Munterneese National School, Munterneese townland, Co. Donegal
Located in the south of Co. Donegal, and on the northern shore of Donegal Bay, the village of Inver is sometimes referred to as the hidden jewel of the northwest. In recent years, the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ coastal driving route has brought an increase in tourism to the area, with the parish being situated on the bay of Inver. Nonetheless it remains a quiet spot; rural in character with hilly and rough grazing land that is occasionally lashed by Atlantic winds and rain.
Although now quiet, the area was once home to an important whaling post during the 18th and 19th century, and a large whaling station and fleet was based in the Port of Inver, 2 km from the modern Inver Village.
Thomas and Andrew Nesbitt set up the whaling business in Donegal Bay in 1759. Thomas was the inventor of the gun-harpoon, which was witnessed by Arthur Young during his tour of Ireland 1776-1779, as he states: “From many experiments he brought the operation to such perfection that, for some years he never missed a whale, nor failed of holding her by the harpoon”.The ruins of the old whaling station still remain in the port but have eroded and deteriorated to rubble.
During the 19th century the area was busy enough to require a railway, and Inver railway station opened on 18 August 1893. However the final train passed through the station on 1 January 1960. It has been closed since.
Just a few kilometres east of Inver Village and situated to the south of the old railway tracks, are the townlands of Munterneese and Drumcoe. The townlands are sparsely populated today, though a quick glance at the historic mapping for the area shows that in the time since the publication of the First Edition Ordnance Survey 6 inch map series in the 1840s, there have been no less than four school houses constructed in this small area. Only two if these buildings remain today (both disused), and this blog post looks at the last of these to be constructed; a detached six-bay single-storey national school, dated 1938.
This school house is one of several almost identical school buildings constructed in Co. Donegal in the late 1930s/early 1940s; a two-room school house with a hipped natural slate roof to main body of building, clayware ridge tiles, and cast-iron rainwater goods. Identical examples at Letterbrick (1935) and Ballydevitt (1946) retain their recessed flat-roofed returns to the rear, though the returns have been demolished at Munterneese. On the exterior, there is a smooth rendered finish over red brick walls (English Garden Bond) up to window sill level, and the remains of three-over three-pane timber sliding sash windows with horizontal glazing bars. Inside, the floor has collapsed, and the building is now used to house farm animals.
The most striking feature is almost certainly a brick fireplace set to the front of the building. With the dividing wall between the two classrooms now gone, the symmetrical brickwork is particularly aesthetically pleasing.
Set back from road in overgrown grounds to the west of Mountcharles, despite being now out of use, this interesting symmetrical mid-20th century national school retains its early architectural character and form. This school conforms to the typical Office of Public Works two classroom national schools that were built in great numbers throughout Ireland during the mid-20th century, and represents a relatively intact example of its type. The date and name plaque with incised Gaelic script add further interest. The contrasting use of red brick and plain rendered finishes creates pleasing tonal and textural variation to the main elevations. Its symmetrical form with the simple clean detailing can be viewed as a ‘light’ interpretation of the ‘International’ style then current in architecture (NIAH). The present building replaced an earlier national school adjacent to this site, which was in existence in 1907 (Ordnance Survey 25 inch map sheet). This simple school building is of social importance to the local community, and represents an interesting addition to the built heritage of the local area.
Disused National schools are a feature of the isolated rural landscapes of Co. Donegal, adding a layer of social history to the physical environment, and are indicative of significant local population in a period when transport was more difficult. This building is of social importance to the local area as an early surviving example of a national school where generations of local children were taught, and is an addition to the built heritage of the Drumcoe/Inver locale. Below are extracts from the Folklore Commission’s field books recorded locally by school children at Munterneese during the late 1930s.
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.