Past School Trips

School Tour: Italy 2018.

The first thing to say is thank you to the whole COGO team and in particular to Ms. Silvia Ferraro for all of her hard work on our behalf.

The tour this year was to Florence and Lake Garda.

DAY 1:

The group met at Dublin airport for the early morning flight to Bologna. The 66 students and 7 staff members were all very excited and eager to begin the trip. Ryanair were very good as their people facilitated us with the check in of the 3 students who had not been checked in online due to some IT glitch. The flight to Bologna was uneventful. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the baggage carousel which put us behind schedule by almost an hour.  The coach driver ‘Bruno’ proved to be excellent throughout the week. He had a good rapport with the students. We travelled to Florence for a pre-arranged walking tour of the city. The tour was good and both guides were very pleasant. The group then transferred to the Hotel Impero. The hotel was a bit old world but I don’t think that any of the students even noticed this as most were beginning to flag a little after the early morning start.

Day 2:

The group enjoyed a full day visit to Florence with the three scheduled visits to the Uffizi gallery, Museo Galileo and the Accademia Gallery. Entry to the Uffizi even with prebooked tickets is very slow because of the body scanner [there was only one working!]. It took us an hour to get through this part. How long people without prebooked tickets waited is anyone’s guess. The Museo Galileo was excellent except unfortunately the admission staff were horrible [the only people we met all week who were not kind and helpful.] The Accademia was of much interest to some of our older art students. The layout is a bit confusing inside and not well signposted as to the displays. After the day in Florence the group drove to Hotel San Zeno. It is a most spectacular setting for a hotel. The rooms were of a good standard. The hotel was well maintained and was spotlessly clean. It was a family run hotel. The two sisters who owned the hotel relied heavily on a very pleasant gentleman from Bangladesh who seemed to know everything that needed to be known about the hotel.


The group had an excellent day in Verona and the guides were very good. The students enjoyed a good amount of free time to wander around the central area and shopping streets. We also visited the La Grande Mela shopping centre on the outskirts of the city. Frankly it is not worth bothering about except for the Bowling alley which went down very well with the students.

Day 4:

The group travelled to Modena in the morning and then on to the Ferrari museum. Everyone seemed to enjoy the visit to the Balsamic vinegar factory. Needless to say the visit to Ferrari was very popular. Unfortunately, one of the group had to miss out as he was having his appendix removed in the local hospital. The hospital in Peschiera del Garda was fantastic and the staff were excellent. Google translate proved to be an excellent friend! I felt that the Italian Health Care system really put ours to shame.

I asked the teachers how the trip to Modena and Ferrari went. They said that the visit to the Balsamic vinegar factory was excellent. They said that the students enjoyed Ferrari very much but that the tour of Modena was perhaps a little boring for some of the younger students.

Day 5:

Parco Natura Viva proved to be a good substitute when Gardaland Theme Park was not available. It was a very well organised Safari Park. The park had a good selection of fast food cafes etc on site. In the afternoon the group took the cable car to the top of Monte Baldo which was spectacularly snow covered. There were some skiers on the mountain and also a number of dare devil paragliders. Our students enjoyed an impromptu snowball fight. The day was made complete by the visit to Aquardens which is a very good facility. The swimming facilities, pools, slides etc were enjoyed by all.

Day 6:

On the final day the group went to Sirmione where they enjoyed a boat trip on the lake and a potter around the town before heading for the airport. The group stopped at McDonalds for a very quick lunch.  At the airport we checked in very slowly for the Aer Lingus flight due to a lack of check in staff and made straight for the gate.  On return to Dublin the students were met by their parents in the arrivals area of the airport. Overall, the trip was enjoyed by all those who travelled.

Cyril Hoffman.

Choir trip: Boston 7th April – 13th April 2017

This year the bi-annual choir trip was to the city of Boston, the home of the American Revolution and associated very closely with Irish America over the years.

A travelling party of 103 people assembled at Dublin airport at 7.00am on the 7th of April to commence check in and American pre-clearance before an 11.30am departure for Boston. Arriving at Logan airport at lunch time the group transferred to the Backpackers Hostel in Everett. By the time check in, food and a choir practice were done and dusted the students and teachers were visibly flagging and an early bedtime beckoned. Unfortunately, most students were then wide awake by 4.00am the following morning!

On the second day of the trip everyone was ready to participate in the Gospel Concert in Groton School. I think that some of the group were very excited to be transported to the venue in the big yellow school buses or as I heard several students dub them ‘the Bart Simpson buses’. In Groton, the students participated in several workshops conducted by renowned choral directors from the region. Later, the Sandford students performed in the concert. The school had unbelievable facilities with a state of the art auditorium dedicated to music and performance. The students were fed very well by the host school Groton before the evening performance.

On the third day the group had a half day trip to Salem and Marble Head followed by retail therapy in the Prudential shopping mall. The day concluded with attendance at the Illusionist Magic Show in Boston Opera House.

Day 4 saw the group visit Boston College High, a school which is Jesuit run and controlled. The school is quite exclusive. It resembled a university campus more so than a school. The students from Sandford had a joint rehearsal with the host school’s choir followed by breakfast in the school canteen. After breakfast Sandford students performed for Boston College’s music society and a number of their parents. Sandford students were then given a tour of the school. It was the first time I had seen a school gym big enough to have an indoor running track as part of its structure. After the visit the students walked along the coast line to see the Kennedy museum from the outside only, as unfortunately we were unable to go in on the day. The group then walked to the nearest T station to catch the subway into Boston Common where part of the Boston Freedom trail was covered. The students had some free time in central Boston and the Faneuil Hall market place area. In the evening the students travelled by bus to a Laser Tag venue for fun and games.

On day 5 the group visited Brimmer and May High School for an early morning workshop and a surprise breakfast hosted by their parent committee. The morning was filled by workshops and a performance by both schools which brought us to lunch time. Again their parent committee hosted a fabulous outdoor picnic lunch. The generosity of the parents, staff and students of Brimmer and May High School knew no boundaries. After lunch there was an impromptu football match before we visited the Chestnut hill area. Afterwards we had quite a lengthy walk to the T station in temperatures reaching the 28 plus degrees Celsius to catch a connection to Brookline Public High School for an evening concert. Brookline is a very large school with 1800 students and plans to rise to 2400 students in two years time and 3000 students in 5 years time. After the concert we returned by buses to the hostel for a late evening Chinese take away meal. The take away outlet must have sent double the food required in error because there was enough left over for a regiment of hungry soldiers. Thankfully, we were able to donate the excess to local homeless shelters through a police contact of one of the guys working in the hostel.

On our final full day, Wednesday the 12th the group visited the Museum of Fine Art. Once the initial hiccup of the museum claiming non payment was overcome [it was a clerical error on their side] the students roamed freely in the museum. There was something for everyone’s taste in the museum. After the visit it was a short commute to the airport for check in, a late lunch and then an early evening departure for Dublin. The group arrived back in Dublin nearly an hour ahead of schedule at 4.20am where everyone was eventually reunited with parents and family.

Thank you to the students. They were superb and they never grumbled even though most mornings we were up and about before 6.00am. As regards their time keeping I could not have asked for better and they always turned up to each head count and check in with their supervising teacher when they were required to do so. In addition, a massive vote of thanks to my nine colleagues who ensured that everything ran smoothly. They are Shane Keogh, Marie Brennan, Conor Norton, Niamh Bradshaw, Gráinne Brophy, Lorna Horan, Brian Moriarty, Danielle Fox and Jim Murphy.

Cyril Hoffman

2016 Easter tour to Andalucia.

The morning of Friday the 18th of March was cold and frosty when forty three students and five teachers assembled at 3.40am in room A1 Sandford Park School. The students were all wide awake and very excited. The party transferred to the airport, successfully negotiated check in, had breakfast and before we knew it were in the air on our way to Malaga.

When we arrived in Malaga we had a shock as the sun had deserted the city and it was cold and grey just like Dublin. However, the group soldiered on and enjoyed a guided tour of the city with our knowledgeable and entertaining guide Victor. The group then transferred to the city centre for some lunch before visiting the Picasso museum/gallery. Afterwards the group transferred to the Hotel Bali in the nearby resort of Benalmadena. After check in it was time for dinner where every taste bud was catered for in the self service dining area. One Form 1 boy who shall remain nameless was observed with a giant slab of cake as his dinner having decided to skip the traditional ‘meat and two veg’ combination. After dinner the group enjoyed bowling in Malaga before retiring to bed at approximately 10.30pm.

Saturday morning saw the group depart bright and early for a day trip to Grenada and the Alhambra palace. It was raining just like home but the rain did not dampen the spirits of the group. In the morning we descended down into the city centre via hundreds of extremely steep steps from the drop off point. The students had some free time for lunch and a wander around before tackling the steps which seemed to have grown in number and steepness since the morning descent. However the climb was well worth it as the Alhambra Palace was truly amazing as it charted the history of Moorish occupation and rule and later conquest by Christian armies. On return to the hotel and once dinner had been enjoyed the group went for a walk around the marina area of Benalmadena. The marina is geared 100% towards mass tourism with every sort and type of opportunistic street sales vendor promoting his/her products.

On Sunday the group went to Tivoli Theme Park. Do I need to say anymore! The students had a great time and two of the teachers showed the students how to take on the Tower of Fear. No names but the initials of the brave teachers are MN and CH.

Monday, the group visited the spectacular city of Seville. We arrived during a theatrical thunder and lightning storm. The city is magnificent. The highlight was the Cathedral. The view from the top of the tower is breathtaking and worth the 35 story climb. During the afternoon the students involved themselves in some retail therapy before returning to the hotel. That night there was a display of Flamenco dancing in the main bar lounge area. It would be fair to say that it met a mixed response from the students of Sandford Park School.

On Tuesday the group went into the mountains to the ancient town of Ronda which was originally a Roman fort. The town has the oldest bull ring in Spain. Today bull fights only happen for one week in September in the ring which dates from the 1500’s.  A bull fight may not take place in this ring unless a member of the Royal family is present. The town is magnificent with views over sheer wall gorges. The local speciality is oxtail stew with a Spanish twist which in my opinion is an acquired taste! The students enjoyed the town and the visit to the bull ring before returning to the hotel and one final night of bowling in a local alley.

Wednesday 23rd was the last day of the trip. After packing and a room tidy up which was a mammoth task in the case of some of the junior boys’ bedrooms? The group then walked to the local Sea life aquarium for a guided tour of the facility. The otters were definitely the crowd pleaser as the students were enthralled by their antics. After the tour we met our bus at the hotel for the trip into Malaga where the students had time for lunch and a lengthy shopping session before continuing on to the airport for the homeward flight.

Unfortunately, the flight was delayed by approximately forty minutes which had a knock on affect on our arrival into Dublin before being transported back to the school.

My thanks to all the students who were superbly behaved throughout the trip. In addition a huge thank you to my colleagues Marie Brennan, Mark Neville, Dara Carey and Eddie McGinn for their hard work throughout the trip.

Cyril Hoffman.

New York Trip: Easter 2015.

Planning for the Choir and Debating trip of March 2015 commenced in March 2014. Mr. Browner and I started to put out feelers for possible contacts in New York City. The tour company was contacted and a plan began to emerge for a possible itinerary. When we went public with the destination of the tour, to say students were interested is a major understatement. By the day of departure on March 26th ninety students and nine teachers were full of excitement and anticipation.

As is usual with flights to the USA the group went through American pre clearance in Dublin airport. We were mildly alarmed when Mr.Keogh and Cathal McCabe were invited to ‘step this way please sir’. Fortunately they soon rejoined the group. Once in the air everyone relaxed and settled in for the flight. Unfortunately, due to a variety of reasons the flight took in excess of eight and a half hours. This meant that we had to play catch up on our schedule once we were aboard the coaches to the hostel. The group literally had time only to wolf down a pizza, throw their bags into their rooms and board the coaches to attend a production of Phantom of the Opera in the Majestic Theatre, Broadway. The production was spectacular and much enjoyed by everyone even though we were fighting sleep due to the combination of an early start and a super heated theatre.

Everyone was excited for our first full day in New York on Friday morning. The students looked amazing in their school uniform as we struck out for the subway and our carefully pre planned route. It was a military operation with the students in groups of ten. Some teachers opted to have the students ‘sound off’ from numbers 1 to 10. I went for the more traditional route of calling each name of the students in my group. On arrival at the subway station we were greeted with notices informing us that the J and M lines would be closed on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. I felt my heart hit my boots as our planning involved heavy usage of these same lines. However, that was a problem for later that evening. We successfully negotiated our first outing on the teeming, noisy, smelly journey which is the New York subway system. On arrival at the Empire State Building we were whisked up to the 80th floor for our performance. The girls and boys were superb. Ms. Mulvey recorded some of the performance and posted it up on You Tube. The parents of Eoin, Eleanor and Allanah Donohoe as well as Matthew Brennan’s were present for the performance. After the performance the students were able to access the roof for panoramic views of New York City. Despite the freezing temperatures it was worth the effort.

In the afternoon the group returned to the hostel for a change into casual clothing and hoodie for our visit to Williamsburg Charter School which was adjacent to the hostel. The school is only in existence for eight years. Ninety five percent of the students are immigrants or the children of immigrants mainly from Latin America and the Caribbean region. The welcome from the school was as warm as one could wish for. There were many workshops and group activities. Face book etc details were swapped with one Form V male student who shall remain nameless in great demand with the girls of Williamsburg. Later in the evening both schools participated in a magical concert which will live long in my memory. The evening was rounded off by a Chinese style order in meal in the hostel.

By Saturday morning I heard a number of students at the 7.00am breakfast saying,  “I’m so tired, I have never been so tired in my whole life”. Despite this all were ready for the morning trip to the Atlantic Terminal Mall which was a little underwhelming to be honest. However, the Victoria secrets shop did do a brisk trade from the female members of the tour. On return to the hostel and a quick change into uniform the group departed by coach for St.Peter’s Prep High School in Jersey City. After a mix up regarding drop off points we eventually arrived at the church and University. Our hosts provided an excellent buffet style meal with a variety of soft drinks. One of the choices available was so popular amongst the TY group that I reckon they drank the supplies dry! Then the group went to the concert in the University church. It was a feat of stamina as it lasted over three hours and thirty plus songs. Emerging a little shell shocked after the concert everyone was given a packed supper to take away with them.

On Sunday morning the group were up early to head for Central Park and an optional visit to the Museum of Modern Art. I know for fact that a lot of shopping was done during free time available. I am sure that some of the younger boys and girls in Forms one and two were not too happy when we teamed them with a buddy from either Form V or Form VI but safety first. The group met the coaches at a pre-arranged spot for a return to St.Peter’s and an evening Palm Sunday service. I know some were a little fearful that we would repeat the previous evening’s three hour marathon. We need not have worried as we enjoyed a beautiful service heavily influenced by the local Filipino Choir. Our students sang superbly and two students Peter Menzies and Hannah Harte read extracts from ‘Under Milk wood’ and ‘Songs for Aisling’.

Monday morning the group took a number of subway changes to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Security is Airport tight and rigorously enforced. Both are landmarks that one has to see when visiting New York especially for the first time as many of us were. Afterwards the group went to Lower Manhattan for Lunch. All students were encouraged to visit Ground Zero. I was gratified to see that the majority did so. There is still a palpable air of sadness at the site fourteen years on from 9/11. The group returned to the hostel to change into uniform for our trip to Regis High School close to 7th avenue and an eagerly awaited debate. Conor Lamb and Nathan Johns were sent into battle against a very slick and skilled duo from Regis. I reckon that Sandford won the traditional debate as we know it but Regis probably shaded the adversarial part of the competition. Regis College is a Jesuit College and state that it is a free, non fee paying college and students enter solely on academic merit. However, it was admitted to us by some of the parents that extremely substantial voluntary contributions were expected. The figures quoted would make a nice income in any country.

On the final day the plan was to visit Manhattan for retail therapy and many did engage in this therapy to its limit. After lunch the group returned to the hostel to check out and take the buses to the airport for the flight home. On arrival in Dublin we had to sit for what seemed an eternity as the covered air bridge failed to connect to the aeroplane. Eventually attempts were abandoned and we disembarked via a traditional staircase. Once the bags were collected the students left with their parents. Ringing in my ears was ‘I am going to bed for a week’ from many of the students. By that measure alone I think the trip can be judged a success.

I must congratulate the students. They were superb and really helped us to negotiate the subways etc with a group of ninety nine people. My thanks also to the good humour and tireless work of the teachers who travelled with me, namely, Jonathan Browner, Shane Keogh, Mark Neville, Eddie McGinn, Barbara Thompson, Áine Mulvey, Lorna Horan and Marie Brennan. I have attached a full list of the students who travelled from first to sixth years. Thank you again to the students who ensured that ‘we had a ball’.

Cyril Hoffman.

Easter tour: 2014.

I have been involved with school tours and trips since I started work in Sandford back in 1988. This year the tour would be different as Sandford is now a co-educational school and a number of girls applied to be part of the trip. Honestly, I looked forward to this tour maybe even more so than previous years because of their inclusion.

This year the tour was to the Rhineland region of Germany. The tour was for six days and the group was based in the city of Koblenz on the confluence of the Rivers Rhine and Moselle.

Students and teachers alike had eagerly awaited the date of departure on Friday 11th of April even if a 3.30am start was a little bit of a shock to the system. The group flew to Frankfurt where they learnt about the stock exchange and the Bundesbank money museum. The group also enjoyed a guided coach tour of the city centre before heading for Koblenz.

During the following days the group visited Cologne, Rudesheim, St. Goarhausen, Marksburg, Phantasialand theme park, Bonn and Dusseldorf. Of course there were many planned evening activities as well. Somehow, I believe that the girls on the trip could have ‘passed’ on the traditional German meal of Beef sausage and sauerkraut which I had organised for the evening in Cologne.

Two memories stand out for me from the trip. The first is seeing all the students decked out in oil slickers and miners helmets ready to enter the volcanic cellars of Mendig. I have a great picture of some of the Form III girls busily enjoying lollipops before the descent into the mine. They have offered me good money to destroy the photographs but they have not yet come up with the cash!

The second memory involves check in at Dusseldorf where all the girls decided whilst waiting that it was the most natural thing to sit down and apply makeup for the flight home.

Joking apart it was a very enjoyable trip and a better bunch of students one could not have wished for on tour. My thanks to Jennifer Cummins; she was an excellent travelling companion and a calm organised help to girls and boys alike.

Cyril Hoffman.