Coolagh National School, Drumatober townland, Co. Galway
NGR: 175363, 215440
The rural landscape is not static, and has changed quite a bit over the recent decades. Although the hills, mountains, rivers and lakes don’t move much, the way that people interact with the landscape, and the character of the environment is dynamic and fluid. Rural towns and villages that were once important market places and a hub of rural activity, fade into a mere collective nostalgia for times gone by, as young people gravitate to cities and the landscape empties. I’m from County Galway and anytime I would have travelled to Dublin in the past, it was a straight burn along the N6 through Ballinasloe, Athlone, and on to the myriad of bottlenecks as you approached the capital. In more recent years the M6 means that I rarely see any of these towns anymore.
Before motorised transport and the railway, distance was largely the determining factor when choosing a route from west to east. Travelling from Galway to Dublin by carriage or on foot, it was likely that you would take a route through Loughrea, Killmor and Eyrecourt, crossing the River Shannon at Bangher in Co. Offaly; all the while passing near or along a much more ancient route, An Slighe Mhór.
But this is not the case today when the motorway saves you from having to negotiate town and village streets as you travel. The reason I mention it is to explain why, that in the three or so years that I’ve been photographing these old school houses, I had not passed by Coolagh in the parish of Abbeygormacan near Killoran (along the former road to Dublin) , and noticed the old school house there. The building is located on the northern side of the N65 about 3 km beyond Gurtymadden Cross when travelling east.
Coolagh National School is a late 1930s/early 1940s school house (there is no date plaque so I’m not certain of the exact year) with two classrooms and a natural slate hipped roof to the main body of the building. Doorways are located at each side of the building with some offices and toilets located in a flat-roof extension to the rear. The functional building is set within a grassy, overgrown schoolyard set back from the nearby road. It is similar in form and rendering to the school house at Munterneese in Co. Donegal though in a much better state of repair and without the ornate, centrally located fireplaces.
Looking at the historic mapping for the area, I can see that at the time of the First Edition Ordnance Survey 6-inch series, and the First Edition Ordnance Survey 25 Inch series (roughly the 1840s and the 1890s respectively) there was no school house at this location. The building does not appear on cartographic sources until the Cassini 6-inches maps mostly produced in 1940s, at that time called ‘Coolagh School’. However it is located in the townalnd of Drumatober, and Coolagh is located another kilometre or so further east. If we look at the townland of Coolagh at the time of the 25 Inch series, we can see that there was an earlier school house here, and it would seem obvious that the late 1930s/early 1940s building featured here replaced an earlier 19th century school house.
Inside, the building is beginning to crumble and deteriorate. The ceilings are beginning to collapse and the the paint is flaking from the wall. The windows are boarded up and even on a bright, warm day it is relatively chilly inside. Both classroom are stripped of their furnishings. At one end of the long corridor are the bathrooms, (now post-apocalyptic in appearance), while at the other end of the corridor in a small alcove is the wooden skeleton of a long-disused organ.
I don’t know precisely which year this building was constructed, and when the school was moved from Coolagh to Drumatober, or when the present school building went out of use. Perhaps someone out there might be able to help me with this information?
There are records from the 1937 Folklore Commission Schools Collection* for Coolagh National school, the teacher at the time being Mícheál Ó Conraoi. In all likelihood these were written down in this building, and from these records I have selected an enchanting local fairy tale about fairy cows recorded by James Power, then aged 14.
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.
*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.