Mr Hennessey appears to be everything a teacher shouldn’t be. He is shown as lazy when Paddy says that he was “supposed to be looking after us but he wasn’t". He is often sarcastic and seems to be frustrated.
But like so many of the characters in the novel Mr Hennessey is complex and neither all good or all bad.
His strict classroom regime is often well meaning. Paddy comes to appreciate that Mr Hennessey’s strictness is an attempt to try to teach the boys something.
This is shown for example when "Henno made us do the corrections with a red colouring pencil.”
He can also be caring and compassionate. When Paddy falls asleep in class, Mr Hennessey “had nearly carried me out".
He seems genuinely concerned about Paddy when he brings him to the headmaster.
He also shows sensitivity to Liam O’Connell when he "dirtied his trousers one day".
Mr Hennessey seems to favour certain students and pick on others. He is violent in the same random way as the boys, "on Fridays; he biffed us as well. It gave him an appetite … he told us”.
However, this was a different time when teachers regularly used corporal punishment.
We must always think about when the novel is set when judging the actions of characters as many of them are products of their time.
James is even more badly behaved in class than Kevin or Paddy.
We learn that Mr Hennessey hates James and even blames him for disturbing the class when he is actually at home with the mumps.
James is wild and unpredictable. Perhaps he is too aware of the fact that his teacher dislikes him, "It’s not fair, said James O’Keefe. – So it’s not.”
This may be the reason why James acts as he does.
At first Charles is a threat to Paddy. He is one of the "Corporation" boys who should be in the "thicks" class.
But as Paddy becomes increasingly aware of Kevin’s manipulative nature, he grows more fascinated by Leavy.
Leavy is becoming a young man and Paddy yearns to be like him, free of childhood and able to stand on his own in the world now that his father has gone.