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Cork-based professional archaeologist and photographer Enda O’Flaherty has a particular interest in the desolate beauty of abandoned spaces. 

 Shanvaghera National School - Co Mayo

Recently we introduced you to the National School Registers of the National Archives in our Ireland XO Insight - Irish National Education sources relating to the 19th Century. As an addition to this article we introduce a great Blog by Enda O'Flaherty who brings to life empty school buildings, photographing them and providing additional information. Many of the buildings are abandoned while some have been recycled to be used in new ways. It is interesting to note the similarities between buildings scattered across various locations in Ireland. Enda has combined his love of photography with his professional discipline, and taken to documenting the architectural features and cultural significance of the many abandoned school houses dotted across the rural Irish landscape. We hope you enjoy it!

Up until the 1950s, small multi-grade schools were 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. They are often a mark of rural depopulation where communities dwindled as young people chose to leave the countryside for bigger cities and more prosperous lands. For many who emigrated from Ireland at an early age, their days spent in these rural and isolated school houses often represented the last formal education they received before seeking a brighter future abroad. Although many of these buildings are now physically empty or approaching a point of collapse, the physical structures are cognitive stimuli for those who attended, and hold a wealth of memory and associations that shaped their understanding of the world around them at an early age. From these small rural school houses the children of Ireland took what they had learned and went out to find fortune and to explore the greater world. 


Gortahose National School, 1890 Co. Letrim Desk in the Hallway © Enda O'Flaherty


Enda’s Blog features some wonderful and evocative shots of these buildings, almost capturing a ghost-like presence of those who passed through their doors in the decades gone by. He has combined stunning imagery with documentary research, and has found original hand-written scripts from many of these schools dating from the 1930’s – In 1937 the Irish Folklore Commission, in collaboration with the Department of Education and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, initiated a revolutionary scheme in which schoolchildren were encouraged to collect and document folklore and local history from the eldest or most knowledgeable members of their household. Over a period of eighteen months some 100,000 children in 5,000 primary schools in the twenty-six counties of the Irish Free State were encouraged to collect folklore material in their home districts. These first-hand stories, poems, recipes, phrases and local folklore were all written down by the school children who attended these schools in the 1930s, and represent a wealth of local first-hand knowledge that dates as far back as the mid -19th century. 

Bunnadden NS, Sligo © Enda O'Flaherty

Many of the school houses featured in Enda’s Blog have complimentary documents of stories from their locality included in each Blog post. Enda is currently combining his research and photography into a new book expected in 2017. To keep up-to-date with his research and to view some of these wonderful images visit his Blog or check him out on Facebook or Twitter at the links below. Feel free to share memories, comment and make suggestions of school house to visit.

Add an old school house to the Chronicles

Do you know of an abandoned shool house or the location of where a school building once stood, such as Ballinaboy School near Clifden?  Add them to our Building Chronicles and we can then link people who were educated or who taught there from our Ancestor Chronicles.

Ireland XO Buildings


We hope you have found the information we have shared helpful. While you are here, we have a small favour to ask. Ireland Reaching Out is a non-profit organisation that relies on public funding and donations to ensure a completely free family history advisory service to anyone of Irish heritage who needs help connecting with their Irish place of origin. If you would like to support our mission, please click on the donate button and make a contribution. Any amount, big or small, is appreciated and makes a difference. 

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