking demise of Father Joseph Anthony Gough this evening, one is reminded of Twain’s profound statement about the inherent powers of kindness. Precisely because in his entire life, Father Gough exudes unusual kindness, fellowship and unrivaled affection for all he encountered.
His decade long service as a Catholic priest, teacher and high school Principal in The Gambia, speaks volumes to this virtuous quality of his and the outpouring of tributes on social media punctuates this reality, that while Gough was born in Ireland, God sent him to The Gambia.
Therefore, as we mourn this great loss to the Catholic Community and to The Gambia but especially, to St. Augustine’s High School, it is apt to reproduce an exclusive interview Father Joseph Gough had with our Editor-in-Chief, E. G. Sankareh on December 26, 2008. The following year, Gough would impress on our Editor to join him in Atlanta, Georgia, to raise funds for Saints and participate in a fundraising endeavor during Sang Marie for Medical assistance to The Royal Victoria Hospital. During that memorable weekend in Atlanta under the stewardship of his closest scholar, Tijan Massaneh Ceesay, Gough contributed generously towards the initiative and granted an inspirational Radio interview to local a Atlanta radio station where I had the honour and privilege to be his chauffeur.
Below we reproduce, verbatim, the entire interview that will certainly help us remember and appreciate the late Father Joseph Anthony Gough and his unmatched love for The Gambia and its people.
ECHO: Please begin by telling us who Fr. Joseph Gough is—your background?
GOUGH: I was born in Kilkenny, Ireland in 1944 into a family of nine children. We grew up on a farm, and that is where I learned to work hard. I went to the local school till I was 13 and then went to Rockwell College for my secondary education for another five years. I then joined the Holy Ghost Congregation and in 1963 went to University College, Dublin (UCD), where I received a B.A. Degree.
Then I did two years as a trainee teacher in Blackrock College. In 1968 I returned to the seminary to complete my priestly studies and was ordained in 1971…I completed my Higher Diploma in Education in UCD again in 1972. I took a Master’s degree from New York University after leaving The Gambia.
I was a keen sportsman and played Hurling, Gaelic football, rugby, soccer, volleyball, athletics and tennis.
ECHO: How did you end up teaching in The Gambia and what was teaching English to non-native speakers like?
GOUGH: I was appointed to work in The Gambia in1972 by my Superior. Bishop Moloney asked for me so that I could set up the seminary to get Gambian Priests. We set up the seminary in St. Michaels Seminary, Fajara. While Director of the Seminary I was also asked to teach English and Bible Knowledge in St. Augustine’s. Teaching English in The Gambia was very similar as in Europe. Gambians were very keen to learn and easily picked up languages. Grammar and spelling proved challenging for some. I was conscious that I should speak much slower and constant repetition helped greatly. Then getting students to express themselves in writing essays etc. was a further challenge. Constant repetition and writing practice was the key here to improvement. My students can recall my weekly essays. I also encouraged the students to practice speaking English within the school environment.
GOUGH: During your days as Principal, Saints registered tremendous gains in both academia and sports and most of these were attributed to that priest- never tired, always courageous, energetic- what was the motivation for all this?
First of all let me say ‘you flatter me’. I could not do this alone. Yes, I was determined from the outset and even before I was principal to make SAHS the best school in the country. I was not prepared to be second best which SAHS was for far too long. I wanted to make it a ‘school of excellence’; hence the words of the school song ‘At books and play, we win our way’. I wanted to make the students proud of SAHS and want to belong to it. To educate means to develop all the talents and abilities which a student possesses. There were lots of good students in The Gambia and many in SAHS also. So, I set about providing the structures that would help SAHS and its students… a good disciplined academic environment, good teachers, highly motivated students, attendance at evening studies for Banjul students, Saturday morning classes, improve the library facilities, provision of books and copies for the relevant subjects, expansion of the Curriculum and the introduction of the Commercial Subjects, Islamic Religious Knowledge,, Agricultural and Health Science, Metal Work, Wood Work, Shorthand and Typing etc. The expansion of the school from two streams to four brought more talent into the school. My ultimate ambition was achieved when I got permission from the Department of Education to upgrade SAHS to 6th Form School and prepare students for A levels in the Arts and Commercial subjects.
The same applied to sports in SAHS in my day. We had many talented athletes and the provision of the best facilities and coaching helped improve the players of the various sporting disciplines. I had the school field upgraded, grassed and fenced for soccer. Then provided outdoor basketball, volleyball and tennis courts. The provision of the first indoor basketball court with the fibre glass back boards helped promote basketball. Then the provision of good coaching did the rest. The provision of the ‘coaching and playing hour’ after evening studies from 6 to 7 helped the various teams enormously and made them very competitive. I then made sure they were dressed properly with the provision of soccer, basketball, athletic kit from O’Neills in Dublin.
ECHO: Naturally, the kind of progress registered attracted several talents, both teachers and students, making you probably the most famous educationalist in The Gambia. It came to a stage that the possessive pronoun- Father Goughʼs School was the metaphor for Saints. In actuality, was that not, by a twist of cruel irony also, a contributor to your premature departure?
GOUGH: Yes, you could be right there. I set up the first Board of Governors, to help me run the school, and was immediately answerable to them. They were very helpful and supportive.
I also introduced Parent Teacher Meetings to get the support of the parents in improving the facilities at the school, and also they could get to know the teachers and find out how their sons and eventually daughters were doing in the various subjects, and how they might improve. It is important to point out here that I was supported by the Department of Education, and in particular the Director of Education at the time, Mr. Tony Blain. Maybe my superiors in the Catholic Mission were not as supportive, and saw too many changes at SAHS, and thought I needed a break.
ECHO: Given the benefit of hindsight, what would you have done differently as Saints’ Principal?
GOUGH: It is very hard to say and to answer this question adequately. Worked even harder myself and then perhaps delegated more responsibility to others. And watched my back!! I did not realize that some were ‘jealous’ of my achievements.
ECHO: What was it like leaving The Gambia rather prematurely, almost at the maturation of your dream of making Saints a model academy not only for The Gambia, probably the West African coast?
GOUGH: Heartbroken was my initial feeling. I had grown to love the Gambian people. My departure coincided with the completion of five years as Principal, and twelve years teaching. The results in the GCE O Level examinations at the end of my tenure as Principal were the best ever in the history of the school and country. In fact, they have never been bettered since. So in a way I had completed my dream for St. Augustine’s, and it was time to move on, even if I had not planned it that way. But there were others which I had planned to do which remained unfulfilled. What is not perhaps known is that in subsequent years I was asked by The Gambian Government to return as principal of two of its most prestigious schools. By that time my family circumstances had changed in Ireland and I was not free to return.
ECHO: Like a musician, as a teacher, I find it difficult to identify one student and say he was the best. I am sure there are moments when you think of Saints and no doubt reflect on your students-across the spectrum, who were your best?
GOUGH: There were many excellent students during my time and I gave a list (about 50) of them in the updated History of St. Augustine’s. I would have to reproduce that here really to be fair to everybody. Also students excelled at various things and subjects. I upgraded Prize Day as a way of honouring these good students. If I started naming names I am bound to forget some….I am out of SAHS 25 years this year and being older the memory is naturally declining. But the three who stand out in my mind at the moment would be Henry Batchi Baldeh, Bashirou Jahumpa and Karamo Sonko.
ECHO: Talk to us about your teachers.
GOUGH: A school is as good as its teachers’ was an oft used phrase of mine. With the expansion of the numbers in the school and the subjects on the curriculum the provision of good teachers was one of my major goals for the school. One of my aims was to employ as many good Gambian teachers as possible as they became available. This would ensure continuity. The first step in this process was the appointment of Mr. Sam Njie as the first Gambian Vice-Principal. Among the many Gambian teachers I recall Mr Goree Ndiaye, Simon Bakurin, Henry Jammeh, Hassan Jallow, Mr. Stafford, Mr. Jaiteh, Mr Baldeh, Mr. Manneh, Ousman Sabally, Charles Mendy, Alade Joiner, Malleh Wadda, Mrs Elizabeth Renner. We had teachers from all over the world and including Peace Corps and VSO teachers. Among these I recall Frs. M. Flynn, M. Murphy and M. Murray, Sister Maeve, Mr Mathews, Mrs. Jobe, Mr. J. Roebuck, Mr. Lavelle, and many teachers from Ghana and many I can’t recall at the moment.
ECHO: Being a Catholic school and a predominantly Christian school, how was it like introducing Islamic education to Saints?
GOUGH: Just a natural development of the expansion of the curriculum. The Department of Education were providing trained Islamic Teachers to the various schools. I initially accepted one teacher, and later a second teacher, to help educate our Muslim students in the practice of their religion. Two thirds of the students at SAHS were members of the Islamic Religion. They should not be denied the opportunity of learning and practicing their faith. While Christians were attending their religion class (twice a week), the Muslims could attend their Islamic classes. Christians and Muslims had separate religious assemblies on Fridays. It is important to point out the great respect there is between Muslims and Christians in The Gambia, and the tolerance they have for each other’s beliefs and practices. This is primarily due to the fact that they are educated together.
ECHO: In 1982, the Senegalese government honored you- what was this about?
GOUGH: Yes, I was decorated with a Senegambian medal for promoting education, sporting and cultural exchange between schools in the two countries. I initiated exchanges with schools in Ziquinchor, Kaolack, and Dakar, the most famous being with Sacre Coeur and St. Michel. Many will recall the attendance of the famous Sacre Coeur band at Independence Day and subsequent parade through Banjul and back to SAHS. There were epic games in both soccer and basketball between the schools, and invariably SAHS came out on top. The importance of these exchanges was that it gave our students the opportunity to play against the best in Senegal and to promote good relations between the two countries. This was encouraged by the two governments and facilitated by the Sene-Gambian Secretariat.
ECHO: Quite frankly, as an old boy of the school, news out of The Gambia about Saintsʼ progress is heart breaking to put it mildly. I occasionally visit the school website, and the classroom photos are deplorable-decrepit and dilapidated structures all over. Knowing the investment you put in the advancement of the school, how do you feel about this and are there ways that this could be fixed?
GOUGH: All things are possible. Yes, I was subsequently disappointed to hear about the decline of standards in SAHS. This is in no way a criticism of my successors. Far be it from me to tell my successors how to do their job. The past students Alumni, which I initially set up to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of SAHS in 1979, should be revived. They can play an important role in providing facilities for their Alma Mater. Next year SAHS is 80 years old. I have sent pictures recently of every class in SAHS during my tenure. These should be posted and the students identified etc.
ECHO: I hear you are still an educator with a prestigious college in your native Ireland, please tell us about what you do now.
GOUGH: Yes, I have been teaching in Blackrock College since 1985. It is one of the best schools in the country with 975 students in the Secondary cycle and 850 in the Preparatory school. There are 100 students boarding. Here I have been teaching English and Religion. I am also Counsellor/Chaplain to the Final Year students. I still coach rugby, athletics, and squash and am also working as a selector/advisor with the Irish schoolboy rugby team.
ECHO: Now to the Gough Foundation. I hear you are building a football stadium in Majai Kunda and phase I is near completion. What is the Gough Foundation and its activities in The Gambia?
GOUGH: Yes, some past students led by the great Bye Malleh Wadda set this foundation up four years ago. Its main purpose is to continue the work I was doing in providing educational scholarships to needy students and to provide good sporting facilities in the Manjai/Kotu area. It can be accessed on the website: ‘www.goughfoundation.gm’. The first phase is going to be completed and opened on the 4th January.
ECHO: Interviewing a man of your calibre is no easy business, doubtless to say, there are numerous areas that could not be covered. Please feel free to talk about everything you wanted to.
GOUGH: My role in setting up St. Michaels Seminary and the education of the first Gambian priests was one of my proudest achievements in The Gambia. Frs.: Anthony Gabisi, Peter Gomez, Edward Gomez, David Jarju and Anthony Sonko were all recruited and trained by Fr. Pere Sagna and myself. They were the pioneers of the Gambian priesthood and leaders of the Catholic Community today.
GOUGH: I left a sporting legacy too in Young Africans, Roots and Saints basketball, volleyball and athletic clubs. I was a national Soccer Advisor in my final year and a member of the GFA, Basketball, and Athletics Associations, and co-founder of The Gambia Rugby team.
I was very happy working in The Gambia, and I love the country and its people. I was very proud to accept the National Order of The Gambia from President Jammeh in 2004. I dedicate this Award to the many outstanding students at SAHS during my tenure.
ECHO: Thanks for the interview.
GOUGH: Thank you Ebrima for your great service to The Gambia and its people.