Carrigagulla National School, Carrigagulla townland, Co. Cork/Scoil Carraig an Ghiolla, Co. Chorcaí
NGR: 138313, 084161
The parish of Macroom in Co. Cork is situated about halfway between Cork city and Killarney on the modern N22 roadway. Each day, significant volumes of traffic pass through the town of Macroom, with drivers unaware perhaps, of the locality’s rich and diverse cultural landscape. Crossing the River Sullane, the charred and imposing ruins of Macroom Castle overlook the the river below. Within the town, Macroom Market House (built c.1820) is a focus for remembrance, with many memorials and commemorative plaques including one to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the granting of market rights to the town of Macroom by Queen Anne on 30th September 1713.
There are few counties to rival Cork for the scale of its post-medieval and industrial heritage. But exploring the area around the parish in search of a disused school house in the townland of Carrigagulla, it was an obscure and understated industrial project from the mid-18th century that attracted my attention.
The townland of Carrigagulla is surrounded by the amphitheatre of the Boggeragh Mountain foothills. Here in the townland, adjacent to the Millstreet-Rylane roadside, are the ruins of Carrigagulla National School. But the Millstreet-Rylane roadway has its own story to tell about life in this rural area through the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Cork-Tralee turnpike road, better known as the ‘Butter Road’ was completed in 1748.Its construction was undertaken by John Murphy of Castleisland, who constructed the 56 miles of road including nine large bridges, 15 small bridges, toll house and turnpike gates. It was a requirement of the construction that the road be 30ft (9.14m) in width with drainage ditches and a 15ft wide (4.57m) gravelled surface. It became the main route by which farmers from Kerry and western Cork took their butter to the Cork Butter Exchange in the city (Rynne 2006, 317).
The turnpike system had been introduced into Ireland in 1729. Intended to provide good inter-county roads, turnpike roads were built and maintained by turnpike trusts which were generally run by local landowners. The turnpike act empowered named trustees to erect gates and toll houses on the roads and provided a loan for their construction. The toll monies, collected from all but pedestrians and local farmers who used the roads daily, were intended to maintain the road and repay the loan (ibid., 315).
The Cork-Tralee turnpike road is today but a back-road, with the majority of traffic passing along the N22 between Cork and Kerry. The area is quite, the hills are largely forested, or bare and boggy, and the once bustling highway is often empty of traffic. However, at Aghalode Bridge, and adjacent to the Aghalode River, there is an old school house that is perhaps a reminder of a more thriving time in this rural spot. On the west side of the Butter Road you’ll find the remains of Carrigagulla National School/Scoil Carraig an Ghiolla.
Constructed in 1934 it is a simple, detached, two-bay, single-storey national school on a T-shaped plan, having a gabled projection to the centre of the east elevation.Though still roofed, it is in a poor state of repair. From the outside the building is certainly institutional in appearance; the rough grey rendering is not inviting, the surrounding schoolyard is overgrown, and the foreboding hum of a wasp’s nest deters visitors. The dull-green, pealing paint on the window frames and rainwater goods only seem to emphasise the buildings predicament. A squadron of wasps emerge from the brickwork chimney stacks and air vents as I get a little closer.
Peering through the broken glazing of the timber framed, sliding sash-windows, I can see that this is another one-roomed school house, identical in form to the example at Lettermore in Co. Donegal. Although there is just one room, it was once divided into two classrooms by a glazed, wooden, folding screen.
Despite the threat of wasp sting, I decide to look inside. On the walls of the entrance hall, the numbered coat hooks remain.
Although I’ve noted these numbered hooks at many disused schools before, I’ve never really thought of what the purpose of numbering was. I can remember being assigned a coat hook number during my own days in national school, and I guess it may avoid kids scrapping over a spot to hang their winter coat. But in this derelict setting, I sense the numbers as something more reflective of an institutionalising fervour. It must be the nearby drone of the wasps that has me in such a mood. Draconian is undoubtedly the word I’m thinking of.
Being constructed in 1934, the school was in use at the time of the Folklore Commission’s Schools Collection. In 1937 the Irish Folklore Commission, in collaboration with the Department of Education and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, initiated a revolutionary scheme in which schoolchildren were encouraged to collect and document folklore and local history. Over a period of eighteen months some 100,000 children in 5,000 primary schools in the twenty-six counties of the Irish Free State were encouraged to collect folklore material in their home districts.
Carrigagulla National School features in these records. Two topics recorded by the local school children at the time caught my eye. The first relates to a ‘scoil scairte‘ or Hedge School in the district. Catholic schools were forbidden under the Penal laws from 1723 to 1782, and so to educate Catholic children, somewhat secretive and unofficial ‘Hedge Schools ‘ were arranged, usually taught by an educated person from the locality. ‘Hedge school’ was the name given to this educational practice, so called because of its rural nature rather than schooling being held outdoors. The Hedge School at Carrigagulla was located in an outbuilding at a place called ‘Fionan Field’, and the local teachers are named as John Shine and Jeremiah O’Sullivan.
The second topic brings me back to the Butter Road; Its clear from the Folklore Commission’s records that traffic along the road was important to, and noted by locals, and five pages are dedicated to the topics of ‘Travelling Folk’ (who often stayed overnight in Carrigagulla) and ‘Local Roads’.
Although no longer in use, this simple rural school has retained its architectural integrity and detailing including timber windows, fireplace and slate roof. Although technically a one-roomed building, it appears to have had separate classrooms for girls and boys, separated by a folding screen. The yard to the rear is also divided. It represents an important part of the social heritage of the area, having served the rural education system from the first half of the 20th century.
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. If you would like to purchase the book The Deserted School Houses of Ireland, visit the shop page here.
Rynne, C. (2006) Industrial Ireland 1750-1930, The Collins Press, Cork.