Whiddy Island National School, Trawnahaha townland, Whiddy Island, Co. Cork
NGR: 096974, 049791
Whiddy Island is a small, near-shore island located at the head of Bantry Bay in Co. Cork. Not far from the modern quayside and in the townland of Trawnahaha is a small late 19th-century one-roomed school house overlooking Bantry Bay below. Painted bright blue with a white lime-wash, in recent years the building had been used as a local museum though it has now fallen into a state of disrepair.
Like so many offshore islands in Ireland, the permanent population has dwindled through the 20th century and can no longer support a local national school. John Chambers’ “Islands – Change in Population 1841 – 2011” clearly shows the island’s decline from a peak population of 729 in 1841:
Until 1880 the island had a resident population of around 450, engaged in fishing and small-scale farming. Today the population has been reduced to approximately 20 permanent residents – though with many holiday homes also on the island. Though tourism and visitors to the island help to support the local economy, there is no longer a sufficient population to support a local national school. Any children of school-going age attend school on the mainland, and so the 19th century school house on the island lies empty and derelict.
The attractive school building comprises a detached, L-plan, three-bay, single-storey school house, built in 1887 according to the plaque on the attached gabled porch to the front. It has a pitched slate roof with rendered chimneystack and cast-iron rainwater goods. The windows are square-headed openings with six-over-six timber sliding sash and casement windows and concrete sills. The porch includes a square-headed door opening with the original timber battened door approached by a flight of concrete steps. The complex is enclosed by rubble stone walls and piers with wrought-iron gate (NIAH). The Second Edition Ordnance Survey sheet from the early 20th century shows what was probably a toilet block to the rear of the building at the end of a large, divided school yard.
The porch/cloakroom retains its original fittings including an attractive built-in cupboard with coat pegs.
By 1947 there were less than 7 children on roll and the school was eventually closed on the 31st December. The matter of the closure of the school and the plight of the remaining school children was raised in Dáil Éireann in December 1948:
Questions. Oral Answers. – Closing of Island National School.
Thursday, 9 December 1948
Dáil Éireann Debate Vol. 113 No. 9
‘Mr. T. O’Sullivan: Information on Timothy O’Sullivan Zoom on Timothy O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Education if he is aware that the national school on Whiddy Island, County Cork, is closed, and if he will state what facilities are available to the people of the island for the education of their children.’
‘General Mulcahy’: ‘The school on Whiddy Island ceased to function as from 1st January last owing to lack of pupils. There are now only two or three children of school-going age on the island. In the case of island children who have no facilities for attending school in their own areas and whose parents are not in a position to provide such facilities for them, the Department is authorised to pay a small grant-in-aid towards the cost of maintaining them with relatives or friends on the mainland to enable them to attend school.’
In the nearby ‘Bank’ pub, a photograph hangs on the wall showing Whiddy Island school children and their teachers in the 1930s. The school house is undoubtedly an interesting reminder of a time when the island population was large enough to require a school.
If you or someone you know attended this national school, or if you have any further information about this school – please do get in touch and share any stories, anecdotes, photographs, or any other memories you may have. If you know of further schools that I could visit, please do let me know.