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Buncranna, Donegal Ballymackeehola, Mayo
19 Aug 2016

The national school system established in Ireland in 1831 developed the network of schools that exist in Ireland today. The very first national schools were sparse, basic buildings and while some renovation and maintenance took place up until the 1950s and 1960s schools were quite cold and unwelcoming. Many old school buildings can still be seen today in the Irish countryside.


Ballymackeehola NS Co. Mayo © Enda O’Flaherty  

They are usually one storey buildings with sash windows (where windows still exist) and internal wooden paneled walls. There was no insulation, damp proof or dry lining in walls until much later when modern building regulations came into play. Toilets were generally outside and male and female students were educated separately. Cork-based professional archaeologist and photographer Enda O’Flaherty has a particular interest in the desolate beauty of abandoned spaces. Recently he 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. You can find out more HERE

Gardenfield old NS, Tuam, Co. Galway

In the National Folklore Schools' Collection Owen Donaghey from Donegal talks about his first days at school at St. Mary’s NS Buncranna:

I well remember the first day I went to school. I was seven years of age and my father was with me and he had a wale coat on him. About ten months after this I made my First Holy Communion, and I was bare-footed and wore a pair of homemade trousers and a jumper that my mother made from the wool of sheep which she cut and wove. That was also the first pair of trousers I ever got.

The school desk is something that always brings back memories. The ink well held the ink made from a mixture of ink powder and water and blotting paper was a well-established aid for drying copies. For younger children though ink smudges were inevitable! As well as the usual lessons singing and poetry recital were common activities and many older people can still recall and indeed recite aloud long verses learned in school when they were very young. In the 1940s and later girls also had their own sewing boxes with thimble, thread and swatches of material to practice on. Tacking, hemming and other basic stitching was taught. While this was an activity confined to the females, serving was one confined to the boys and meant that they could leave school in the morning to serve Mass as altar boys. 

School desk, Milltown Heritage Park © Clare Doyle


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    Thursday 8th June 2023, 07:27AM
  • It is very interesting to find out how it was going to school in the past, especially since now we have access to almost everything and also have a lot of facilities. However, I know for sure that now we have a lot more to learn and requirements. This sometimes can be very overwhelming, so I ask for help to do my math homework for me because it saves me some time which I spend relaxing, but I always look through my homework after receiving it in order to understand it better, as it is solved in detail.

    Thursday 7th April 2022, 08:29AM