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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cross National School, Cross South Townland, Co. Roscommon
NGR: 164621, 298618
The town of Ballaghaderreen is located in northwest Co. Roscommon, close to the borders of both Mayo and Sligo. Prior to 1898 the town and parish of Ballaghaderreen and Edmonstown were in fact part of Co. Mayo until its transfer to Co. Roscommon under the Local Government Act 1898. Like many smaller market towns in the midlands, Ballaghaderreen was a hub of activity in the rural landscape at the turn of the 20th century. Key to this was the fact that the town was served by the Midland Great Western Railway. The station at Ballaghaderreen opened in 1874 and served the region for almost 90 years. But like so many of the regional railway lines and stations, Ballaghaderreen Station finally closed along with the Kilfree Junction branch line in 1963.
The town is rich in vernacular architecture, largely dating to the 19th century. In 1837 Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland described it as ‘a thriving market town in the west’. This was no surprise as at the beginning of the 19th century Ballaghaderreen had been re-designed by Charles Strickland, an agent for Lord Dillon of Ballaghaderreen. The modern character of the market town is still visible today, and the town has an well organised streetcape. The street and place names reflect many of Strickland’s efforts to formalise the layout of Ballaghaderreen. Strickland was responsible for the building of a market place called The Shambles with 16 lock-up stores. Strickland was also instrumental opening the railway line for the town, allowing merchants to transport their goods.
En route to Kilfree junction, the train stopped at Edmondstown Station, just a few kilometres to the northeast of Ballaghaderreen, and not far from the Edmondstown Demesne. In 1786 William Wilson referred to Edmondstown Demesne as the fine seat of Mr. Costello – the Costello’s being settled in Roscommon and Mayo from at least the early 16th century.
Like Ballaghaderreen, the landscape of Edmondstown is dotted with handsome vernacular buildings dating to the late 18th and 19th century, including a small school house in the townland of Cross South.
Brockagh National School, Brockagh Lower Townland, Co. Leitrim
NGR: 201431, 337272
The little village of Glenfarne is located in north County Leitrim, surrounded by rolling drumlins and boggy lakelands that are so characteristic of this part of the country. The soil quality is poor, the lands are often damp and unproductive, and in recent decades, much of the landscape has been planted with vast expanses of commercial forestry in an effort to put the landscape to some commercial purpose. Leitrim is the least populous county in Ireland – often the butt of the joke in regional banter and rib-poking. But I don’t think anyone there really cares about that. In reality the county offers wonderful lakeside isolation, with forest-covered hills over-looking small hamlets, vernacular houses and ruinous clachains. It is a peaceful landscape, and though it can be harsh during a long winter of short evenings, in summer the still lakes glisten in the sunshine without the disturbance of excessive tourism.
The village of Glenfarne is probably best known as the site of the original “Ballroom of Romance”, which inspired a short story by William Trevor and was subsequently turned into a movie by the BBC. The story itself is a little grim; set in rural Ireland in the 1950s, the lead protagonist Bridie has been attending the local dance hall for years in the hope of finding a good husband who can help work her family’s farm. Now surrounded by younger prettier women at the dances, she comes to the realisation that all the good men of her generation have emigrated or have been spoken for; and her only remaining hope for marriage is with the alcoholic and unreliable Bowser Egan.
The story of The Ballroom of Romance is set in a landscape of rural decline and emigration – common themes of rural Ireland that are particularly strong in Co. Leitrim through the 20th century. Glenfarne was once serviced by the Sligo, Leitrim and Northern Counties Railway line from Eniskillen to Sligo. The line opened in January 1880 and finally closed on 1 October 1957. A sawmill and creamery operated adjacent to the railway line, and a tourist hotel was located in the adjacent townland of Sranagross. And just to the south of the railway in the townland of Brockagh was the the old two-roomed school house – Brockagh National School, built in 1885, but now empty and abandoned. Continue reading Brockagh National School, Brockagh Lower Townland, Co. Leitrim→
Glensaul National School, Greenaun townland, Co. Mayo (Dated mid-20th Century) NGR: 105539, 265891
The townland of Greenaun is located to the southwest of the village of Tourmakeady on the shores of Lough Mask in Co. Mayo. The Partry Mountain range lies to the west of the lake, and from there a number of mountain streams tumble and flow down the hillsides and enter Lough Mask below. On the opposite side of the lake to Greenaun, the towns of Ballinrobe and The Neale are located on the relatively-productive flat-lands. In between these two areas Lough Mask glistens like a shimmering silver mirage on a bright day, and lights up the surrounding landscape with the most brilliant light. The Place-name ‘Greeneaun’ translates as solarium; a fort commanding a prospect’. From the elevated position on the west of Lough Mask and looking east with the mountains behind you, the landscape seems open, with panoramic views across the glistening water body and the wild lands of this part of Co. Mayo.
Historically, a large portion of the southern part of the parish of Tourmakeady was formerly part of Co. Galway. However, in 1898 the entire parish was transferred to Co Mayo. Like much of this area around North-Galway/South-Mayo, the wider region was predominately Irish speaking until recent decades. Today, the Gaelic speaking areas in Co. Mayo have been reduced to just three clusters; Erris, Achill Island and Tourmakeady. There are 1,000 people living in the parish of Tourmakeady of which approximately 400 are daily Irish speakers.
The mountainous landscape was dotted with small farmsteads through the 19th and earlier parts of the 20th century. But the area was devastated during the Great Famine of the mid-19th century and never fully recovered from this tragic event. Like the Irish language, the population dwindled in the years and decades that followed. At the turn of the 20th century, many one-roomed schools were still in use in the area, but as the century progressed, many were closed or consolidated as people left the area and emigrated abroad. Some of these school buildings still remain on the landscape in varying ruinous states, though the population that required them is now gone. Below are some other examples from the immediate area around Tourmakeady:
The rural landscape is not static, and has changed quite a bit over the recent decades. Although the hills, mountains, rivers and lakes don’t move much, the way that people interact with the landscape, and the character of the environment is dynamic and fluid. Rural towns and villages that were once important market places and a hub of rural activity, fade into a mere collective nostalgia for times gone by, as young people gravitate to cities and the landscape empties. I’m from County Galway and anytime I would have travelled to Dublin in the past, it was a straight burn along the N6 through Ballinasloe, Athlone, and on to the myriad of bottlenecks as you approached the capital. In more recent years the M6 means that I rarely see any of these towns anymore.
Before motorised transport and the railway, distance was largely the determining factor when choosing a route from west to east. Travelling from Galway to Dublin by carriage or on foot, it was likely that you would take a route through Loughrea, Killmor and Eyrecourt, crossing the River Shannon at Bangher in Co. Offaly; all the while passing near or along a much more ancient route, An Slighe Mhór.
But this is not the case today when the motorway saves you from having to negotiate town and village streets as you travel. The reason I mention it is to explain why, that in the three or so years that I’ve been photographing these old school houses, I had not passed by Coolagh in the parish of Abbeygormacan near Killoran (along the former road to Dublin) , and noticed the old school house there. The building is located on the northern side of the N65 about 3 km beyond Gurtymadden Cross when travelling east.
St. Josephs National School, Letter townland, Islandeady, Co. Mayo
(Dated late 19th century)
NGR: 107056, 289784
It’s late evening near Westport in Co. Mayo after an unusually dark day in late July. The sky has been overcast all afternoon and the air is damp but warm. When I think about Irish summers in the west of Ireland this is undoubtedly the weather I think of; June can (sometimes) bring long hot days but once the Atlantic Ocean has warmed up then the air becomes heavy with moisture. June had been exceptionally warm and dry this year, but now the grassy drumlins around this part of Mayo are fresh after a recent rain shower.
I’ve taken a spin out from Westport toward Castlebar. About halfway along this route there’s a boggy rural spot hidden amongst the drumlins called Islandeady. A friend of a friend had let me know that there’s and old school house located out here and so with an hour or two to spare before sunset I went out to take a quick look.
The parish of Islandeady still contains four (small) working national schools; Cloggernagh, Cornanool, Cougala and Leitir. But the school house at Leitir replaced an earlier school building that still stands, and it is this structure that I’m interested in. Today it’s modern successor has just 6 girls and 4 boys on the coming years enrollment, and I wonder if it’s likely to stay open for much longer.
Inishkea (south) Island National School, Inishkea south, Co. Mayo
NGR: 55721, 321451
Getting to the Inishkea Islands off the west coast of County Mayo can be difficult. There is no ferry service or regular connection between the mainland and the two offshore islands. Located out beyond Blacksod Bay, apart from flocks of free-roaming sheep and a thriving seal colony, the islands have been uninhabited since 1934.
The Inishkea Islands have lain almost untouched since the last permanent residents left. Visitors are infrequent by all accounts, though a man has reportedly been living on the north island for two years without contact, electricity or even a boat.
Pulling into ‘the anchorage’ at Porteenbeg on the sheltered eastern side of the island, you pass the diminutive Rusheen Island where there are the remains of an old whaling station. Ahead on the shore is a line of crumbling stone houses overlooking a white deserted beach. The sea is clear and turquoise, calm and sheltered on the eastern side of the island, even though waves can be seen crashing silently in the distance on the western shore, that coastline being exposed to the wild Atlantic. Continue reading Inishkea (south) Island National School, Inishkea south, Co. Mayo→
The wilds of County Mayo are spectacular. Along the rugged west coast the skyline is marked by the Partry and Nephin Beag ranges. On Achill Island, the northern slopes of Croaghaun mountain plummet from 600 m OD to the sea below, while on it’s southern side it shelters one of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland, Keem. To the southeast of here is Clew Bay with its plethora of low drumlin islands, while inland the landscape is dotted with rivers, lakes, bogland and the occasional turlough.
Lough Mask is located to the south of Co. Mayo. Along the lakes western shore is the village of Tuar Mhic Éadaigh, and if you ever get the chance, I would recommend the trip from here to Westport across the hilly and barren emptiness of Aughagower. The landscape comprises blanket peat that is unproductive, there are few homes though there are the crumbling ruins of many vernacular houses long deserted. Wild and ragged mountain sheep roam the narrow roads.
It is just south of this area that you’ll find the little hamlet of Finny. On high land, it affords spectacular views of a narrow part of Lough Mask. Almost directly across from Dead Island on the lake, and along the R300 road, is Old Finny National School. The building is disused now, and being so off the beaten track, it probably has very few inquisitive visitors.
Achill Beg National School, Achill Beg Island, Co. Mayo
NGR: 071712, 292437
If you were to include just about every rocky outcrop of notable size, then you could count at least five-hundred-or-so off-shore islands off the coast of Ireland. However, only a handful of these islands have maintained a population through history, and even fewer-still have retained permanent residents into the present day. Through the early and high medieval period many of the smaller islands off the west coast attracted monastic settlers. Off the west coast, monastic settlements can be found on Skellig Michael, St. Macdara’s Island, Scattery Island and Inishmurray to name just a few, with the early monks being drawn to the isolation offered by these punishing out-posts.
However, our period of interest is the 19th and 20th century, and the experiences of those who lived and were educated on these islands at that time. Examining the early mapping sources like the First Edition 6 Inch map (1834-1842), and First Edition 25 Inch map (1890-1911), it can be seen that up until the mid 20th century, there were some forty national schools located on islands off the coast of Ireland. Life on many of these islands could be harsh at the best of times, and by the 1950s, settlers on many of the smaller islands were encouraged to leave and settle on the mainland. The evacuation of the off-shore islands left many of the smaller islands desolate and empty, and consequently, the majority of the forty national schools once located on them were closed.
For the past couple of months I’ve been slowly making my way out to many of these island school houses. Some have unfortunately been completely destroyed by the elements such as the school house once located on the eastern shore of Scattery Island, Co. Clare. Others have been restored as holiday homes like the example on Dursey Island, Co. Cork. And some, such as the example featured here from Achill Beg, have been sitting vacant and abandoned since the island was evacuated in the mid-20th century.