St. Josephs National School, Letter townland, Islandeady, Co. Mayo
(Dated late 19th century)
NGR: 107056, 289784
It’s late evening near Westport in Co. Mayo after an unusually dark day in late July. The sky has been overcast all afternoon and the air is damp but warm. When I think about Irish summers in the west of Ireland this is undoubtedly the weather I think of; June can (sometimes) bring long hot days but once the Atlantic Ocean has warmed up then the air becomes heavy with moisture. June had been exceptionally warm and dry this year, but now the grassy drumlins around this part of Mayo are fresh after a recent rain shower.
I’ve taken a spin out from Westport toward Castlebar. About halfway along this route there’s a boggy rural spot hidden amongst the drumlins called Islandeady. A friend of a friend had let me know that there’s and old school house located out here and so with an hour or two to spare before sunset I went out to take a quick look.
The parish of Islandeady still contains four (small) working national schools; Cloggernagh, Cornanool, Cougala and Leitir. But the school house at Leitir replaced an earlier school building that still stands, and it is this structure that I’m interested in. Today it’s modern successor has just 6 girls and 4 boys on the coming years enrollment, and I wonder if it’s likely to stay open for much longer.
The original school house at Leitir is located on a low rise over a small local road just a few hundred metres from it’s successor. In form, the old Leitir schoolhouse is identical to the one at Ballymackeehola National School (also in Co. Mayo) which dates to 1895, and though there is no date plaque at Leitir I would imagine it to be of a similar date.
Leitir is a two-roomed school house; the building comprises a detached four-bay single-storey national school with a pitched slate roof. Like Ballymackeehola the interior of the school house remains in a good state of preservation with many of the original fittings and fixtures still in place. Even more remarkable though is the fact that much of the original school furniture is still scattered around the building. Each of the classrooms also contains an brickwork open fireplace that is typical of these old school buildings.
At the time of the folklore commission’s schools folklore collection initiative in 1938 the headmaster at Leitir was Seán O Reachtaire. He oversaw the collection of a diverse set of customs and stories from the locality that are now available to view free online here. Spinning a yarn was clearly no bother to the locals with nearly 80 pages of local stories collected from the area in 1938. Of these, below are too short extracts giving examples of local folklore (Béaloideas) in 1938.
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.