Category Archives: Disused School Houses

Scoil An Cneagain/Cregganbaun National School, Cregganbaun townland, Co. Mayo

Scoil An Cneagain/Cregganbaun National School, Cregganbaun townland, Co. Mayo

(dated: 1945)

NGR: 080756, 274223

The coastline of County Mayo is a forgotten gem in the Irish landscape. Mountainous and barren for the most part, the area attracts the more adventurous visitors who are willing to stray off the well beaten tourist track that generally takes in the southern half of the island of Ireland. In recent years, the popularity of the Wild Atlantic Way has brought and increase in tourism to the area. When I most recently passed through the region, I was making my way from Kilary Harbour to Westport. Taking the scenic route, my journey brought me northward by the shores of Doo Lough, a small lake that is hidden between the overshadowing Mweelrea and Sheefry mountain ranges.

doo-lough-co-mayo
Doo Lough and Glencullin Lough, Co. mayo

After emerging from the mountain pass, the R335 headed north toward the town of Louisburgh. There was little by way of settlement between the mountain pass and Louisburgh, and the small regional road had little to navigate except expansive boglands with the Sheefry mountains providing a dramatic backdrop. The roadway gently bulged over the peatlands and there was little roadside vegetation to interrupt the view across the bog as I passed the occasional singe rural dwelling. Not many people live here I thought.

Much of this landscape had been empty since the Great Famine of the mid-19th century, and I associate sadness with this particular area. You see the route I was driving was in fact the route of the ‘Doolough Tragedy’, which occurred in March 1849. The Doolough Tradgedy is a journey many starving people were forced to make through the Doolough Valley to attend an inspection and get famine relief at Louisburgh. For unknown reasons the inspection was not made, and the hundreds of people were then told to appear at Delphi Lodge near Kilary Harbour. They walked the eleven miles in cold and wintry conditions, but, when they got to Delphi Lodge, they were refused either food or tickets of admission to the workhouse. On the journey back home more than 400 people died.

The population never recovered after the famine, and there is not much by way of infrastructure here today. Nonetheless passing near the townland of Creggabaun in the Civil Parish of Kilgeever, I came across an old two-roomed school house by the roadside. There was only one house nearby and it’s difficult to imagine a time when a school was needed in these parts.

scoil-an-cneagain-co-mayo-1945-external
Cregganbaun National School, Co. Mayo 1945

The building comprised a detached five-bay single-storey national school, dated 1945. From the outside, it looked as grey and dismal as the foreboding overcast sky that had drifted over when I stopped to take a few snaps. I rushed inside to take shelter from the on-coming rains, and in there I discovered a brightly coloured interior, strewn with rubbish and old furniture.

scoil-an-cneagain-co-mayo-1945-table-top
The Classroom at Cregganbaun National School, Co. Mayo

There were two classrooms, both once heated by oil burners. The plaster fell from the walls revealing the coarse stonework underneath, and the roof looked like it wouldn’t hold out to the elements much longer. To the rear were the toilets, with toilet doors painted a discomforting yellow colour. As the rain began to fall and drip through the holes in the ceiling, I thought to myself that this is one of those schools that people romantically think of as wonderfully isolated and wholesome – the reality being that you are surrounded by the exposed, damp and peaty landscape; truly a delight in the summer, though I’m sure the Atlantic gales can make a wet and dark winter seem very long. Continue reading Scoil An Cneagain/Cregganbaun National School, Cregganbaun townland, Co. Mayo

Chasing Ghosts

If you’ve been following this blog for the past while, you’ll know that on most weekends for nearly two years now, I have been visiting the abandoned national schools scattered across the rural Irish landscape, taking photographs, and posting what I encounter online. I’ve already written notes which contextualise the socio-economic background to the environments I’ve been photographing (you can check these out here). The folk I meet along the way are generally curious about what I’m doing, and I guess the most frequently asked question I get is ‘Why?’.

It’s a very good question, and just about every time I’ve been asked, I’ve replied with a stock response, something along the lines of ‘I have no real explanation for why I began doing this; it began by accident’. This is true for the most part, but as time has gone on, I’ve begun to ask myself the same question, wondering if there is perhaps something more meaningful to it. And understandably so; I’ve just gone through my archive and there are about 170 school houses in there.

In a previous blog post I casually remarked (to myself really) that ‘I wouldn’t say that I’ve become obsessed with these abandoned buildings, but it recently occurred to me that in the past 12 months I’ve visited just over 100 tumbling down ruins of old schools, and that at the moment I feel compelled to stop and take a quick look around when I accidentally stumble across one. I guess this compulsion is part of being engaged in the project, part of caring about what you’re doing. Or, of course, perhaps it’s just an oddness. Regardless, the question is why do I have an interest in these ruins.

Latton National School, Co. Monaghan 1941
Latton National School, Co. Monaghan 1941

Contemporary ruins can provoke an unusual emotional response that is difficult define. A familiar environment that has fallen into decay can be both unsettling and intriguing, inspiring fascination and fear as a tangible reminder of the scale of your own lifetime. Kate Brown talks of the concept of ‘rustalgia’ in her book Dispatches from Dystopia: Histories of Places Not Yet Forgotten (2014). For her, while some people speak of their ‘lustful’ attraction to such sites, ‘others will speak in mournful tones of what is lost, what she calls rustalgia.’

Continue reading Chasing Ghosts

Drumreilly National School, Kilnacreevey townland, Co. Leitrim 

Drumreilly National School, Kilnacreevy townland, Co. Leitrim

(dated: 1897)

NGR: 219888, 312629

Drumreilly National School Co. Leitrim 1897

Every now and then I find myself on the road when I chance upon some old empty school house by a roadside somewhere. I wouldn’t say that I’ve become obsessed with these abandoned buildings, but it recently occurred to me that in the past 12 months I’ve visited just over 100 tumbling down ruins of old schools, and that at the moment I feel compelled to stop and take a quick look around when I do accidentally stumble across one. While travelling from Ballymote to Armagh last month, I happened across a late 19th-century school house in the townland of Kilnacreevy in Co. Leitrim.

Drumreilly National School Co. Leitrim 1897

County Leitrim is Ireland’s least populous county, predominantly rural in character, with Carrick-on-Shannon being the only sizeable town of note. However, the countryside is stunning in an understated way, defined by rolling, boggy drumlins with small lakes interspersed between. The land is agriculturally poor, and the hollows between the drumlins tend to become water-logged and boggy. In 1837, the antiquarian Samuel Lewis described the region as ‘generally wet, sour, and moory’.

Drumreilly National School Co. Leitrim 1897

I feel Samuel Lewis was a little unfair with his description of the region. In the area around Garadice Lough on the Leitrim/Cavan border, meandering country lanes navigate the hillocks and lakes, and lead from one small village to the next. It is on the northern shore of Garadice Lough that you’ll find Kilnacreevy townland; a place that hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years.

It was just a little over 100 years ago that a small one-roomed school house was built here overlooking the lakeshore. It is located on the northern side of the modern R199 road. The school building comprises a detached, single-storey, three-bay,one-roomed school house of rubble and brick construction, with a pitched slate roof. The date plaque indicates that it was constructed in 1897. It is near identical in form to the example from Sonnagh Old in Co. Galway, and in a similar state of decay.

Continue reading Drumreilly National School, Kilnacreevey townland, Co. Leitrim 

Dyzart National School, Dysart townland, Co. Louth

Dyzart National School, Dysart townland, Co. Louth
(Dated 1835)
NGR: 309710, 288382

dyzart-national-school-co-louth-1835
Dyzart National School, Co. Louth 1835

The parish of Dysart (occasionally spelled ‘Dyzart’) is located about 3 kms from Dunleer in Co. Louth, on the coast road from Drogheda to Dundalk. In 1837 the village was visited by the travelling antiquarian Samuel Lewis who reported 699 inhabitants living in the parish at the time. He noted that the land was of superior quality and well cultivated: about two-thirds in tillage, and about 50 acres of bog. In the village of Grange Bellew, there was a mill for grinding oatmeal, and another for dressing flax. Among the most notable buildings in the parish was the old castle of John Bellew in Barmeath (one of the lords of the English pale). At the time of Lewis’ visit it was the residence of Sir Patrick Bellew, and stood ‘in a richly wooded demesne, commanding extensive views of the surrounding countryside’.

In the village of Dysart, Lewis remarked on the handsome chapel there, the site for which was presented by Sir Patrick, who also contributed towards its erection. A quick look at the Ordnance Survey 6-inch sheet which dates to just a few years after Lewis’ visit, shows there were few buildings in Dysart during the 1830s-1840s, bar the aforementioned chapel, and a national school.

First Edition Ordnance Survey 6 inch sheet showing Dysart, Co. Louth.

Lewis recorded that the school of about 160 children was aided by Sir Patrick, who also contributed largely towards the erection of the school-house. Though now derelict, this building still stands today. Continue reading Dyzart National School, Dysart townland, Co. Louth

Cluain Chumhra National School, Cluain Chorta townland, Co. Kerry

Cluain Chumhra National School, Cluain Chorta townland, Co. Kerry

(dated: c.1910 – 1920)

NGR: 050749, 100942

The Dingle Peninsula (or Corca Dhuibhne) in Co. Kerry stretches some 30 miles (48 km) into the Atlantic Ocean from Ireland’s south-west coast, and is a popular spot for holiday makers. The peninsula is dominated by mist-covered mountain ranges that form its spine, running from the Slieve Mish range to Mount Brandon, Ireland’s second highest peak. The coastline consists of steep sea-cliffs, broken by sandy beaches, with two large sand spits at Inch in the south and the Maharees to the north. Off the west coast lie the Blasket Islands; inhabited until 1953 when the last remaining islanders were  forcefully evacuated to the mainland on 17 November by the Irish government. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty, and despite a busy tourist season, it is a peaceful place that retains it’s rural feel.

The principal town on the peninsula is Dingle; a major fishing port in Ireland, with the industry dating back to about 1830. The fishing industry brought the railways to the town, and Dingle was formerly the western terminus of the narrow gauge Tralee and Dingle Light Railway. The railway station opened on 1 April 1891, closed for passenger traffic on 17 April 1939 and for regular goods traffic on 10 March 1947, finally closing altogether on 1 July 1953, by which time a cattle train once per month was the sole operation. The railway line weaved along the south coast of the peninsula on it’s way from Tralee, crossing a flat, low-lying area between Lispole and An Cnoicin known as Droichead An Imligh (Emlaghmore Bridge). It is adjacent to the former railway line and the modern N-86 road in the townland of Clooncurra ,that you’ll find an early 20th century school house no longer in use.

Clooncurra National School, Co. Kerry 1910-1920
Clooncurra National School, Co. Kerry 1910-1920

Continue reading Cluain Chumhra National School, Cluain Chorta townland, Co. Kerry

Munterneese National School, Munterneese townland, Co. Donegal

Munterneese National School, Munterneese townland, Co. Donegal
(Dated 1938)

NGR:183512, 375634

Located in the south of Co. Donegal, and on the northern shore of Donegal Bay, the village of Inver is sometimes referred to as the hidden jewel of the northwest. In recent years, the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ coastal driving route has brought an increase in tourism to the area, with the parish being situated on the bay of Inver. Nonetheless it remains a quiet spot; rural in character with hilly and rough grazing land that is occasionally lashed by Atlantic winds and rain.

Although now quiet, the area was once home to an important whaling post during the 18th and 19th century, and a large whaling station and fleet was based in the Port of Inver, 2 km from the modern Inver Village.

Thomas and Andrew Nesbitt set up the whaling business in Donegal Bay in 1759. Thomas was the inventor of the gun-harpoon, which was witnessed by Arthur Young during his tour of Ireland 1776-1779, as he states: “From many experiments he brought the operation to such perfection that, for some years he never missed a whale, nor failed of holding her by the harpoon”.The ruins of the old whaling station still remain in the port but have eroded and deteriorated to rubble.

During the 19th century the area was busy enough to require a railway, and Inver railway station opened on 18 August 1893. However the final train passed through the station on 1 January 1960. It has been closed since.

Just a few kilometres east of Inver Village and situated to the south of the old railway tracks, are the townlands of Munterneese and Drumcoe. The townlands are sparsely populated today, though a quick glance at the historic mapping for the area shows that in the time since the publication of the First Edition Ordnance Survey 6 inch map series in the 1840s, there have been no less than four school houses constructed in this small area. Only two if these buildings remain today (both disused), and this blog post looks at the last of these to be constructed; a detached six-bay single-storey national school, dated 1938. Continue reading Munterneese National School, Munterneese townland, Co. Donegal

Lettermore National School, Lettermore townland, Co. Donegal

Lettermore National School, Lettermore townland, Co. Donegal
(Dated 1909)
NGR: 185124, 383735

Lettermore National School Co. Donegal (1909)

The island of Ireland is small but diverse. From the southwesternmost point at Mizen Head in Co. Cork, you need only travel about 550 km to reach the northerly tip of the country at Malin Head in Co. Donegal. But along that journey, you will witness a variety of landscapes, both physical and cultural – each different from the other in striking, or sometimes subtle ways. From productive mixed farmlands for both tillage and stock, to the mire of endless bog, the physical landscape has been shaped and manipulated, initially by geological process, and subsequently by the the people who have lived in it. Particularly in rural Ireland, the physical and cultural landscapes are entwined and form a narrative that is often not immediately clear, that requires an insight into, and interpretation of what shapes the lived experience of the world around you. In short, the landscape and what it contains tells the history of it’s inhabitants.

This blog post features the first abandoned school house from Co. Donegal (the northernmost county in Ireland) that I’ve visited, and it’s difficult to communicate the significance of the school without first placing this building in context.

Lettermore National School, Co. Donegal (1909)

The slogan ‘Up here it’s different’ has been used to promote tourism in, and attract tourists to the Donegal region in recent years. But what makes this area different? In terms of geography, Donegal is pretty similar to West Cork, Kerry and Connemara; a rugged western coastline shaped by the Caledonian Orogeny, and battered by the Atlantic Ocean, mountainous lands of blanket bog to the west, better, more productive lands to the east.

But Donegal different to these other places. Depending on your perspective, the circumstances of history have not done Donegal any favours other than to perhaps help preserve it’s striking landscape. The Partition of Ireland in the early 1920s had a massive direct impact on the county. Partition cut the county off, economically and administratively, from Derry, which had acted for centuries as it’s main port, transport hub and financial centre. But even before this, Donegal was one of the worst affected parts of Ulster during the Great Famine of the late 1840s. Vast swathes of the county were devastated by this catastrophe, many areas becoming permanently depopulated. Vast numbers of people emigrated at this time. Particularly in West Donegal, there was a spiral of decline from the 1900s onward, and what was once seasonal migration from the islands and highlands was replaced by more permanent migration to cities in Britain such as Glasgow.

Lettermore National School, Co. Donegal (1909)

The abandoned school house at Lettermore symbolises the recent history of the region, and the story of migration. Opened in 1909 to meet the educational needs of the local community, the school had a relatively short life. Continue reading Lettermore National School, Lettermore townland, Co. Donegal

Kilnaboy National School, Kilnaboy townland, Co. Clare

Kilnaboy National School, Kilnaboy townland, Co. Clare

(dated 1884)

NGR: 127450, 191785

Kilnaboy National School, Co. Clare - 1884
Kilnaboy National School, Co. Clare – 1884

Located near the village of Carron and the large turlough, (or seasonal lake) situated there, Kilnaboy National School sits in a landscape that is rich in historical and archaeological sites, with more than 90 megalithic burial monuments in the area. However, the Burren also contains monuments from the more recent past: namely the vernacular architecture of the past two centuries.

Travelling from Corofin toward Leamenah, you will pass the little village of Kilnaboy (any fan of the Father Ted TV series will know this as the location of Craggy Island Parochial House). The village is most notable for its imposing eleventh-century church which is visible from the roadside, and so the quaint features if its eighteenth-nineteenth century streetscape is very often overlooked. In recent years, the former post office here has been turned into an exhibition space, aptly named ‘X-PO’. And close by is a former schoolhouse, built in 1884, but now derelict and empty. Continue reading Kilnaboy National School, Kilnaboy townland, Co. Clare

At the heart of it all; the one-roomed school house in rural Ireland (Heritage Week 2016 Series)

This week (August 20th – 28th) marks National Heritage Week in Ireland. It is a multifaceted event coordinated by The Heritage Council that aims to aid awareness and education about our heritage, and thereby encouraging its conservation and preservation. As part of Heritage Week 2016 there are daily posts to the Disused School Houses Blog, and this is the seventh post in the series. This post takes a look at the one-roomed school house in rural Ireland, and it’s significance as a symbol of the development of a more progressive education system for all.

A few miles north of Dunmanway in West Cork, is the little rural hamlet of Cool Mountain. Through the 1970s, this area was settled by a commune of mostly English folk, who felt Poll Tax and Thatcherism wasn’t for them, and so they made the mountain sides their home. In summer, this is a particularly lush and green place; wooded and mountainous, isolated and peaceful. The land is rough but resourceful, and it’s easy to see what attracted the settlers to area in the 1970s. The landscape of Cool Mountain seems to have retained an authentic rural feel; the roads are poor, the houses sparse, and there is a sense of timelessness about the place.

Here, located just off a small local road, and partially hidden by trees, is the disused Cool Mountain National School; a diminutive one-roomed corregated iron structure that is among the more unusual school houses I’ve seen to date.

Cool Mountain National School, Co. Cork

Built sometime in the 1950s, it replaced an earlier local school house, though the galvanise building only contined to operate as a school until 1969 before closing. It is a quintessential yet unconventional one-roomed school; unconventional in it’s design and the materials used in it’s construction, though quintessential in it’s former role as the hub of education in a rural location. Continue reading At the heart of it all; the one-roomed school house in rural Ireland (Heritage Week 2016 Series)

Girls and Boys…  (Heritage Week 2016 Series)

This is the sixth in the series of daily posts to the Disused School Houses blog to mark National Heritage Week 2016 (August 20th- 28th). Heritage Week is a multifaceted event coordinated by The Heritage Council that aims to aid awareness and education about our heritage, and thereby encouraging its conservation and preservation.

We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us. – Winston Churchill

With the establishment of the Nationals Schools Act in 1831, there was an upsurge in the construction of school buildings across Ireland. I touched on this briefly a few weeks ago with a few paragraphs explaining why I think there are so many abandoned national schools scattered across the rural Irish landscape. Of course there were plenty of school buildings in Ireland prior to the 1831 Act, but after 1831, and particularly from the latter part of the 19th century onward, many school buildings were constructed to a standard design by the Office of Public Works (OPW). The architecture of these buildings reflect many of the social paradigms of the 19th and 20th century, and below I have included some brief notes relating to segregation by gender, the accepted canon in the majority of national schools in Ireland through this time.

Where resources and architecture allowed, multi-room school buildings generally divided their pupils, initially by age (with infant girls and boys being taught together), before the older school children were divided by sex. Where possible, girls and boys were taught in separate classrooms, or even separate school buildings.

The gender-segregated nature of many Irish schools is part of the legacy of the denominational origin and control of education since the 19th century. However, even today, Ireland is unusual in a European Context in that a large number of schools are still single-sex institutions at both primary and second level (42% of second level students attend single-sex schools, the majority of these being girls (Lynch 2004, 84).

Continue reading Girls and Boys…  (Heritage Week 2016 Series)