At the heart of it all; the one-roomed school house in rural Ireland (Heritage Week 2016 Series)

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 seventh post in the series. This post takes a look at the one-roomed school house in rural Ireland, and it’s significance as a symbol of the development of a more progressive education system for all. 

A few miles north of Dunmanway in West Cork, is the little rural hamlet of Cool Mountain. Through the 1970s, this area was settled by a commune of mostly English folk, who felt Poll Tax and Thatcherism wasn’t for them, and so they made the mountain sides their home. In summer, this is a particularly lush and green place; wooded and mountainous, isolated and peaceful. The land is rough but resourceful, and it’s easy to see what attracted the settlers to area in the 1970s. The landscape of Cool Mountain seems to have retained an authentic rural feel; the roads are poor, the houses sparse, and there is a sense of timelessness about the place. 

Here, located just off a small local road, and partially hidden by trees, is the disused Cool Mountain National School; a diminutive one-roomed corregated iron structure that is among the more unusual school houses I’ve seen to date. 

Cool Mountain National School, Co. Cork

Built sometime in the 1950s, it replaced an earlier local school house, though the galvanise building only contined to operate as a school until 1969 before closing. It is a quintessential yet unconventional one-roomed school; unconventional in it’s design and the materials used in it’s construction, though quintessential in it’s former role as the hub of education in a rural location.

Whiddy Island National School, Co. Cork

Rural one-roomed school houses in particular, tell the story of making education available to all who wished to avail of it through the 19th century. These buildings consisted of one classroom where a single teacher taught academic basics to several grades of primary school-aged boys and girls. 

Altough 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. 

Sonnagh National School, Co. Galway

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. 

Hollygrove National School, Co. Galway

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. 

Lisglennon National School, Co. Mayo

Rural in character, for a young teacher, these 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. 

St. Michael’s / Slievereagh National School Co. Cork

Today, you will generally find these empty buildings in the most sparsely populated of areas. Often hidden on mountain sides, or crumbling behind ivy, they remain as testament to times past, and symbols of changing educational needs.

Reyrawer National School, Co. Galway

One room school houses are no longer constructed, and the latest one-roomed school that I’ve visited is Ballymacelligott National School in until Co. Kerry, probably built some time in the 1950s. Until the 1950s, small multi-grade schools were established throughout Ireland as part of the education infrastructure. However, During the period 1966-73, the number of one and two teacher schools was reduced by c.1,100. Did this decision to close so many rural schools have a positive or negative impact on the rural Irish landscape?

Ballymacelligott National School, Co. Kerry

If you or someone you know attended these national schools, please do get in touch and share any stories, anecdotes, photographs, or any other memories you may have.

Girls and Boys…  (Heritage Week 2016 Series)

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.

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).

Continue reading Girls and Boys…  (Heritage Week 2016 Series)

Why are there so many abandoned School Houses scattered across the rural Irish landscape? (Heritage Week 2016 Series)

image
Gortahoose National School, Co. Leitrim

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.

Continue reading Why are there so many abandoned School Houses scattered across the rural Irish landscape? (Heritage Week 2016 Series)

Outdoor Conveniences (Heritage Week 2016 Series)

This is the fourth in the series of daily posts to the Disused School Houses blog to mark National Heritage Week 2016 (August 20th- 28th). With tongue-in-cheek I have chosen to re-visit the topic of primitive toilet facilities at the turn of the 20th century! Next time you utilise the convenience of indoor plumbing, keep in mind the fact that privys weren’t always so commodious!

Shanvaghera National School, Shanvaghera townland, Co. Mayo
Shanvaghera National School, Co. Mayo 1935

Particularly during the wintery time of year, 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.

Scoil Cill Criosta - Scoil Naisunta, Co. Galway
Scoill Cill Criosta, Co. Galway 1931

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.

Continue reading Outdoor Conveniences (Heritage Week 2016 Series)

Borderlands; ‘generally wet, sour, and moory’ – Samuel Lewis, 1837 (Heritage Week 2016 Series)

This is the third in the series of daily posts to the Disused School Houses blog to mark National Heritage Week 2016 (August 20th- 28th). This post presents images of abandoned school houses from Ireland’s ‘Borderland’ region, along with a brief narrative outlining the changing social landscape of the area over the past 100 years.

Gaigue NS Co. Cavan 1890 - 1900: Now a mechanic's workshop
Gaigue National School, Co. Cavan

aThere are a number of reoccurring motifs and themes that I have come across in the course of researching and photographing the disused school houses I visit. Rural depopulation and changing rural settlement patterns are amongst those themes. In some rural areas, the negative affects of this depopulation are partly offset by a thriving modern tourism industry. However, along the border region between the Republic and Northern Ireland where fewer tourists visit, the affects of demographic change have only been exacerbated further by social upheaval over the past century or so.

Drumreilly NS Co. Leitrim 1897 Fireplace
Drumreilly National School, Co. Leitrim (built in 1897)

The social history of the border already fills countless tomes and theses. The borderlands of Northern Ireland and Ireland are amongst the most disadvantaged and deprived areas of the island, and the proliferation of abandoned national schools in the area tells that story in itself. In March of this year, I spent a few days travelling through counties Monaghan, Cavan and Leitrim. These counties make up a significant percentage of the north/south border, and in terms of looking for derelict school houses, this is prime territory.

Corvoy Ns Co. monaghan 1902 Piano Through the Door
Corvoy National School, Co. Monaghan (built in 1902)

Besides dramatic social change, the creation of the custom barrier in 1923 significantly affected the movement of goods. Duties were payable on items such as tobacco, clothing and other manufactured goods. This had significant implications for retailers who formerly served areas that were now on either side of the border and for ordinary people whose patterns of shopping were disrupted by the new customs barrier.

Latton Co. Monaghan 1941 Classroom
Latton National School, Co. Monaghan (built in 1941)

Even before the decades of violence, the creation of the border badly affected existing retailers, manufacturers and services near the border. For many business the cost and inconvenience of new customs system – duties, paper work, delays and longer journeys – as well as the growing divergence in the administrative systems on either side created difficulties which led to a dramatic decline in trade across the border.

Continue reading Borderlands; ‘generally wet, sour, and moory’ – Samuel Lewis, 1837 (Heritage Week 2016 Series)

The School House in Ireland at the turn of the 20th Century (Heritage Week 2016 Series)

This is the second 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.

Twenty-Sixteen marks the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising in Ireland.  The 1916 Rising represented the first ‘major ‘ demonstration of force since the United Irishmen’s Rising of 1798. Already this year there have been many events across the country to commemorate the centenary.

Clooncurra NS Co. Kerry 1920s Corridor.jpg
Clooncurra National School just outside Dingle in Co. Kerry, built c. 1920

However, this blog post is not so much concerned with the political wranglings and social upheaval during the period. Instead, I would like to take a brief look at the national school system and what everyday school life was like in Ireland in and around the turn of the 20th century.

During the drawn-out process of establishing the Irish State in the early decades of the 20th Century, the government of the time inherited an already established primary education system. The Education Act of 1831 established the Board of National Education, and approval was given for a national system of education in every part of Ireland, partially paid for by the state. The role of the National Board was originally regarded as supplementary, providing inspection, approval, training, additions to salaries, and cheap books and requisites. It was hoped that in a given district the local gentlemen, businessmen, and clergy would not only provide the buildings, but would also partially pay the teachers, raise money for school perquisites, but also devise courses suitable for local needs.

Mountpleasant NS Co. Cork 1876 Interior
Mountpleasant National School Co. Cork , built in 1876. It was constructed on lands donated by the Baldwin Family, local land owners in the area at the time

According to the 1831 Act, he two legal pillars of the National School system were to be (i) children of all religious denominations to be taught together in the same school, with (ii) separate religious instruction. There was to be no hint of proselytism in this new school system. The new system, initially well supported by the religious denominations, quickly lost support of the Churches. However, the population showed great enthusiasm and flocked to attend these new National Schools.

In the second half of the 19th century, first the Catholic Church, and later the Protestant churches conceded to the state, and accepted the “all religious denominations together” legal position. Where possible, parents sent their children of a National School under the local management of their particular Church. The result was that by the end of the 19th century, the system had become increasingly denominational, with individuals choosing to attend schools primarily catering to children of their own religion. However, the legal position de jure, that all national schools are multi-denominational, remains to this day though in actuality, the system unfortunately functions much like a state – sponsored, church – controlled arrangement (this is an argument for another day).

1915 - Confirmation Scene
1915 – Confirmation Scene

The number of schools was not static. In 1899 there were 8,670 schools in operation under the Board. Today that figure is approximately 3160, less than half of what it was over one hundred years previous. Up until the 1950s, small multi-grade schools continued to be established throughout Ireland as part of the education infrastructure. But with an improvement in rural transport and the growing availability and popularity of motor cars, the need for small local schools that children could walk to was lessened, and larger schools covering greater catchment areas were favoured. 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.

Drumlish Co. Longford c.1930 Toilets
Drumlish National School, Co. Longford, built  c.1930

Continue reading The School House in Ireland at the turn of the 20th Century (Heritage Week 2016 Series)

Nostalgia, memory and debris; the landscape of Ireland’s old abandoned school houses (Heritage Week 2016 Series)

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 will be daily posts to the Disused School Houses Blog for the duration of the event to promote awareness of our built and cultural heritage. Below is the first in the Heritage Week 2016 Blog Post series.

Just a few weeks ago I added a post to the blog which provided a little background into why there are so many abandoned national schools scattered across the rural Irish landscape. In short, it’s a story of changing demographics, emigration, depopulation of the rural countryside, and the changing requirements of rural settlement. To begin this series, I thought I’d write a little something about what I find inside these abandoned buildings.

Drumlish Co. Longford c.1930 Shelter
Drumlish National School  Co. Longford built c.1930; Playground shelter

As the title of this post suggests, I’m not just interested in the buildings, their architecture, or the fittings, furniture and the debris that is strewn across these echoing spaces, but also in the stories they tell, their settings, and the nostalgia and memory that make up these cognitive landscapes. As time passes they have a growing significance as relics of a disappearing rural Irish lifeway, especially as the landscape around these school houses changes.

Visiting Reyrawer National School in the Slieve Aughty Hills last Autumn was a fine example of such a disappearing landscape. The autumnal evening sun hung low in the sky, and the few clouds that had lingered as twilight beckoned were tainted red and orange around their fringes by the setting sun. On the low hillside, and hidden in the dense forestry plantation of the Slieve Aughtys, was the now-disused, one-roomed Reyrawer National School; dilapidated and empty, haunting and isolated.The now forested hill-sides were dotted with the ruins of former farmsteads. The former pasture and rough grazing lands had been sown with coniferous plantations, and the ubiquitous and imposing wind-turbines highlighted 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.

Reyrawer National School. Co. Galway 1883 Window
Reyrawer National School. Co. Galway built in 1883

Continue reading Nostalgia, memory and debris; the landscape of Ireland’s old abandoned school houses (Heritage Week 2016 Series)

Gortnabinny National School, Gortnabinny townland, Co. Kerry

Gortnabinny National School, Gortnabinny townland, Co. Kerry

(dated: 1880-1898)

NGR: 091541, 063374

It’s a Sunday evening in late July in south Co. Kerry. The summer air is warm but heavy, and the sky is overcast though there are occasional bursts of sunlight through gaps in the temperamental cloud cover. This kind of weather is disappointingly common in Ireland at this time of year, with sporadic heavy showers of rain in between the dry spells. I’ve arrived at Gortnabinny townland, located about 10 km south of the town of Kenmare; a rural spot at the gateway to the Beara Peninsula.

The surrounding landscape is hilly; the ferns are a lush green colour, and in the damp, heavy warmth of the evening, the dense greenery and woodlands seem tropical. Earlier this day I had met Simon Linnell in Kenmare. He’s involved with a local cultural and historical research group in the town, and each year they publish the ‘Kenmare Chronicle’, a journal dedicated to documenting various aspects of the local heritage. He tells me that this year the group have been researching the many disused school houses located in the area, and has given me a hand-drawn map which shows the locations of the schools he’s identified. Gortnabinny is my last stop on Simon’s map. 

Leaving the humid roadside which is arched by a canopy of the most vibrant green deciduous trees, I make my way up a low knoll and through the wet woodlands; toward the crest of the hill I can see the remnants of single-storey building hidden behind pine palms, dripping after the most recent sun shower. 

Gortnabinny NS Co. Kerry View.jpg

Continue reading Gortnabinny National School, Gortnabinny townland, Co. Kerry

Killymarly National School, Killymarly townland, Co. Monaghan

Killymarly National School, Killymarly townland, Co. Monaghan

(dated c.1840)

NGR: 270176, 333199

Killymarly NS, Co. Monaghan c1850 Exterior

Travelling east from Monaghan Town toward the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, there is a small rural townland named Killymarly located on the northern side of the N 72. The surrounding landscape is characterised by elongated low drumlin hills, interspersed with damp bog-lands and small lakes. On the western side of one of these low drumlins, and set just off a narrow local road, are the crumbling remains of a two-storey school house dating to the mid-19th century. The building is marked on both the First Edition 6 inch Ordnance Survey Sheet (1834-1846), and the later 25 inch Ordnance Survey Sheet (dating to the turn of the 20th century), and the school was probably constructed in the 1840s.

Continue reading Killymarly National School, Killymarly townland, Co. Monaghan

Laughil National School, Rabbitpark townland, Co. Longford

Laughil National School, Rabbitpark townland, Co. Longford

(dated c.1937)

NGR: 217408, 270367

Laughil, Co. Longford 1937External

The townland of Rabbitpark is located to the south-east of Longford Town in Co. Longford. Rural in character, the surrounding landscape is barren and of low quality.  Like the environment surrounding Drumlish National School and Gaigue National School in the same county, farming remains important to the local economy, though rural life has changed, and the hustle-and-bustle of the market town is no longer what it used to be.

Laughil, Co. Longford 1937 Classroom

This school house was built in 1937. Looking at the First and Second Edition Ordnance Survey sheets, it can be seen that this is not the first National School built at this site, and that this building replaced an earlier school house built sometime before the First Edition Ordnance Survey in the late 1930s.

Continue reading Laughil National School, Rabbitpark townland, Co. Longford

Disused School Houses of Ireland

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 224 other followers