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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.

After the National Schools Act of 1831, the need for, and mechanisms to build new school houses created a demand for new school buildings in rural areas, and these simple structures helped to meet that demand. Many were built by local communities using local materials, but to a number of standard designs supplied by the Office of Public Works; hence there are schools of identical form scattered all across Ireland. This in itself tells the story of standardising education and providing for the educational needs of the general public; a huge, and progressive leap forward at the time.
Better education was both a goal and a tool in the comprehensive modernising projects of the 19th century. The schoolhouse held notable significance as an institution for education and represented a shift towards better education and schooling. In reality, it cannot be understated how significant these buildings were in bringing learning to the masses. They were at the heart of the community and remain symbolic of a more progressive ethos that stemmed from the 1831 Act.

Rural in character, for a young teacher, these buildings were often outposts of education. At times, a school might only serve a handful of families in locality. Nonetheless, schools that children could walk to were required, and therefore many small schools with comparatively small catchment areas were constructed. Prior to this, many rural areas lacked any kind of formal educational infrastructure, and these buildings represented the first steps in making a formal education available to all.

Affane-Sluggara National School, Co. Waterford - Segregated schoolyard
The wall to the rear of Affane/Sluggara National School, Sluggara townland, Co. Waterford which separated the boy’s schoolyard from the girl’s schoolyard. This school was built in 1914

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. It was not uncommon for many schools to have separate doors, or even separate schoolyard entrances for boys and girls. Often, a plaque over the doorway identified the boys’ and girls’ doorways. Where there were separate entrances, more often than not there were separate cloakrooms inside. The schoolyard often further enforced gender segregation, with a dividing wall running down the centre of the play area to ensure that boys and girls would not mix during lunch times.

Shanvaghera National School Co. Mayo 1935 Classroom
The sliding screen which divided the classroom at Shanvaghera National School, Shanvaghera townland Co. Mayo (dated 1935)

Often the easiest way to identify whether a derelict building was once a school house or not is by the presence of windows that are not characteristic of a domestic building. Light, and allowing light into the building were practical necessities before the arrival of artificial luminescence from the electric bulb. For reading and writing, high windows allowed the optimum amount of light into the room throughout the day. Even today, it is recognised that maximising the amount of natural light in a school building is beneficial to the learning environment.

Tubrid National School Co. Tipperary
The form, style and placement of windows vary greatly from school to school, though many early school houses reflect an ecclesiastical genesis, with high pointed windows similar to those found in a church sometimes being present. Some can be ornate and intricate, with features such as switch-line tracery. This is an example from Tubrid National School, Co. Tipperary and dates to 1821

 

When considering the ecclesiastical appearance of these windows it is worth bearing in mind that during the medieval and early modern period, in many places a monastic life was often the only avenue to literacy, and so for a long time, church and the learning environment were one. Hence, school architecture often reflects that of ecclesiastical buildings.

Porterstown National School Co. Dublin
The pointed arches on the windows of Porterstown School House, Porterstown Road, Fingal, Co. Dublin built 1854. Architect: James Kennedy Esq.

 

The presence of unnecessarily ornate architectural features often indicate a wealthy patronage of the school, sometimes by the church, but also sometimes by the more progressive landlords who understood the significance and importance of education. In these cases, great effort was often made to create a place of learning with stimulating and intriguing architecture. Such buildings often also reflected well on the local patronising landlord as a display of their wealth and progressive nature. Below, the national school at Kilfinnane, Co. Limerick breaks from the ‘to-plan’ norm of national schools built at the turn of the 20th century. This former school retains many of its original features and materials such as the limestone plaque dated to 1908, copings and boundary walls, and of course, the ornate windows at the gable.

Kilfinanne National School Co. Limerick
The 1908 national school at Kilfinnane, Co. Limerick breaks from the ‘to-plan’ norm of national schools built at the turn of the 20th century.

In contrast, many other schools dating to this time that were built locally ‘to-plan’ following designs commissioned by the OPW, lack architectural originality, with windows often flat-headed and plain.

This was perhaps a ‘one size fits all’ effort by the OPW that was simple and cost effective. Sash windows were the most common form of glazing, set into deep window opes like the example in below from Reyrawer National School, Co. Galway.

Reyrawer National School. Co. Galway 1883 Window
The light shines through the simple sash square headed window of Réidh Reamhar (Reyrawer) National School, Reyrawer townland, Co. Galway. This school house, built in 1883 is located high in the Slieve Aughty Mountains in Co. Galway. It is reported as the highest school house in Ireland

It is worth bearing in mind the harsh conditions experienced by school children just a handful decades ago – when even the simplest of life’s necessities could be a test of endurance. With the onset of the winter rain, wind and snow, the luxury of indoor plumbing was generally beyond the expectation of most attending school at this time. When nature called, it was commonly necessary to brave the elements and venture outside to a cold and drafty detached toilet-block, usually located at the rear or to the side of the already cold and damp school house. Through the 19th and into the 20th century, even the most basic plumbing in the outside toilet was not at all common, with dry-toilets being far more prevalent, particularly in rural Ireland. These dry-toilets varied in form and design. Generally, a single free-standing toilet block would be located at the rear of the school building and divided for male and female pupils; accessed through separate gender-assigned doorways. Occasionally, when a school yard was divided by sex, each side of a centrally located toilet block had an entrance allowing access from either the male or the female side of the yard.

Dry toilets were a simple and practical design with an absence of convenience, and luxury not even an afterthought. They comprised a number of separated cubicles over a shared trough which could be cleared out from the rear of the building, a task which frequently fell to more hard-up members of the local community or often passing vagrants. A wooden plank with an adequate opening was all that separated you from the most foul quagmire which lay beneath.
Some older toilet-blocks opened directly onto the schoolyard though a simple wooden door kept you from the view of your schoolmates while in the most vulnerable of positions.

Shanvaghera National School, Shanvaghera townland, Co. Mayo
The dry toilets and encroaching greenery of Shanvaghera National School, Shanvaghera townland, Co. Mayo constructed.

Many early free-standing toilet blocks were later plumbed and re-fitted meaning some degree of comfort. New-build school houses and schools with extensions added from the 1930’s onward generally incorporated indoor plumbing like the example Scoil Cill Criosta Co. Galway (below).

Scoil Cill Criosta - Scoil Naisunta, Co. Galway
The Autumn leaves are piled high around the outdoor toilet at Scoil Cill Criosta, Ballingarry townland, Co. Galway built in 1931. This must have been a chilly spot in winter

With this added degree of luxury there was finally enough comfort to allow you to ponder over your lessons, and perhaps scribble some of your musings on the wall.

Plate 33 - The idle musings on the walls of the bathroom at Drumlish National School, Drumlish townland, Co. Longford built in c.1930
The idle musings on the walls of the bathroom at Drumlish National School, Drumlish townland, Co. Longford built in c.1930

As part of their contribution to the upkeep of the school, the parents of the school children were required to supply fuel through the winter months (in rural schools, this was typically peat turf) to heat the classroom as needed. Generally, the location of the fireplace at the head of the classroom meant that the teacher enjoyed the benefit of the warmth much more than the children. However, as a small comfort the fireplace was sometimes used to heat glass bottles of milk which each child often brought to school.

Very often, supplying turf for the school fire amounted to the school children carrying a sod or two of turf to school each morning in winter. In some cases, each family who had children attending the school had to provide one cart-load of turf each year. When this was used, each pupil had to bring further fuel each day until the weather improved. Turf was often stored in the porches where the children’s coats hung.

It is noted by many who recall the practice of bringing turf to school, that failure to supply the required fuel resulted in a caning, though officially children were not supposed to be caned for this. In 1911, government funding was made available to heat classrooms, though the practice of carrying sods of turf to school continues for several decades afterwards.

Each morning during winter, the fireplace was cleaned of the ashes from the previous day’s fire by the school children and the fire was then set. The style of the open fireplaces vary greatly from school to school though they are invariably located at the head of the classroom – be this at the gable end of the building or at an opposing central load-bearing wall which included a chimney-stack. Some fireplaces included mantle-pieces, hearthstones and occasional decorative brickwork, though often the hearth comprised a basic masonry or brickwork construction with little embellishment.

Plate 34 – The brightly coloured fireplace inside one of the classrooms of Ballycastle National School, Carrowkibbock Upper townland, Co. Mayo
The brightly-coloured fireplace inside one of the classrooms of Ballycastle National School, Carrowkibbock Upper townland, Co. Mayo. This school house was constructed in 1892.

School fireplaces were naturally smaller than their domestic equivalents as domestic fireplaces included cranes and space for food preparation in the home. The hearth wall itself was usually very deep and extended to the ceiling with the chimney stack protruding further above the roof. As a result of this, the chimney wall is often one of the best-preserved features of abandoned school houses today.

Even today with the wonders of central-heating, attending school through the cold winter months is a testing experience for many school children. Think back to what it must have been like before insulation, double glazing, and warm radiators were common place in the classroom. The fireplace is an almost ubiquitous feature in every school house built in Ireland through the 19th and into the first half of the 20th century. During this period, it was common for each classroom to have its own open fireplace to keep the classroom warm, though stoves could also be found in some schools.
It is striking that for so many people who attended these schools, one of the most lasting memories is supplying fuel for the school fire.

Sluggara National School, Co. Waterford
A textbook lies on a rotting desk in an outbuilding of Affane/Sluggara National School, Sluggara townland, Co. Waterford

 

You can read The School House in Ireland: Architecture and Meaning Part 1 here and The School House in Ireland: Architecture and Meaning Part 2 here

 

References

Avery, D. (2003) ‘Victorian and Edwardian Architecture’ Chaucer Press Books, Oxford.

Bernard, H. (1848) ‘School Architecture, Or, Contributions to the Improvement of School-houses in the United States’ H. W. Derby, Cincinnati.

Coolahan, J. (1981) ‘Irish Education: Its History and Structure’ Institute of Public Administration, Dublin

DCMS (2010) ‘Principles of Selection for Listing Buildings’ Public Document of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Available [ https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/principles-of-selection-for-listing-buildings ] Accessed December 15 2017

De Silva, S. (2014) Beyond Ruin Porn: What’s Behind Our Obsession with Decay? Online Article, Available [ https://www.archdaily.com/author/shayari-de-silva ] Accessed December 12 2017

Glassie, H. (2000) Vernacular Architecture Indiana University Press

Patterson, W.M. (1875) ‘A Manual of Architecture for Churches, Parsonages and School-houses containing designs, elevations, plans, specifications’ Methodist Episcopal Church

Tilley, C. (1994) ‘Places, Paths and Monuments; A phenomenology of Landscape’ Berg Publishers, Oxford.

Shawkey, M.P. (1910) ‘School Architecture – Containing Articles And Illustrations On School Grounds, Houses, Out-Buildings, Heating, Ventilation, School Decoration, Furniture, And Fixtures’ The News-mail, Charleston.

Upitis, R. (2004) School Architecture and Complexity In ‘Complicity An International Journal of Complexity and Education Volume 1, Number 1

Weiner, D.E.B. (1994) ‘Architecture and Social Reform in Late-Victorian London’ Manchester University Press, Manchester.

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.

Rotting desks inside Latton National School in Co. Monaghan

During this time the Irish demographic was quite different to today’s, with the majority of the population living in a rural setting. In a time before motorised transport and a transport infrastructure, the requirement was for many small national schools which local children could walk to. Hence, in 1950 there were 4,890 national schools staffed by 4,700 male and 8,700 female teachers (CSO) in the 26 counties, while the population remained at about 2.8 million. In 1998 with the Irish population passing 4 million, the number of open national schools was 3,350.

Graffiti on the walls of Knockstolar National School in Co. Donegal

How is it that with a rising population, there could be less national schools in Ireland? To explain this, we can look at the change in the Irish demographic from about 1950 onward. Through the 1950s, some 400,000 Irish emigrated because of a lack of opportunities for employment at home. With things at their most bleak, at the beginning of the 1960s the programme for economic expansion was initiated, establishing the Industrial Development Association (IDA) which sparked an improvement in the Irish situation, the development of an industrial economy, and a shift in settlement patterns from a rural based economy to one centred around industry and urban settlement. This saw the beginning of an emptying of the rural Irish population into the larger towns and cities.  Small farms began to be consolidated. Further to this, actions such as the ‘evacuation’ of many offshore Islands compounded the issue even more.

The old national school on the island of Inishkea off Co. Mayo. The island has been entirely deserted since the 1930s

All the while Ireland’s birth rate began to drop, becoming more like that of the rest of Europe. Joining the EEC in 1973, Ireland was now beginning to resemble it’s European neighbours in terms of demographics.  Further to this, motorised transport became more widely available and so the hinterland of small schools became wider, with many schools in rural areas being consolidated into larger multi-classroom school buildings while the smaller school houses were closed and left to rot. During the period 1966-73, the number of one and two teacher schools was reduced by c.1,100. For this reason, small one and two room abandoned school houses are almost ubiquitous across the rural Irish landscape. They are often a mark of rural depopulation where communities dwindled as young people chose to leave the countryside for bigger cities and more prosperous lands.

A Packed school at Ballinderreen in Co. Galway in 1932

For many who emigrated from Ireland at an early age, their days spent in these rural and isolated school houses often represented the last formal education they received before seeking a brighter future abroad. Although many of these buildings are now physically empty or approaching a point of collapse, the physical structures are cognitive stimuli for those who attended, and hold a wealth of memory and associations that shaped their understanding of the world around them at an early age. From these small rural school houses the children of Ireland took what they had learned and went out to find fortune and to explore the greater world.

A long-silent organ disintegrating in the hallway of Coolagh National School in Co. Galway

Undoubtedly, these school buildings still tell stories about those who attended them, and what school life was like in the past. 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.

The old national school in Celbridge, Co. Kildare with separate entrances for boys and girls

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. It was not uncommon for many schools to have separate doors, or even separate schoolyard entrances for boys and girls. Often, a plaque over the doorway identified the boys’ and girls’ doorways. Where there were separate entrances, more often than not there were separate cloakrooms inside. The schoolyard often further enforced gender segregation, with a dividing wall running down the centre of the play area to ensure that boys and girls would not mix during lunch times.

Religious paraphernalia remains in Gortahose National School in Co. Leitrim

It is worth bearing in mind that these architectural features were only a reflection of the differing education received by boys and girls. For boys, the turn of the 20th century saw the introduction of a dramatically different programme and a modern approach to national school education”. In addition to the ‘three R’s’, inspectors’ reports draw attention to the additional subjects taught – physical drill, drawing, object lessons, singing, geography, grammar, history, shorthand, and book keeping. For girls, the intensive syllabi of instruction included cookery and laundry lessons for the older girls from 1910 to 1922. Inspectors checked the cookery and laundry rolls, and usually made a note of the number of lessons given e.g. These classes were discontinued after 1922, when – under the newly-established Irish government – curricular emphasis changed in favour of the teaching of Irish language.
The outdoor toilets at Shanavaghera National School in Co. Mayo

It is worth bearing in mind the harsh conditions experienced by school children just a handful decades ago – when even the simplest of life’s necessities could be a test of endurance. With the onset of the winter rain, wind and snow, the luxury of indoor plumbing was generally beyond the expectation of most attending school at this time. When nature called, it was commonly necessary to brave the elements and venture outside to a cold and draughty detached toilet-block, usually located at the rear or to the side of the already cold and damp school house. Through the 19th and into the 20th century, even the most basic plumbing in the outside toilet was not at all common, with dry-toilets being far more prevalent, particularly in rural Ireland. These dry-toilets varied in form and design. Generally, a single free-standing toilet block would be located at the rear of the school building and divided for male and female pupils; accessed through separate gender-assigned doorways. Occasionally, when a school yard was divided by sex, each side of a centrally located toilet block had an entrance allowing access from either the male or the female side of the yard.

The unusual inclusion of a photograph in the 1937 Schools Folklore Collection from Clooncurra National School in Co. Kerry

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 from the eldest or most knowledgeable members of their household. 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. These first-hand stories, poems, recipes, phrases and local folklores were all written down by the school children who attended these schools in the 1930s, and represent a wealth of local first-hand knowledge that dates as far back as the mid -19th century. Many of the school houses featured in my blog have complimentary documents of stories from their locality, which are included in each Blog post.

Gola Island National School in Co. Donegal. The sea threatens to take the building each winter

Memory is dynamic and fluid – a pulsing living thing. It can be continually stretched, coveted, erased and manipulated by the environment and circumstances from which it is recalled by an individual or group – taking on greater or lesser significances that are determined by the interpretation of those who recollect in the present. Outside of an individual’s family, or tragic and traumatic events in our youth, it could be argued that few things have greater impact on our development and personality, our understanding of the world around us, and our coping mechanisms to deal with and interpret that world as our experience of the classroom and schoolyard. With this in mind, consider how much of an impact these now rotting buildings may have had on the lives of many.  

One man’s junk is another man’s treasure

Milleen National School, Milleenduff Townland, Séipéal na Carraige (Rockchapel), Co. Cork

 

Milleen National School, Milleenduff Townland, Séipéal na Carraige (Rockchapel), Co. Cork

(Dated 1914)
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.

Old Milleen National School - 1914 (Cassini Map Extract c.1940)
Old Milleen National School – 1914 (Cassini Map extract c.1940)

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 - 1914
Old Milleen National School – 1914
Old Milleen National School - 1914
Old Milleen National School – 1914

Continue reading Milleen National School, Milleenduff Townland, Séipéal na Carraige (Rockchapel), Co. Cork

Carrigagulla National School, Carrigagulla townland, Co. Cork/Scoil Carraig an Ghiolla, Co. Chorcaí

Carrigagulla National School, Carrigagulla townland, Co. Cork/Scoil Carraig an Ghiolla, Co. Chorcaí

(dated 1934)

NGR: 138313, 084161

The parish of Macroom in Co. Cork is situated about halfway between Cork city and Killarney on the modern N22 roadway. Each day, significant volumes of traffic pass through the town of Macroom, with drivers unaware perhaps, of the locality’s rich and diverse cultural landscape. Crossing the River Sullane, the charred and imposing ruins of Macroom Castle overlook the the river below. Within the town, Macroom Market House (built c.1820) is a focus for remembrance, with many memorials and commemorative plaques including one to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the granting of market rights to the town of Macroom by Queen Anne on 30th September 1713.

There are few counties to rival Cork for the scale of its post-medieval and industrial heritage. But exploring the area around the parish in search of a disused school house in the townland of Carrigagulla, it was an obscure and understated industrial project from the mid-18th century that attracted my attention.

The townland of Carrigagulla is surrounded by the amphitheatre of the Boggeragh Mountain foothills. Here in the townland, adjacent to the Millstreet-Rylane roadside, are the ruins of Carrigagulla National School. But the Millstreet-Rylane roadway has its own story to tell about life in this rural area through the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Cork-Tralee turnpike road, better known as the ‘Butter Road’ was completed in 1748.Its construction was undertaken by John Murphy of Castleisland, who constructed the 56 miles of road including nine large bridges, 15 small bridges, toll house and turnpike gates. It was a requirement of the construction that the road be 30ft (9.14m) in width with drainage ditches and a 15ft wide (4.57m) gravelled surface. It became the main route by which farmers from Kerry and western Cork took their butter to the Cork Butter Exchange in the city (Rynne 2006, 317).

The turnpike system had been introduced into Ireland in 1729. Intended to provide good inter-county roads, turnpike roads were built and maintained by turnpike trusts which were generally run by local landowners. The turnpike act empowered named trustees to erect gates and toll houses on the roads and provided a loan for their construction. The toll monies, collected from all but pedestrians and local farmers who used the roads daily, were intended to maintain the road and repay the loan (ibid., 315).

Carrigagulla First Edition 25 inch map

The Cork-Tralee turnpike road is today but a back-road, with the majority of traffic passing along the N22 between Cork and Kerry. The area is quite, the hills are largely forested, or bare and boggy, and the once bustling highway is often empty of traffic. However, at Aghalode Bridge, and adjacent to the Aghalode River, there is an old school house that is perhaps a reminder of a more thriving time in this rural spot. On the west side of the Butter Road you’ll find the remains of Carrigagulla National School/Scoil Carraig an Ghiolla.

Carrigagulla National School Co Corkk 1930 VI
Carrigagulla National School, Co. Cork – 1934

Constructed in 1934 it is a simple, detached, two-bay, single-storey national school on a T-shaped plan, having a gabled projection to the centre of the east elevation.Though still roofed, it is in a poor state of repair. From the outside the building is certainly institutional in appearance; the rough grey rendering is not inviting, the surrounding schoolyard is overgrown, and the foreboding hum of a wasp’s nest deters visitors. The dull-green, pealing paint on the window frames and rainwater goods only seem to emphasise the buildings predicament. A squadron of wasps emerge from the brickwork chimney stacks and air vents as I get a little closer.

Carrigagulla National School Co Corkk 1930 I
Carrigagulla National School, Co. Cork – 1934

Continue reading Carrigagulla National School, Carrigagulla townland, Co. Cork/Scoil Carraig an Ghiolla, Co. Chorcaí

The Disused School Houses on Dunmanus Bay, Co. Cork

Dunmanus Bay is located on the western shore of County Cork. The bay lies between Mizen Head to the south, and the Sheepshead Peninsula to the north. The landscape of both peninsulas is wild and rugged, not dissimilar to the rough, low-lying lands of southwest Connemara on the northern shore of Galway Bay.

The Sheep’s Head looped walking routes extend across the peninsula and through the villages of Kilcrohane, Ahakista and Durrus, attracting plenty of visitors throughout the year. But perhaps the most ideal singular place to take in the landscape of Mizen, Dunmanus Bay and the Sheepshead Peninsula is Mount Gabriel; the highest eminence in the area, located just north of the village of Schull. From the peak of Mount Gabriel, there are spectacular views of Roaring Water Bay and Carbery’s Hundred Isles; a Bronze Age Copper mine is noted on the slopes of the low mountain, and at the summit there are two radar domes which make the mountain easy to distinguish in the landscape.

If your eyesight was strong enough, then facing in a general northerly direction from this vantage point, you would also be able to pick out four abandoned school houses in the landscape below; Dunbeacon, Derreenalomane, Glaun and Kilthomane National Schools.

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The location of Dunbeacon, Derreenalomane, Kilthomane and Glaun National Schools

Glaun National School

The first of these school houses is located at Glaun. The little one-roomed school house at Glaun is but a grey, empty, shell, and stands overlooking a small local road which crosses the crest of a low rise on the western side of Mount Gabriel, just a bit north of little Knocknageeha (the windy hill). The school no longer retains it’s date plaque although the building is marked on the First Edition 25 inch sheet for the area indicating that it predates the revision of the map during the late 19th century.

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First Edition 25-Inch Map showing Glaun National School

It’s architectural form does not have a directly comparable local relation, but it is broadly similar to the example at Kilthomane (below); at Glaun, the doorway is at the gable end and the building includes a gable porch, while at Kilthomane it is located to the side of the building. The example at Kilthomane dates to 1909, and one identical example from Mullaghmore East in Co. Monaghan dates to 1903, further suggesting this building dates to the turn of the century.

Continue reading The Disused School Houses on Dunmanus Bay, Co. Cork

Cloghboola National School, Drishane, Co. Cork/Scoil An Clochbhuaile, Driseán, Co. Chorcaí.

Cloghboola National School, Drishane, Co. Cork/Scoil An Clochbhuaile, Driseán, Co. Chorcaí.

(dated 1868)

NGR: 126725, 086631

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Driving south from the village of Millstreet to the town of Macroom in West Cork, and just past Kilmeedy Bridge, you pass the rural village of Cloghboola. Nestled in the low hills of West Cork, today the village comprises just a few scattered houses and the modern local national School. However, to the east side of the road lies a curious 19th-century derelict building with two defunct 1950s petrol pumps outside.

Dating to 1868, this neglected structure is in fact a two-roomed school house. With a detached cruciform plan, this school is not of conventional design like many school houses of standard plan from a little later in the 19th century. It is a  single-storey school, having four bays to projecting long faces and three bays to projecting short faces.

The building has a slate roof, hipped to the front long face and double-hipped to rear. It retains it’s original cast-iron rainwater goods and clay ridge tiles. The walls are rendered with a render plaque to the centre of the front elevation. It includes square-headed window openings having some tooled limestone sills. These window opes are blocked to front and south elevation, though to the rear nine-pane fixed timber windows are evident (text adapted from the NIAH).

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Continue reading Cloghboola National School, Drishane, Co. Cork/Scoil An Clochbhuaile, Driseán, Co. Chorcaí.

Whiddy Island National School, Trawnahaha townland, Whiddy Island, Co. Cork

Whiddy Island National School, Trawnahaha townland, Whiddy Island, Co. Cork

(dated 1887)

NGR: 096974, 049791

Whiddy Island NS Co. Cork 1887 Doorway Looking in

Whiddy Island is a small, near-shore island located at the head of Bantry Bay in Co. Cork. Not far from the modern quayside and in the townland of Trawnahaha is a small late 19th-century one-roomed school house overlooking Bantry Bay below. Painted bright blue with a white lime-wash, in recent years the building had been used as a local museum though it has now fallen into a state of disrepair.

Whiddy Island NS Co. Cork 1887 Classroom Interior

Like so many offshore islands in Ireland, the permanent population has dwindled through the 20th century and can no longer support a local national school. John Chambers’ “Islands – Change in Population 1841 – 2011” clearly shows the island’s decline from a peak population of 729 in 1841:

Year Pop ±%
1841 729
1851 561 −23.0%
1901 259 −53.8%
1951 104 −59.8%
1996 34 −67.3%
2002 29 −14.7%
2006 22 −24.1%
2011 20 −9.1%

Whiddy Island NS Co. Cork 1887 Doorway

Continue reading Whiddy Island National School, Trawnahaha townland, Whiddy Island, Co. Cork

Coolmountain National School, Coolmountain townland, Co. Cork

Coolmountain National School, Coolmountain townland, Co. Cork

(dated c.1950)

NGR: 118544, 60287

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This school building is especially unusual in Ireland as it is constructed largely from corrugated-iron. The ruins of Coolmountain National School comprise a detached gable-fronted three-bay single-storey school, built c.1950. It has a pitched asphalt roof with cast-iron rainwater goods. The windows comprise square-headed openings with metal casement windows and timber sills. It also has a square-headed door opening with timber battened door, overlight and concrete steps. There are also rendered walls to front and sides of plot with wrought-iron gate. The building ceased being used as a school in 1969 but was lived in until 2005. It is near collapse and unlikely to survive much longer.

Coolmountain School 1st Ed OS

Though constructed in the 1950s, there has been a school at this site since the 1830s. Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of 1837 records that; Continue reading Coolmountain National School, Coolmountain townland, Co. Cork