Rathmullan National School, Bearvaish Townland, Co. Sligo
(dated Late-19th/early-20th century)
NGR: 166696, 312385
The townland of Bearvaish is located in Co. Sligo, about 6km from Ballymote in the southeast of the county. The surrounding landscape comprises undulating grasslands and areas of bog and wetland. Farming in this quiet landscape is largely pastoral; many of the farms are small holdings, passed down through several generations since the reorganisation of land ownership through the Land Commission during the early part of the 20th century. Before the work of the Land Commission, farmland was generally held in large estates owned and leased to tenants by a local landlord frequently of Anglo-Irish decent who had often held these lands in deed for several hundred years. These landed gentry often maintained a demesne and estate house in the vicinity of their holding, and many of these survive today in varying states of preservation (see the photography of Tarquin Blake).
There are layers of history to this rural landscape that are sometimes not immediately evident. Within the unremarkable townland of Bearvaish there is a Barrow of likely Bronze Age date, situated adjacent to the Owenmore River which is crossed by a late 18th century bridge. Immediately adjacent and hidden behind the hedgerows is the old Rathmullan National School which dates to the turn of the 20th century.
Comparing Rathmullen’s historic maps (First Edition 6-inch and 25-inch Ordnance Survey), you can see that the position of Rathmullen’s original school house (in the townland of Ardree, parish of Emlaghfad) was cleared to make way for the Dublin-Sligo railway (which was planned 1853, and opened 1862). Rathmullen National School was relocated to its present location near the Owenmore River bridge (in the townland of Carrickrathmullin, parish of Drumrat). However, the present form of the school (not dissimilar to Milleen National School in Co. Cork) would suggest a late-19th or early-20th century construction or remodelling rather than a mid-19th century building.
Inside the school is but a shell. The suspended timber floor has rotted and collapsed, and the wainscotting has pealed from the walls. The roughly-coursed stonework is revealed below
The numbered coat hooks remain on the wall of the entrance porch, but goodness knows when a coat last hung here. The ubiquitous school fireplace remains intact at the gable end, its projecting brickwork exposed outside.
Although this is a single roomed building now, it was a two-roomed school house. A partition screen most likely divided the interior into two classrooms, and a door from each porch entrance (one of which now shows an exposed brick archway) allowed indirect access to each classroom.
Rathmullan National School (Ráth Maoláin roll number 16131) is featured in the folklore commission’s schools collection in 1937.* The teacher in the school at this time was Laoise Ní Ruairc. From that collection, here is a short story from local man Thomas Corcoran about the perils of pretending to be something you’re not:
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.
*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.