Kilnaboy National School, Kilnaboy townland, Co. Clare
NGR: 127450, 191785
The Burren landscape of Co. Clare covers an area of about 360 km2 and forms a gently inclined plateau with at least 60% of the area being bare rock or rocky pasture. Where soil has gathered in shallow valleys, some parcels of land are under pasture, while un-grazed areas are often covered with dense hazel scrub.
Bounded to the west by the Atlantic Ocean and to the north by Galway Bay, the area attracts thousands of visitors every year, drawn by the unique landscape which is renowned for its remarkable assemblage of plants and animals. Due to its sparse population, it is one of the best dark sky areas in Ireland, and it can feel quite isolated, particularly in winter when few tourists visit.
Over the past few years I’ve spent a good deal of time in the Burren, specifically around the village of Carron, and the large turlough, or seasonal lake that’s located there. Here, the landscape is rich in historical and archaeological sites with more than 90 megalithic burial monuments in the area. However lately I’ve been drawn to monuments of the more recent past, and the vernacular architecture of the past two centuries.
Travelling from Corofin toward Leamenah, you’ll pass the little village of Kilnaboy (any fan of the Father Ted TV series will know this as the location of Craggy Island Parochial House). The village is most notable for its imposing 11th century Church visible from the roadside, and so it’s quaint 18th/19th century streetscape is very often overlooked; In recent years, the former post office here has been turned into an exhibition space, aptly named ‘X-PO’. And close by you’ll find a former school house built in 1884 but now derelict and empty. It was of course this building that I came to see at the invitation of its present owner, PJ Curtis.
In form, it is one of the standard OPW designs of the late 19th century, and identical to the school houses at Whiddy Island in Co. Cork and Gortnabinny in Co. Kerry; a detached, L-plan, four-bay, single-storey school house, with square-headed window openings including six-over-six timber sliding sash and casement windows. Inside, the building is bare and the remaining school furniture is stacked to one side. On the floor just inside the main doorway there is a pianola scroll which I ask PJ about…
PJ is well known to many involved in the Irish music scene over the past forty or more years. He has produced some of the most renowned folk and traditional music albums of the past decades. He is a celebrated author and playwright, researcher and lecturer. This is his national school, not just that he is the present owner; PJ grew up in the house next door to the building and attended school here into the 1950s. His family had sold the land that the school was built on to the school board in the 1880s, and when a new school was built in 1952, they bought the land and building back. For him this building is alive with memories; some fond, and some not so fond. There are stories of comradery and childhood friendships, and of over-strict disciplinarians and heavy handed discipline. PJ is naturally reflective, and in this room his stories are all the more vivid.
He has recently begun maintenance work on the building to prevent its condition from deteriorating further. Amazingly, the building has not been recorded in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH), despite the fact that the identical schools at both Whiddy Island and Gortnabinny in Cork and Kerry respectively, have.
This discrepancy is a noticeable, reoccurring problem in the NIAH for Ireland; from county to county, there are inconsistencies in the recording and inclusion of architectural heritage in the NIAH (a topic I will soon address in relation to school houses in a future post). Thus; the condition and future of this building lies in PJ’s hands. This is an evocative place for him and for many local people, and he would not like to see it fall to rack and ruin.
This is an appealing national school building of compact plan and balanced proportions, built to a design prepared by the Office of Public Works on behalf of the Department of Education. The school is of particular significance as one of the earliest surviving purpose-built educational facilities in the locality.
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.