Modernising National School design during the mid-20th Century – Basil Raymond Boyd-Barrett – Architect of National Schools for the Office of Public Works
*There is a clear but difficult to define distinction between National Schools built in Ir eland during the 19th and early 20th century, and those that would be built from about the 1940s onward. Early school houses built by the Office of Public Works (OPW) had a vernacular feel to their aesthetic and environment. The earliest schools were run by the great religious orders in the Middle Ages and those were invariably built close to the church or monastery in the ecclesiastical manner, a style which persisted long after the strictly religious character had waned and indeed even down to comparatively recent times. Many are familiar with the early school with the high Gothic windows and gates, high ceilings with exposed root trusses, all looking like something between a parochial hall and a church and certainly more suited for either purpose than that of a school. It is not unusual to still come across such schools today and, where they have been erected as a National School, one finds that they were built as Model Schools about 150 years ago, or that they were erected by some enlightened Lord of the manor to provide education for the children of his tenants and workers.
From the 1830`s national schools were built to a standard plan based on pupil numbers. The first schools were of a very simple nature, consisting merely of class halls. An awakening of interest in public health towards the end of the 19th-century lead to general improvements in standards through the development of sanitary services such as toilet facilities.
However, in 1934 an architect named Basil Raymond Boyd-Barrett with a particular interest in school design was appointed an assistant architect in the OPW. In 1947 he was appointed chief schools architect, and his impact on school design in Ireland can still be seen today.
Basil Boyd Barrett (1908-1969) was born in Dublin on 19 September 1908. Brother of James Rupert Boyd-Barrett, both siblings would leave an indelible mark on Irish architecture through the 20th century. Basil was a student at the School of Architecture at University College, Dublin for two years, and attended the School of Art for four years. After serving as an apprentice at the office of Jones & Kelly, he would serve out the majority of his career at the Office of Public Works.