Ballymacelligott National School, Ballymacelligott townland, Co. Kerry 

Ballymacelligott National School, Ballymacelligott townland, Co. Kerry 

(dated: c.1955)

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 However, this was superseded by another, adjacent school building by the time of the First Edition 25 inch sheet (c.1900).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)

Gleann Cotáin (Glencuttane) National School, Glancuttaun Upper townland, Co. Kerry

Gleann Cotáin (Glencuttane) National School, Glancuttaun Upper townland, Co. Kerry

(dated: 1887)

NGR: 77839, 089223

The townland of Glancuttaun Upper is situated in the parish of Kilorglin on the northeastern side of the Iveragh peninsula in Co.Kerry. The landscape here comprises areas of low-lying farmland shadowed by low mountainous terrain with it’s rough grazing lands. A quick look at the First Edition 25 inch Ordnance Survey sheet shows field patterns that demonstrate how the lands and landscape here were exploited in the past; by the roadside and in the low-lying, more fertile areas we find tightly packed, small enclosed fields close to the clachan style settlements that are so characteristic of the rural Irish landscape. The mountain sides remain unenclosed. 

Glencuttane National School, Co. Kerry -First Edition 25 inch Ordnance Survey sheet

These field patterns reflect a system of farming and animal husbandry in Ireland that stretches back millenia. Traditionally, cattle farming was the mainstay of Gaelic life in Ireland, and stock was effectively currency. Early law tracts dedicate significant detail to the care of cattle, and rights and obligations of cattle owners. During winter, stock was commonly kept enclosed about the homestead, while in the summer months, cattle were driven to rough summer grazing in the uplands. This ancient settlement pattern is still visible today in the modern landscape around Glancuttaun.
It is on the low-lying and more populated lands of Glancuttaun Upper that Glencuttane National School was constructed in the late 19th century. Dating to 1887, it is merely a ruinous, roofless frame of a building today. The thinly spread soil around the school is often water-logged, and on an overcast day that I visited, it seemed a particularly dour place. Having said this, I passed here again on a brighter afternoon, and the fair weather helped to lighten the sad look of the old grey building.

Glencuttane National School, Co. Kerry 1887

The building itself comprises a detached five-bay, single-storey national school, built c.1887. To the front there is a single-bay single-storey gabled projecting entrance bay to the centre. The school is enclosed by a rubble boundary wall with stone-on-edge coping, and includes wrought-iron gates that are entangled with the overgrown grass. 

Glencuttane National School, Co. Kerry 1887

The original slate roof of the school has been removed exposing the interior of the building to elements. The glazing is gone, and the weather beaten exterior looks a sorry sight by the roadside. Inside there are two classrooms with fireplaces located centrally in the building. The suspended floor has collapsed, and I had to negotiate the rubble, being careful not to impale myself on the debris.  

Glencuttane National School, Co. Kerry 1887

Some cute details remain in the building such as the wrought-iron coat hooks in the entrance hall, but the building is largely a ruin that is difficult to negotiate. Nonetheless, the building once served an important social role in the local community.

Glencuttane National School, Co. Kerry 1887

However, Glencuttane school house is absent from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, despite it’s social and architectural value. This is a phenomenon that I have highlighted before, where identical school houses in different counties may or may not be included in the National Inventory, with no clear reasoning behind their absence or inclusion. Although the NIAH is a national inventory,  it is not homogeneous from county to county. Is this something that can be addressed? 

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

The Disused School Houses on Dunmanus Bay, Co. Cork

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.

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The location of Dunbeacon, Derreenalomane, Kilthomane and Glaun 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.

glaun-national-school-co-cork
First Edition 25-Inch Map showing Glaun National School

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.

Continue reading The Disused School Houses on Dunmanus Bay, Co. Cork

Scoil An Cneagain/Cregganbaun National School, Cregganbaun townland, Co. Mayo

Scoil An Cneagain/Cregganbaun National School, Cregganbaun townland, Co. Mayo

(dated: 1945)

NGR: 080756, 274223

The coastline of County Mayo is a forgotten gem in the Irish landscape. Mountainous and barren for the most part, the area attracts the more adventurous visitors who are willing to stray off the well beaten tourist track that generally takes in the southern half of the island of Ireland. In recent years, the popularity of the Wild Atlantic Way has brought and increase in tourism to the area. When I most recently passed through the region, I was making my way from Kilary Harbour to Westport. Taking the scenic route, my journey brought me northward by the shores of Doo Lough, a small lake that is hidden between the overshadowing Mweelrea and Sheefry mountain ranges.

doo-lough-co-mayo
Doo Lough and Glencullin Lough, Co. mayo

After emerging from the mountain pass, the R335 headed north toward the town of Louisburgh. There was little by way of settlement between the mountain pass and Louisburgh, and the small regional road had little to navigate except expansive boglands with the Sheefry mountains providing a dramatic backdrop. The roadway gently bulged over the peatlands and there was little roadside vegetation to interrupt the view across the bog as I passed the occasional singe rural dwelling. Not many people live here I thought.

Much of this landscape had been empty since the Great Famine of the mid-19th century, and I associate sadness with this particular area. You see the route I was driving was in fact the route of the ‘Doolough Tragedy’, which occurred in March 1849. The Doolough Tradgedy is a journey many starving people were forced to make through the Doolough Valley to attend an inspection and get famine relief at Louisburgh. For unknown reasons the inspection was not made, and the hundreds of people were then told to appear at Delphi Lodge near Kilary Harbour. They walked the eleven miles in cold and wintry conditions, but, when they got to Delphi Lodge, they were refused either food or tickets of admission to the workhouse. On the journey back home more than 400 people died.

The population never recovered after the famine, and there is not much by way of infrastructure here today. Nonetheless passing near the townland of Creggabaun in the Civil Parish of Kilgeever, I came across an old two-roomed school house by the roadside. There was only one house nearby and it’s difficult to imagine a time when a school was needed in these parts.

scoil-an-cneagain-co-mayo-1945-external
Cregganbaun National School, Co. Mayo 1945

The building comprised a detached five-bay single-storey national school, dated 1945. From the outside, it looked as grey and dismal as the foreboding overcast sky that had drifted over when I stopped to take a few snaps. I rushed inside to take shelter from the on-coming rains, and in there I discovered a brightly coloured interior, strewn with rubbish and old furniture.

scoil-an-cneagain-co-mayo-1945-table-top
The Classroom at Cregganbaun National School, Co. Mayo

There were two classrooms, both once heated by oil burners. The plaster fell from the walls revealing the coarse stonework underneath, and the roof looked like it wouldn’t hold out to the elements much longer. To the rear were the toilets, with toilet doors painted a discomforting yellow colour. As the rain began to fall and drip through the holes in the ceiling, I thought to myself that this is one of those schools that people romantically think of as wonderfully isolated and wholesome – the reality being that you are surrounded by the exposed, damp and peaty landscape; truly a delight in the summer, though I’m sure the Atlantic gales can make a wet and dark winter seem very long. Continue reading Scoil An Cneagain/Cregganbaun National School, Cregganbaun townland, Co. Mayo

Chasing Ghosts

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.

Latton National School, Co. Monaghan 1941
Latton National School, Co. Monaghan 1941

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.’

Continue reading Chasing Ghosts

Drumreilly National School, Kilnacreevey townland, Co. Leitrim 

Drumreilly National School, Kilnacreevy townland, Co. Leitrim 

(dated: 1887)

NGR: 219888, 312629

Drumreilly National School Co. Leitrim 1887

Every now and then I find myself on the road when I chance upon some old empty school house by a roadside somewhere. 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 do accidentally stumble across one. While travelling from Ballymote to Armagh last month, I happened across a late 19th-century school house in the townland of Kilnacreevy in Co. Leitrim.

Drumreilly National School Co. Leitrim 1887

County Leitrim is Ireland’s least populous county, predominantly rural in character, with Carrick-on-Shannon being the only sizeable town of note. However, the countryside is stunning in an understated way, defined by rolling, boggy drumlins with small lakes interspersed between. The land is agriculturally poor, and the hollows between the drumlins tend to become water-logged and boggy. In 1837, the antiquarian Samuel Lewis described the region as ‘generally wet, sour, and moory’.

Drumreilly National School Co. Leitrim 1887

I feel Samuel Lewis was a little unfair with his description of the region. In the area around Garadice Lough on the Leitrim/Cavan border, meandering country lanes navigate the hillocks and lakes, and lead from one small village to the next. It is on the northern shore of Garadice Lough that you’ll find Kilnacreevy townland; a place that hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years. 

It was just a little over 100 years ago that a small one-roomed school house was built here overlooking the lakeshore. It is located on the northern side of the modern R199 road. The school building comprises a detached, single-storey, three-bay,one-roomed school house of rubble and brick construction, with a pitched slate roof. The date plaque indicates that it was constructed in 1887. It is near identical in form to the example from Sonnagh Old in Co. Galway, and in a similar state of decay.
Continue reading Drumreilly National School, Kilnacreevey townland, Co. Leitrim 

Dyzart National School, Dysart townland, Co. Louth

Dyzart National School, Dysart townland, Co. Louth
(Dated 1835)
NGR: 309710, 288382

dyzart-national-school-co-louth-1835
Dyzart National School, Co. Louth 1835

The parish of Dysart (occasionally spelled ‘Dyzart’) is located about 3 kms from Dunleer in Co. Louth, on the coast road from Drogheda to Dundalk. In 1837 the village was visited by the travelling antiquarian Samuel Lewis who reported 699 inhabitants living in the parish at the time. He noted that the land was of superior quality and well cultivated: about two-thirds in tillage, and about 50 acres of bog. In the village of Grange Bellew, there was a mill for grinding oatmeal, and another for dressing flax. Among the most notable buildings in the parish was the old castle of John Bellew in Barmeath (one of the lords of the English pale). At the time of Lewis’ visit it was the residence of Sir Patrick Bellew, and stood ‘in a richly wooded demesne, commanding extensive views of the surrounding countryside’.

In the village of Dysart, Lewis remarked on the handsome chapel there, the site for which was presented by Sir Patrick, who also contributed towards its erection. A quick look at the Ordnance Survey 6-inch sheet which dates to just a few years after Lewis’ visit, shows there were few buildings in Dysart during the 1830s-1840s, bar the aforementioned chapel, and a national school.

First Edition Ordnance Survey 6 inch sheet showing Dysart, Co. Louth.

Lewis recorded that the school of about 160 children was aided by Sir Patrick, who also contributed largely towards the erection of the school-house. Though now derelict, this building still stands today. Continue reading Dyzart National School, Dysart townland, Co. Louth

Cluain Chumhra National School, Cluain Chorta townland, Co. Kerry

Cluain Chumhra National School, Cluain Chorta townland, Co. Kerry

(dated: c.1910 – 1920)

NGR: 050749, 100942

The Dingle Peninsula (or Corca Dhuibhne) in Co. Kerry stretches some 30 miles (48 km) into the Atlantic Ocean from Ireland’s south-west coast, and is a popular spot for holiday makers. The peninsula is dominated by mist-covered mountain ranges that form its spine, running from the Slieve Mish range to Mount Brandon, Ireland’s second highest peak. The coastline consists of steep sea-cliffs, broken by sandy beaches, with two large sand spits at Inch in the south and the Maharees to the north. Off the west coast lie the Blasket Islands; inhabited until 1953 when the last remaining islanders were  forcefully evacuated to the mainland on 17 November by the Irish government. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty, and despite a busy tourist season, it is a peaceful place that retains it’s rural feel.

The principal town on the peninsula is Dingle; a major fishing port in Ireland, with the industry dating back to about 1830. The fishing industry brought the railways to the town, and Dingle was formerly the western terminus of the narrow gauge Tralee and Dingle Light Railway. The railway station opened on 1 April 1891, closed for passenger traffic on 17 April 1939 and for regular goods traffic on 10 March 1947, finally closing altogether on 1 July 1953, by which time a cattle train once per month was the sole operation. The railway line weaved along the south coast of the peninsula on it’s way from Tralee, crossing a flat, low-lying area between Lispole and An Cnoicin known as Droichead An Imligh (Emlaghmore Bridge). It is adjacent to the former railway line and the modern N-86 road in the townland of Clooncurra ,that you’ll find an early 20th century school house no longer in use.

Clooncurra National School, Co. Kerry 1910-1920
Clooncurra National School, Co. Kerry 1910-1920

Continue reading Cluain Chumhra National School, Cluain Chorta townland, Co. Kerry

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

Disused School Houses of Ireland