Milleen National School, Milleenduff Townland, Séipéal na Carraige (Rockchapel), Co. Cork
NGR: 122001, 119413
The village of Roundwood in Co. Wicklow claim that at 238 m OD, their’s is the highest village in Ireland. However in recent years, the village of Meelin in Co. Cork has erected a braggadocious signpost at the edge of their humble home stating ‘Welcome to Meelin – Ireland’s Highest Village’. The brazen folk of this tiny north-Cork hamlet claim that their little settlement, located just south of the Mullaghareirk Mountains, is 15 m higher than their Wicklow rivals. If you investigate the issue online, you might find various reasons why one village believes the other’s claim to the title of the most elevated settlement is illegitimate. In all honesty, the argument could probably be settled in minutes by pulling out an Ordnance Survey Map… but what’s the fun in that?
The plucky village of Meelin is located in northwest Cork. It is one of a handful of small villages located north of Newmarket near the Cork-Kerry-Limerick border. It is unlikely that your travels would ever take you through this area; much of the land close to the village is planted with coniferous trees, mainly of lodgepole pine and Sitka spruce. The area is sparsely populated though the woodlands are filled with ruined cottages and farmsteads which remind you that there was a time when the lands here were farmed rather than planted with commercial forests.
It is here amongst the plantations just north of the village of Rockchapel that you will find the now disused Old Milleen National School in the townland of Milleenduff. The building is hidden from view by mature evergreens, with the Caher River flowing just to the south. On a bright day, sunlight flashes through moving branches of the surrounding woodlands onto the south-facing gabled entrance with it’s centrally placed name and date plaque. The planted woodlands have largely consumed the surrounding vernacular farming landscape that existed to the east here when the school was in use.
Old Milleen National School was built in 1914 and is identical in from to Scoil Bride Culaid, Cooly townland, Co. Donegal – a simple, detached, three-bay, single-storey national school on a T-plan with a gabled projection to the front elevation and two entrances (one for boys and one for girls?) to the sides of the projection. Like other school houses of this date, the schoolyard is also segregated for boys and girls. Unlike Scoil Bride Culaid, Old Meelin National School is in a poor state of repair both inside and out. Inside, the wainscoting has peeled from the walls and the fixtures and fittings are strewn across the interior.
Like Scoil Bride Culaid, Milleen is a one-roomed building, separated into two classrooms by a sliding screen. The screen remains in place and is probably the best preserved feature of the school building. The exploits of local teens are delicately graffiti-ed on the wooden panelling of the screen.
There are open fireplaces at each gable with the chimney projecting externally rather than there being a chimney breast inside the classroom. To each side of the fireplaces are tall, six-over-nine sliding sash windows. Those in the western gable retain some of their glazing, while at the eastern gable, the window frames have been robbed-out, though perspex keeps the encroaching greenery outside.
The building is largely a rubble and mortar construction. However, at the external corners, the render has fallen away to reveal the brickwork quoins.
Built in 1914, Old Milleen National School is featured in the Folklore Commission’s schools collection from 1937/8*. Below is a locally recorded extract from this collection which details Hedge Schools in the area before the establishment of a national school:
The old school house at Milleen reminds me very much of the examples at Réidh Reamhar (Reyrawer) and Sonnagh Old: set in forestry on a landscape that was once farmed but is now sparely populated and dominated by commercial forestry. These forests hide a depopulated vernacular farming landscape that is not more than 50 years out of use. It was the rural population of this landscape that required and facilitated Old Milleen National School until it went out of use in the 1960s.
If you or someone you know attended these national schools, please do get in touch and share any stories, anecdotes, photographs, or any other memories you may have.
*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.