Tag Archives: Co. Donegal

Gola Island National School, Gola Island, Co. Donegal

Gola Island National School, Gola Island, Co. Donegal
(Dated (1846), 1880-1900)
NGR: 177221, 426202

Northwest Donegal is possibly about as rural as you can get on the island of Ireland, and the islands off the Donegal coast are probably about as isolated a spot as you will find. Many do not have permanent populations, and if you’re ever looking for somewhere to go to get away from it all, then this is the place for you.

Gola (in Irish Gabhla or Oileán Ghabhla) is a small island located off the coast of Gweedore. The island measures 424 statute Acres in area with mildly hilly terrain. It is a haven for artists, birdwatchers, photographers and walkers, and the cliffs on the north side of the island attract many rock climbers. Near the Island’s lake, bird life abounds; cormorants, razorbills, guillemots as well as gannets and kittiwakes can be admired. Although many Irish people may not realise it, they may be familiar with Gola Island through song; Gola is the birthplace of renowned Irish writer, Seán ‘ac Fhionnlaoich, and the island has also been immortalised in the traditional children’s song Báidín Fhéilimí (Féilimí’s Little Boat)

Gola Island First Edition OS Sheet
The First Edition Ordnance Survey 6 Inch Map Showing Gola Island in the late 1830s

For centuries, a couple of hundred people eked out a living on Gola from fishing and subsistence farming. But by the 1950s, the island could no longer compete with the economic opportunities offered by the mainland. Gradually, Gola’s families stripped their houses, boarded their boats and sailed away to the mainland. The closure of the island’s national school in the mid-1960s marked the beginning of the end.

Since the 1960s onward the trend on most of the off-shore islands has been a decreasing population. In fact, during the 1950s and 1960s, many of the smaller islands were forcefully evacuated by the Irish Government as continuous bad weather meant that islanders were unable to travel to the mainland for several consecutive months. The most recent census taken during 2016 showed 15 permanent residents on Gola, although the return of permanent settlement to the island is a recent phenomenon, with the island being largely un-populated since the late 1960s.

Gola Island Population

In 2005 the island was connected to mains electricity for the first time, and from being totally deserted over 30 years ago Gola now has electricity and water and the future looks far more positive. However, the population remains small and somewhat seasonal.

Gola Island National School
Gola Island National School, Co Donegal, with Mount Errigal in the backgroud

The old school house on Gola has been closed since 1966. Located on the shore, it is in a most precarious position, with coastal erosion threatening to erase the structure from the landscape. Stormy weather in recent years means the sea now comes right up to the door at high tide. It is weather beaten, the roof has collapsed, and in all likelihood, it will be completely washed away in the coming years. Continue reading Gola Island National School, Gola Island, Co. Donegal

Knockastolar National School, Knockastolar townland, Co. Donegal

Knockastolar National School, Knockastolar townland, Co. Donegal
(Dated 1880-1900)
NGR: 180992, 423154

I got a call last week to take a trip up to North Donegal at short notice. Despite the 1002 Km round trip I really didn’t mind going; we were headed for Mulroy Bay and Rosguill, and I knew that I was a relative stones-throw from Gweedore and Bloody Foreland. This was of interest to me as a few months back I’d be contacted by Sile Ui Ghallchoir, who had gone to school on the now deserted Gola Island in Gweedore Bay. Since then I had been eager to get some shots of the the school house there that had been closed since 1966.  The sea was slowly reclaiming the land that the school was built on, and it would not be long until it was washed away.

And so I packed my bags and left the next morning for the north. We made our way from Ramelton toward the coast early the following evening, taking in what I already knew was some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. Crossing through Glenveagh National Park, you couldn’t help but be struck by the wonderfully barren mountainous landscape; reminiscent of many parts of Connemara and West Kerry, but with a far greater feeling that you are a long way from anywhere (a six hour drive from Cork can give you that impression at least).

The plan was to coax a lift from a fishing boat in Bunbeg and make my way out to the island. With a few hours to spare before I could hitch the lift I had arranged, I ambled around the village of Bunbeg. Just outside the little hamlet in the townland of Knockastolar, I happened accidentally upon another school house lying empty. Painted in the Green and Yellow of Donegal and perched above the road from Bunbeg to Dungloe at a Y-junction, it looked like a late 19th-century style school house with a later extension perhaps. The original section of the building was identical to the old school house on Whiddy Island off Bantry Bay in Co.  Cork (dated 1887), with an entrance to porch to the side. A hole in the door allowed me to get in to take a few quick photos.

Knockastolar National School, Co. Donegal (1880 -1900)
Knockastolar National School, Co. Donegal (1880 -1900)
Knockastolar National School, Co. Donegal (1880 -1900)
Knockastolar National School, Co. Donegal (1880 -1900)

Continue reading Knockastolar National School, Knockastolar townland, Co. Donegal

Scoil Bride Culaid, Cooly townland, Co. Donegal

Scoil Bride Culaid, Cooly townland, Co. Donegal
(Dated 1931)

NGR: 258919, 439198

The picturesque town of Moville lies on the western banks of Lough Foyle in County Donegal where the Bredagh River flows into the sea. The locality was the adopted home of the dramatist Brian Friel, and it still attracts many visitors who endeavour to make the long journey north to the Inishowen Peninsula and Ireland’s most northerly point on nearby Malin Head.

At the turn of the 19th century there were just 50 people living in the town of Moville, but the town would soon rapidly develop over the following decades. Through the second half of the 19th century, Moville was a significant point of embarkation for many travellers, especially emigrants to Canada and the United States of America. Steamships from the Anchor and McCorkell Lines, and others en route from Glasgow to New York, Philadelphia, Quebec and New Brunswick regularly dropped anchor in the deep waters off Moville to pick up additional passengers.

The new trade brought wealth and development to the town, and a growth in population. Naturally, the growing population would need schooling, and there were a number of national schools constructed, not just in the town, but in the surrounding hinterland also. The school house featured here is one such building.  Scoil Bride Culaid is located near Cooly Cross; a rural spot just 3 km to the northwest of Moville Town.

The building itself dates to 1931, but examining the First Edition 6-inch and 25-inch Ordnance survey maps, you can see that this school house replaced an earlier school named ‘Tiyrone School’ just a few hundred metres to the east.  This earlier school house, which dates to at least the 1840s,  was unusually located away from the roadside, enclosed in the corner of a field. Two ‘right-of-ways’ led to the school through the surrounding farmland.  Perhaps someone out there has an explanation for this school’s inconvenient setting?  Was it perhaps built on land donated by a local landowner?  Today, an area of rough ground marks the location of the original school building.

Continue reading Scoil Bride Culaid, Cooly townland, Co. Donegal

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