Scoil Cill Criosta, Ballingarry townland, Co. Galway
NGR: 156858, 213606
The Slieve Aughty Hills straddle the border between south-east Co. Galway and north-east Co. Clare. Desolate and empty of human settlement, this striking landscape comprises low rolling hills, damp peat-lands, forests and mountain streams, and offers a great stillness and a sense of solitude to visitors. The area features one of the most extensive forestry units in Ireland with 33,150 Ha of mountain land under management. A maze of forestry roads allow access to the interior of the hilly terrain where wild horses and deer roam the blanket peat, and the extensive forestry plantations are punctuated by wind turbines. Few people still live in this area, though the ruins of former farmsteads can be found among Coilte coniferous plantations. The village of Kilchreest is situated on the north-eastern edge of the hills, with the town of Loughrea lying to the north-east. The disused school house Scoil Cill Criosta (Kilchreest National School) lies to the south of Kilchreest village at Three Kings Gap on lands that slowly rise toward the emptying hills.
The building is in a good state of preservation both inside and out, though a large door has been knocked in the east gable to allow farm machinery to be stored inside. The fireplace at this end has been destroyed. The building comprises a detached five-bay single-storey national school, built 1931, on a T-shaped plan with single-bay single-storey lean-to projecting bays centred on single-bay full-height gabled projecting porch.
The remaining running bond chimney stack includes a chamfered capping and the building retains original cast-iron rainwater goods on timber eaves boards with cast-iron downpipes. The window opes are square-headed with cut-limestone sills and concealed dressings framing the remains of six-over-six timber sash windows centred on four-over-four timber sash windows with six-over-six timber sash windows to rear (east) elevation. There are square-headed opposing door openings with concealed dressings framing timber boarded or tongue-and-groove timber paneled doors to the rear.
Like the example at Shanvaghera, this national school was built to a standardised design for the Department of Education (cf. 31307201). To the east of the building is the original detached outdoor toilet block with the fixtures still in place.
At the time of the 1911 census in Kilchreest, common surnames of the school children in the wider catchment area included: Forde, Ní Cheallaigh,Ní Mhach Aodha,Ó Laochdha,Sheehan, Hehir, Glynn, Hogan, Healy, Rabbit, Donoghue, Joyce, Nee, McAllen, Mullins, Stubbs, Stewart, Madden, Cahill, Larkin, Shaughnessy, Monahan, Fallon, Hawkins, Cormican, O’Minucáin, Carty, Deely, Hawkins, Higgins, Haverty, Keane, Finnegan, Carty, Buckley, Cusack, (and in Kilchreest village) Cunningham, Hastings, Miller, Finn, Taylor, Spinks, Grogan, Gloster, Anderson, Burke, Leslie, Gavin, Glennon, Traynor, Howley, Le Poitter, Bradshaw, Townley, Thornton, Newall, Garmin, Connolly, Egan, Clarke, Forde, Grady, Lambert, Mannion, Mitchel, Mills.
Below is an extract from the Irish Folklore Commission’s Schools Folklore Scheme (1937-38) gathered by school children in the area in 1938. It relates some of the features of the physical and cultural landscape of the area at that time:
The modern national school in Kilchreest was opened on the first of January 1981. It was established to replace two existing two-teacher schools in Castledaly and the school shown here (Kilchreest). Up until the 1950s, small multi-grade schools were established throughout Ireland as part of the education infrastructure. But with an improvement in rural transport and the growing availability and popularity of motor cars, the need for small local schools that children could walk to was lessened, and larger schools covering greater catchment areas were favoured. During the period 1966-73, the number of one and two teacher schools was reduced by c.1,100. Did this decision to close so many rural schools have a positive or negative impact on the rural Irish landscape in isolated areas such as the Slieve Aughty Hills?
If you or someone you know attended this national school, please do get in touch and share any stories, anecdotes, photographs, or any other memories you may have.