Category Archives: Miscellany

Women in Irish Education through the 19th and 20th century.

This is a short blog post to mark International Women’s Day, March 8th 2017. It gives an all-too-brief overview of the role of women, both as teachers and pupils in the Irish Education System through the 19th and 20th century.

The history of formal education for Irish women has been characterised by a dichotomy: should a girl be educated for the private sphere and a dutiful subservience, or should she be educated for independent thought and paid employment? Nonetheless, Ireland’s long history of patriarchy is matched by an ongoing evolution of its women’s movements. The first wave of the Irish women’s movement dates from the mid-19th century, with the franchise secured for women in 1918 while still under British colonial rule. First-wave feminists played a role in the nationalist movement, but their demands were later side-lined during the construction of a conservative, Catholic, post-colonial Irish state. In the 1970s, the second wave marked a critical period of radicalism and consolidation, with important gains on issues of violence against women and women’s reproductive rights.

Whiddy Island National School, Co. Cork c.1930 – male teacher and female teaching assistant 

Through this time however, 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 20th century, National school teaching was a lifelong job; the marriage bar was only introduced 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 as anyone could open a school and expect a modest income. 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
1833             789
1835             1106
1839             1581
1845             3426
1849             4321

This work was considered suitable for women whether spinsters or widows. If they knew how to read and write, they were considered equipped to teach.

Continue reading Women in Irish Education through the 19th and 20th century.

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

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

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)

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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)

Education is the movement from darkness into light – Allan Bloom

Porterstown National School Co. Dublin

Often the easiest way to identify whether a derelict building was once a school house or not is by the presence of windows that are not characteristic of a domestic structure. Light, and allowing light into the building were practical necessities before the arrival of artificial luminescence from the electric bulb.  For reading and writing, high windows allowed the optimum amount of light into the room throughout the day. Even today, it is recognised that maximising the amount of natural light in a school building is beneficial to the learning environment.

The form, style and placement of windows vary greatly from school to school, though many early school houses reflect an ecclesiastical genesis, with high pointed windows similar to those found in a church sometimes being present. Some can be ornate and intricate, with features such as switch-line tracery. An example of this from Tubrid National School, Co. Tipperary is shown below:

Tubrid National School Co. Tipperary

Continue reading Education is the movement from darkness into light – Allan Bloom