GUEST POST: Irvinia as I remember her…

by Velma Pollard

(Educator, author, poet, Irvinite)

Irvinia as I remember her

Trivia is my specialty. So with Irvine hall in 1955 it is the little things that I remember: steaming bread pudding on the hot plate in my room and serving that with tea to friends on the tiniest patio you can imagine where Block B faces a lawn separating it from Block C; holding hands in a girl line facing a comparable boy line as women of Irvine lamented a ban that would prevent men from Chancellor from coming over to “lime”. Philip Sherlock, the warden then, thought the ban was a good idea.It may or may not have been when he tried to stop couples “ chessing” on the spine – when rumour had it he was provoked by a couple he asked to disengage near the entrance to the Hall (and his front door) one Friday night only to find them the very next Friday night in a similar embrace. He is said to have asked them whether they had remained there all week in spite of his advice. It was difficult to police such open spaces especially when  simple paths led from men’s halls Chancellor and Taylor to  Irvine, the only hall with women then.

I remember with pleasure the formal dinners Monday to Friday where we were served by fellow students who took our orders. I was on the list of servers so sometimes I would be on the other side earning my respectful three shillings per night. And yes I remember once per month (was it?) special dinners when gentlemen from the men’s halls would be invited to dine in Irvine. I am not sure how these guests were chosen. I believe they were men from the Hall committees just as when we were invited over to their dinner there had to be some mode of selection. These special occasions included speeches: I am now not sure about what.

What was normal then seems archaic  now: lines of women, neatly dressed under scarlet gowns (like the gowns of the University of St.Andrews, Scotland) rushing along the spine to the dining room in the evening. I remember with pleasure Rev. William Murray the Anglican chaplain intoning the grace before meal in his unforgettably resonant voice:

Benedictus benedicat

Per Jesum Cristum Dominum nostrum

He who would remind us not to leave our good manners at home.

And we always took home bread for late night hunger eaten with the inevitable guava jelly kept in cupboards in our rooms. After dinner some of us would cross the Chancellor Hall lawn to the library  for an hour or two then to the  Students’ Union for coffee and home to “beat” more books or fall asleep over them.

Breakfast, lunch and tea were informal. You simply joined the line, took your tray and went along the assembly line as jolly men in aprons supervised your selections under the supervision of Miss Veronica McCalla the great overseer of all aspects of domestic life in the hall. At breakfast I remember students from the other Caribbean islands quietly and not so quietly mocking the men who served us “ ‘am and heggs” when there was that treat.  And I remember rushing the afternoon tea and running, biscuits in hand across Chancellor lawn  to the Arts Block to catch a five o’clock lecture on the days when I had the misfortune to have such a lecture on my timetable.

Even when we were moved to the new Hall for women,  Mary Seacole Hall (nicknamed Chastity Hall for its enclosed  protective nature compared with the open Irvine Hall) we continued to eat in Irvine while the dining room there was being constructed. In that regard I remember ten days of rain when we were bussed to Irvine for meals and the prayers by the then Chief Minister Norman Manley which are said to have caused the rain to stop.

Of course there were study groups for after all we were there to earn degrees. Groups met in rooms and under comfortable trees. I remember reading aloud English translations to help unfortunate seniors revise their Latin Prose texts and in lighter mode I remember mingling with those seniors in the ironing room while we  waited on ironing boards to smooth out stiffly starched crinolines for the weekly Friday night dancing at the Students’ Union

I was part of the first Freshman sports team ever to beat Seniors. A great deal of sweat went into that victory. As early as 5am I would hear K.V Donaldson our coach, already a seasoned athlete from Cornwall College calling  “Skinny”, which meant me, and have us jog down to the playing fields for all kinds of exercises on and off the medicine board. It was a heady victory. The evening of Sports Day the team met in a Chancellor Hall room for wine in the victory cup. Nobody told me what to do so when it came to me I drank it all and got thoroughly drunk. Believe me I did not feel the rungs as friends helped me down the steps then across the lawn to Irvine.

In my Diploma in Education( Dip. Ed.)  year I was given the choice and was happy to return to Irvine Hall which had become CoEd.  My beloved Block B was a men’s block and I was put in Block A. Irvine was not the same. Perhaps I had changed. I now had my degree and was Postgrad reading liberating  subjects like Philosophy and Psychology. Maybe the presence of men a block away took away some of the freedom I used to feel. I don’t know. I did meet a crop of bright interesting young men among the servers in the dining room (Yes I maintained my job as a server). I meet them now and then up and down the Caribbean as retired heads of government departments, big companies and medical teams.

I treasure these memories and value the friendships formed in those early days and try to keep in touch with those like me still above the ground all over the Caribbean : Barbados, St.Vincent, Trinidad, St Lucia to name a few.

When we left UWI we had no doubt that the Federation would be a lasting reality.

 

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6 thoughts on “GUEST POST: Irvinia as I remember her…

  1. Miss V, aka Skinny, what a wonderful remembering, we are blessed you shared this. I felt very nostalgic and rather sad reading through, as though I too had a miniscule patio and ironed dresses neatly to wear under my scarlet gown, although I had not yet been born. The story as I heard it was that NW Manley had asked the nation to pray for rain in the midst of a severe drought, and this was followed by the devastating floods! Perhaps he then asked the nation to once more bend there knees to halt it.
    Federation, and your security that it would persist. Another sadness.

  2. WOOOOOW!!!! This is a beautiful piece. Reading this allowed me to create an image of Irvine Hall like no other. Being a student and a current Irvinite the pride i feel reading this cannot be explained. I am not a Resident advisor at irvine and I would like to get more insight in what is know as “Irvine Culture”

    • It’s great to see all the positive responses to Velma’s ‘Irvinia’ recollection. I hope we can persuade many others to share on the blog for the enjoyment of everyone. If you know anyone else who can jump in the ring, please encourage them to get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to facilitate. Email

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