Category Archives: Miscellany

The Needlework of the Pupils of the National Model Female Schools

The Needlework of the Pupils of the National Model Female Schools

The images below are photographs of a beautiful National Model School needlework workbook that were kindly passed on to me in recent weeks by Loletta Hale. This first edition of this workbook was published in Dublin by the Hibernia Press Office in 1835 (reprinted in 1853 and 1861). The copy featured here was purchased at Whitney Antiques in the UK last year. It is one of possibly only a handful of surviving copies. You can see the dates 1846 and 1854 embroidered on two pieces of needlework, and this workbook was probably in use around these years.

Simple directions in needle-Work and cutting out Intended for the use of the National Female Schools of Ireland – Hibernia Press Office, Dublin, 1835
Simple directions in needle-Work and cutting out Intended for the use of the National Female Schools of Ireland – Hibernia Press Office, 1835

In 1834, three years after the establishment of the national system of primary education in Ireland, the first Model School was opened in Upper Merrion Street, Dublin. Model Schools were teacher-training institutions under the auspices of the Commissioners of the Board of National Education, the administrative body of the national system. Each Model School maintained at least one national school where student teachers could practice their skills and gain experience in teaching.

Original Architectural drawings draughted by the Office of Public Works for the enclosing walls of the Model National School in Cork City (c.1865)
Original Architectural drawings draughted by the Office of Public Works for the enclosing walls of the Model National School in Cork City (c.1865)
Simple directions in needle-Work and cutting out Intended for the use of the National Female Schools of Ireland – Hibernia Press Office, Dublin, 1835
Simple directions in needle-Work and cutting out Intended for the use of the National Female Schools of Ireland – Hibernia Press Office, Dublin, 1835

These training institutions were numerically insignificant, never exceeding thirty as opposed to the thousands of ordinary national schools. It was originally intended that only male students would be trained for the office of teacher at the Model Schools. Female student teachers were not accepted until 1842.

Simple directions in needle-Work and cutting out Intended for the use of the National Female Schools of Ireland – Hibernia Press Office, Dublin, 1835
Simple directions in needle-Work and cutting out Intended for the use of the National Female Schools of Ireland – Hibernia Press Office, Dublin, 1835

The book contains simple directions in needlework and cutting out intended for the use of the National Female Schools of Ireland. Needlework and the specimens of work were added to the book, mounted on green stock paper as issued. Published to assist teachers in, and patrons of the National Female Schools of Ireland, “for the improvement of the poor”, the work includes “simple directions for plain and fancy works” giving directions for the various techniques of needlework.

Simple directions in needle-Work and cutting out Intended for the use of the National Female Schools of Ireland – Hibernia Press Office, Dublin, 1835
Simple directions in needle-Work and cutting out Intended for the use of the National Female Schools of Ireland – Hibernia Press Office, Dublin, 1835

This copy of the workbook retains actual mounted specimens including; a sampler, a fully realised miniature shirt (or smock) for a boy, and “gathering and fastening-in gathers” for sleeves, button-holes, and seaming. The Model Schools promoted the education of the poor in Ireland. They often taught knitting, as did orphanages and workhouses, with the aim of providing the poor with a skill for gainful employment.

Continue reading The Needlework of the Pupils of the National Model Female Schools

The Deserted School Houses of Ireland Book by Enda O’Flaherty from The Collins Press – September 2018

The Deserted School Houses of Ireland book was published by The Collins Press this past week September 17, 2018. You can order a copy (signed, unsigned or with a personal note) using the order form below (€20.99 + P&P) or from the SHOP page. It is also available in all good bookshops and from the usual online outlets.

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A sincere thank-you (in no particular order) to all who have supported the disused schoolhouses project and this publication. Special thanks to all those who contributed their memories and thoughts over the past few years, and everyone I’ve chatted to on roadsides and elsewhere since 2014. Your support and encouragement meant the world to me. I’ll do my best to remember everyone: Continue reading The Deserted School Houses of Ireland Book by Enda O’Flaherty from The Collins Press – September 2018

The School House in Ireland: Architecture and Meaning – Part 3

The School House in Ireland: Architecture and Meaning (contd…)

The original architect's drawings for Derryneen National School, in Co. Galway drawn up in 1914 (National Archives OPW5HC4872)
The original architect’s drawings for Derryneen National School, in Co. Galway drawn up in 1914 (National Archives OPW5HC4872)

School house designs supplied by the OPW toward the end of the 19th century vary in form but maintain the same basic features; an entrance porch, a cloakroom, the classroom, tall sash windows, an open fireplace and high ceilings, wainscoting on the lower parts of the internal walls, a raised wooden floor, ventilation features etc. The architectural drawings were supplied and distributed by the OPW to locations around the country, and for this reason you can often find identical school buildings at opposite ends of the country. There were a variety of designs available through the decades, and it is often possible to date the construction of a school house to within a few years based on the form of the building.

Lettermore NS Co.Donegal 1909
The partially removed wainscotting from the walls of Lettermore National School in Co. Donegal built in 1909

Many of the school houses that were built ‘to-plan’ were extended and modified and many remain in use today. Often a modern school building will have an original 19th-century construction at its core. It is interesting that the many of the principle features of the early schools have been retained such as high ceilings and windows. These features reflect the ecclesiastical and monastic origins of school house design that persist to this very day. They also reflect the continuing control that Churches had on the school system.
Although there were architecturally elaborate school buildings (most often patronised by a local land owner), they more frequently comprised functional structures, usually lacking architectural ornamentation, and built to serve a small local population. Continue reading The School House in Ireland: Architecture and Meaning – Part 3

The School House in Ireland: Architecture and Meaning – Part 2

The School House in Ireland: Architecture and Meaning (contd…)

What makes a building important?

Contemporary 19thand early 20th-century sources in Britain and the US (Bernard 1848; Patterson 1875; Shawkey 1910) provide, first-hand insights into the ideological and societal backgrounds behind school architecture of the period. In Britain Weiner (1994) dedicates significant wordcount to architecture and social reform in late-Victorian London from the perspective of school design, however it is part of an over-arching examination of the subject as a whole. Similarly, Avery (2003) presents a comprehensive overview of Victorian and Edwardian architecture in Britain which includes dedicated passages relating to school houses designed and constructed during this period. Both publications treat the physical and architectural environments in their historical contexts, offering a late-20th century perspective on the impact of Victorian and Edwardian reform on architecture. However, neither publication is concerned with the modern-day significance of these buildings to the modern-day populations which engages with them on a daily basis. To be fair to both publications, such a consideration is well beyond their assigned academic remit.

Gurtovehy National School, Gortaveha townland near Lough Greaney in Co. Clare This school house was built in 1920 to replace an earlier school house that was located nearby

What is important to consider is that these and other studies have been primarily concerned with ‘Architectural Interest’ from all almost exclusively historical architectural perspective. They fail to draw upon or recognise the identical social significance of many similar buildings that have served the same institutional function, but were perhaps of a lesser intrinsic architectural value for a variety of reasons (date, originality of design etc.). Hence, these buildings have been overlooked.  In defining a building to be of ‘Architectural Interest’, Historic England have condensed the general principles applied by the Secretary of State under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (DCMS 2010) to this simple statement:

‘To be of special architectural interest a building must be of importance in its architectural design, decoration or craftsmanship; special interest may also apply to nationally important examples of particular building types and techniques (e.g. buildings displaying technological innovation or virtuosity) and significant plan forms.’ – Historic England 2017 Continue reading The School House in Ireland: Architecture and Meaning – Part 2

The School House in Ireland: Architecture and Meaning – Part 1

The School House in Ireland: Architecture and Meaning

Henry Glassie is a professor of folklore at Indiana University in the United States. He has published extensively on the topic of material culture, and in the 2000 he published a book that was simply titled Vernacular Architecture. Glassie’s publication drew on his three decades of observations of vernacular architecture from around the world, and showed that common buildings, and the meanings and associations attached to them, contributed to a more democratic telling of history. Glassie viewed buildings like poems and rituals, in that they realise culture and reflect in a material way, the thoughts, beliefs and experiences of the people that design, build and use them. Of course, this is true about all architecture, not just the vernacular traditions. But what do we mean when we talk about vernacular architecture, and are school houses vernacular structures, or imposing institutional buildings?

Vernacular architecture exists everywhere there are human populations around the world. It can’t be defined as a particular architectural style that you might recognise like Baroque or Neo-Classical, but rather a building paradigm where the arrangement of the structure is the simplest form of addressing human needs. It is a pure reaction to an individual person’s or society’s building needs, and has allowed everyday people, even before the architect, to construct shelter according to their circumstance. Some are the exotic products of indigenous people in places unknown to us. But others are familiar, maybe too familiar, and so are overlooked and unappreciated. This is the case with many of the school houses featured here.

Hollygrove National School, Hollygrove townland, Co. Galway (dated 1899). This plain two-room school house is a fine example of one of the most simplistic ‘factory school’ designs supplied by the OPW at the turn of the 20th century. Despite their pivotal role in education in rural Ireland at the time, many of these buildings are not recorded in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage

Vernacular buildings are composed of local materials. The meanings that lie in the selection of materials are social and economic as well as environmental, and the buildings very much reflect the local area and its people. They can tell us a lot about the people that constructed them. As Glassie states; ‘culture gathers into an inner resource of association and gathers order aesthetically, by which he means that the landscape and how people view and experience the world is reflected in what they build and create. With the act of physical alteration that calls time into space implying a past and a future, and with the walls that divide space, at once including and excluding, architecture has happened’ (ibid.). Architecture gives physical form to names and claims, to memories and hopes. As a conceptual activity, architecture is a matter of forming ideas into plans, plans into things that other people can see. Architecture shapes relations between people. It is a kind of a communication (ibid.). Continue reading The School House in Ireland: Architecture and Meaning – Part 1

School Days Over: Spaces, Places and Memory

School days over: spaces, places and memory

The autumnal evening sun hangs low in the sky, and the few clouds that have lingered as twilight beckons are tainted red and orange around their fringes by the setting sun. From the forested hills of the Slieve Aughty Mountains in south Co. Galway, I can see across into Co. Clare, with the stoney plateau of the Burren silhouetted blue by the bright, dropping sunlight. I’ve spent the day touring around South Galway indulging in a recent pastime of mine; looking for what I consider to be a derelict beauty. Beside where I’m standing on the low hillside, and hidden in the dense forestry plantation of the Slieve Aughtys, is the now-disused, one-roomed Reyrawer National School; dilapidated and empty, haunting and isolated. I’m here to photograph the school, and to get a sense of the local environment, both in its present state and in the past.

Looking out of the classroom window of Reyrawer National School in the Slieve Aughty Mountains

The landscape around here has changed significantly over the past 50 years. The now forested hill-sides are dotted with the ruins of former farmsteads. The former pasture and rough grazing lands have been sown with coniferous plantations, and the ubiquitous and imposing wind-turbines highlight the movement away from agrarian living in this area, as an alternative and profitable use is sought for this now people-less landscape. In the Aughtys, the result is an empty space, a desolate place where few people live. An unintended but welcome consequence of this depopulation is the creation of a welcome retreat from the ribbon development popular across much of the Irish landscape – though the man-made forests bear a hunting watermark of former settlement, with field boundaries, bóithríns, houses, farms, and infrastructure such as disused schools, hidden throughout the forests. When Reyrawer National School was in use, this was a lived-in landscape which supported a scattered, largely agrarian population. With the movement away from this lifestyle, the landscape was emptied and the school was no longer needed. The plaque on the eastern gable of the building dates the construction of the school to 1891. It closed in the late 1950s.

The landscape of the Great Blasket Island with the old national school barely recognisable in the centre

From travelling the countryside to photograph these old schools, I can tell you that there is a greater proliferation of abandoned schools in more rural and depopulated areas, with a near absence of them in urban centres. To begin explaining this let’s start with the establishment of the National Schools Act in 1831. Shortly after the establishment of the National Schools Act, Ireland’s population began to decline dramatically, initially triggered by the Great Famine of the 1840s. Between 1840 and 1960, the population of the 26 counties of what would become the Republic of Ireland fell from 6.5 million to 2.8 million. However, this decline was driven by mass emigration, and birth rates in Ireland during this time were amongst the highest in Europe. Because of this fact, despite a dramatically falling population, the need to educate significant numbers of children of school-going age remained. New school buildings continued to be required and used. There were particular spikes in new-builds after the National Schools Act in 1831, and again 1926 with the School Attendance Act which meant parents were legally obliged to send their children to school for the years between their 6th and 14th birthdays. Continue reading School Days Over: Spaces, Places and Memory

Teachers and the role of women in Irish education in the 19th and 20th centuries

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, professional opportunities for women were, realistically, greatly restricted. Nonetheless, Irish girls and women of all social classes were leaving home to take part in public life – work, schooling, buying and selling, activism and entertainment. National school teaching was considered a great career opportunity for girls from skilled working-class and small-farming backgrounds in Ireland. On-the-job training was sometimes paid, and scholarships were increasingly available. Thus, the burden on low-income parents was bearable.

Unlike other positions in the civil service at the turn of the twentieth century, national school teaching was a lifelong job; the marriage bar was introduced only in 1933 for those qualifying on or after that date. At this time, the National Board put great emphasis on teacher training. Ireland was not short of teachers or schools: anyone could open a school and expect a modest income. This work was considered suitable for women, whether single or widowed. If they knew how to read and write, they were considered equipped to teach. Furthermore, the business of education was thriving through the 19th century; the figures below indicate the exponential growth in the opening of national Schools through the 1830s and 1840s in Ireland:

Year             No. of Schools in Operation
1833             789
1835             1106
1839             1581
1845             3426
1849             4321

Whiddy Island National School, Co. Cork c.1930 – male teacher and female teaching assistant 

The teachers were at first treated and paid like domestic servants or unskilled labourers and they often had to approach the parish priest via the servants’ entrance. Their pay was from the Board minimum, ranging from £5 a year to £16. These low figures can be explained by the informal understanding that, once appointed to a teaching post, a teacher could expect further contributions gifted from local sources. In 1858 the National Board claimed that it was paying 80 per cent of teachers’ salaries, and inspectors told teachers that if they wanted more they should apply to their own managers (i.e. the clergy). This ignored the fact that the manager could dismiss a teacher at a quarter of an hour’s notice. It was recognised on all sides that teachers would have to supplement the basic allowance. Predictably, all this was blamed on the government, not the local managers.

Continue reading Teachers and the role of women in Irish education in the 19th and 20th centuries

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

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)