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.
Milleen National School, Milleenduff Townland, Séipéal na Carraige (Rockchapel), Co. Cork
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
Tobberoe National School Co. Galway – Male Entrance
Tobberoe National School Co. Galway – Female Entrance
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).
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 fifth post in the series.
For the past two years I’ve been casually photographing abandoned school houses around Ireland. I don’t have any explanation for why I began doing this, but this hobby started by accident with no real projected outcome. I uploaded a few of my snaps to this blog and from there the project began to develop with a view to publication in the coming months. Matching my images with stories recorded in these abandoned schools by the Irish Folklore Commission in the 1930s, the now-empty buildings came to life once more.