Knockastolar National School, Knockastolar townland, Co. Donegal
NGR: 180992, 423154
The village of Bunbeg is a relative stones-throw from Gweedore and Bloody Foreland in West Donegal. Just outside the little village in the townland of Knockastolar, and perched above the road from Bunbeg to Dungloe at a Y-junction, is a schoolhouse lying empty, and painted in the green and yellow of Donegal. Its date plaque was missing, although its form suggests it is a late nineteenth-century schoolhouse with a later extension perhaps. The original section of the building is identical to the old schoolhouse on Whiddy Island off Bantry Bay in County Cork (dated 1887), with an entrance porch to the side.
Inside, the building was in varying states of disrepair. The L-plan school had three classrooms beyond it’s entrance hall. The later classroom to the rear was in the best condition, with the blue wainscoting bearing the markings of some teenage gatherings.
Both classrooms to the front and in the original part of the building were in a poor state; the floor having crumbled and the roof nearing collapse. Both these classrooms contained fireplaces though nearly all other features had been destroyed and the wainscotting removed.
Bunbeg and Knockastolar feel like a long way from anywhere. I had only come here to try and get to Gola Island, and like much of this part of the country, the area does not get anywhere near the amount of visitors that topographically similar but more popular spots like Connemara and West Kerry do. This is undoubtedly the attraction of the area for me. At Bunbeg you’ll find a tiny fishing village hidden in a cove behind an expansive strand, overshadowed by Errigal mountain in the background. The area is a mountainous Gaeltacht that drops to the sea and is dotted with dozens of idyllic villages just like Bunbeg. It is worlds away from the urban areas of Ireland.
But despite seeming disconnected from all that troubles the world, Knockastolar National School had produced at least one famous and important student who made his mark on the world during World War II. Local man John James Doherty was at Bletchley Park (Britain’s top secret decoding centre) as a cryptanalyst and translator during World War II. Being from the area and attending Knockastolar National School John was a native Irish speaker. While his languages – German, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Russian, Latin, Greek – were fully utilised, he never disclosed whether his knowledge of Irish helped in Hitler’s defeat.
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. You can do so here. If you would like to purchase the book The Deserted School Houses of Ireland, visit the shop page here.