Ballymacelligott National School, Ballymacelligott townland, Co. Kerry
ING: 90837, 112062
Just about 8 km east of the town of Tralee in Co. Kerry, you’ll find the village of Ballymacelligott situated to the south of the N21. This rural hamlet contains the usual local conveniences and facilities that are characteristic of so many little villages and small towns in Ireland. The Parish Church, the school, and the GAA pitch form the hub of the settlement, and for better or worse, they are the predictable staples of the community.
The local GAA pitch is located on the eastern side of the village within what feels like a manipulated landscape. Although not immediately obvious, close inspection of the surrounding field walls and vegetation suggests the lands here were modified at some point, and the topography seems somewhat manicured compared to the surrounding farmland.
Looking at the First Edition 6 and 25 inch Ordnance Survey maps, you can see that the village is in fact set within the remnants of a former designed landscape. The vestiges of a walled garden can be seen to the south of the modern football pitch, and the fragmented remains of a tree lined avenue are located close by. These features are located in the exotically named townland of Arabela, a townland that once comprised the demesne lands of Arabela House. This Georgian ‘Big House’ was constructed around 1760 and still stands though the surrounding demesne is greatly diminished.
The demesne lands included the ‘Big House’ and a carefully considered and composed, designed landscape surrounding the gentrified home. To the west of the former demesne lands is a double-height Church of Ireland church, built sometime c.1820.
Around this time, a large quarry was in operation in Ballymacelligott,and with a population of about 3,500 in 1837, Lewis, in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland noted two schools in the parish;
‘There is a school under the superintendence of the incumbent [Wesleyan Methodists] and another under the direction of the parish priest is partly supported by subscription. In these schools about 90 children are instructed; and there are also three pay schools, in which are about 150 children.’
The First Edition Ordnance Survey 6 inch sheet (c.1840) shows a Parochial School once located at the centre of the village. However, this was superseded by another, adjacent school building by the time of the First Edition 25 inch sheet (c.1900). This later school building would again be replaced, and a new ‘modern’ school house constructed adjacent to the Church of Ireland church some time in the 1950s. This building still stands today, though it is no longer in use as a school, having been replaced by yet another school house.
The 1950s school house at Ballymacelligott is somewhat unusual in that it is a ‘modern’ functional, post-World War II design complete with a flat-roof, concrete schoolyard shelter and a water tower to the rear. But it is still just a single classroom school; going against the trend of multi-classroom school house construction at the time. In form it is comparable to the examples at Upperchurch in Co. Tipperary and Carrowcrory in Co. Sligo, both of which are multi-classroom school buildings.
I cannot think of another example of a one-roomed school being built in Ireland after the 1950s, though I’m sure others do exist out there. During this time, there was a strong movement toward the amalgamation of small rural schools, and small school houses were no longer favoured.
The building is now derelict, though it remained in use as a function room or parish hall for sometime after it’s closure as a school. The former cloakroom was converted to into a kitchen, and undobtedly, tea and triangular sandwiches were served from here at important committee meetings in the adjacent former classroom.
The building has a certain charm: it’s functional 1950s architecture is incongruous within the former demesne landscape. The flat roof contrasts greatly with the towering spire of adjacent 19th century Church, and overall the building is an attractive curiosity within the little rural village. The schoolyard is overgrown, and the pebble-dashed walls are stained and grey. It is a bizarre, almost post-apocalyptic sight. I wonder what the fate of this building will be?
If you or someone you know attended this national school, please do get in touch and share any stories, anecdotes, photographs, or any other memories you may have.
(Sincere thanks to Tony of the Reading the signs blog for bringing this school to my attention)