Iconic Catholic Priest, Father Joseph Anthony Gough Dies Peacefully in Dublin, Ireland

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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 a local 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.


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