Sincere thank you to local historian and shopkeeper Micheál Hurley for providing the following comprehensive history of education in Lisavaird.
History of Lisavaird National School
The Pike, Lisavaird, has a long and proud history of education. Griffith’s Valuation of 1851-2 show a property consisting of 12 acres, a schoolhouse and office. The owner is listed as a Rev. Horace Townsend, Church of Ireland rector in Rosscarbery, vicar of Kilgariffe, and magistrate of Clonakilty. The crossroads is named after the Mahony family who lived there. The school was where our old shop was, and it had a living area upstairs of 200 sq. feet.
In September 1831, Edward Stanley, the new Chief Secretary for Ireland proposed a new education system which would provide literacy, numeracy and moral instruction, for children of different religions. The ensuing 1831 Act established a state supported national school system in Ireland. The schools were controlled by a state body – The National Board of Education – with a 6-member board consisting of 2 Roman Catholics, 2 Church of Ireland and 2 Presbytarians.
In the early 19th century, in a climate of animosity between the churches, the multi-denominational model was strongly opposed. The established Church, Church of Ireland, through the church of the minority held a special position and a right to government support, Both the catholics and the presbyterians, who had suffered under the Penal Laws, had sought support for schools of their own tradition.
For example, James Doyle (RC Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin) was an early proponent seeking to improve on the informal hedge school system. Doyle spoke before a Parliamentary Commission as follows:
“I do not see how any man who wishes well to the public peace, and who looks to Ireland as his country, can think that peace can be permanently be established or the prosperity of the country even well established, if children are separated at the commencement of life on account of their religious opinions.”
The result of all this was that by the end of the 19th century the system had become increasingly denominational with individuals choosing to attend primarily catering to children of their own religion.
Applications were made to the commissioners for grants for the building of schools, payment of teachers, and provision of equipment.
With the economy improving in the 1860s and 1870s, the provision of a school in the Lisavaird area became a priority for the parish. The plaque over the then south facing windows celebrates the completion of the school in 1887.
Built with brown stone, which was quarried just a half mile away, the stonework is extremely detailed. Local limekilns supplied quicklime which acted as an excellent building mortar.
The new schoolhouse comprised two separate schools, one for boys and one for girls. Each school had two large rooms and two fireplaces. This arrangement remained in place until the 1920s when the two schools became one and boys and girls were educated together. Katty O’ Brien, who lived with us, remembered when there were 4 teachers- 2 men for the boys and 2 women for the girls. A high wall, 7 feet tall, running through the centre of the playground, existed to enforce this segregation during break times. This wall stood here until we knocked it in 2012 for construction of our own shop and forecourt.
In 1926, the School Attendance Act made school attendance compulsory on all school days for children between the age of 6 and 14. This programme consisted of attendance of 5 or 6 hours a day, five days a week for a minimum of 190 days a year. The subjects studied included Irish, English, arithmetic, history, geography and music. Girls also received instruction in needlework.
When I attended the school, there was a girl’s yard and a boy’s yard with dry toilets in both yards.
The school had no electricity or running water. This influenced the introduction of daylight savings time in Britain and Ireland when the clocks went back 1 hour so that there would be sufficient light for children in schools in the morning.
The majority of attendees came from farming backgrounds in the 1940s and 50s. The roll books reveal high absenteeism during the Spring and Autumn. It was equally true for the girls as well as boys. Both parents would work the fields during harvesting and planting as well as the boys and if there were young children in the house, the girls would be kept at home to mind them.
In the early years there was a strong emphasis on speaking through English. This practice was disbanded with the establishment of the Free State and a greater emphasis was put on the Irish language. I can vouch for this because my father, who attended Lisavaird NS from 1910 to 1918 had not a single word of Irish, whereas my mother, who attended Ross Convent NS from 1919 to 1927, was a fluent Irish speaker.
Throughout the history of the school, inspectors (Cigirí) were frequent visitors holding teachers to account and checking progress and attendance of the students. Another visitor, who was sure to bring out the best behaviour was the Parish Priest, who called regularly to examine the children in the Christian doctrine and prepare them for the sacraments.
The most famous pupil was Michael Collins and whilst he was a pupil at Lisavaird NS, Jeremiah O’ Donovan Rossa paid a visit to the school and gave the pupils a lecture – perhaps he inspired Collins. Both were buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, just a short distance apart.
Michael Collins’ sister, Margaret O’ Driscoll (1876-1945), trained as a teacher and was principal of Lisavaird Girls National School from 1896 to 1922. She taught Katty O’ Brien and my three aunts, Helen, Margaret and Anna. Margaret was later elected in 1923 as the Cumman na nGaedheal Teachta Dála for the Dublin North constituency and served until she lost her seat in 1933.
Mary and I are writing the history of our business which started in 1910 when my grandparents returned with 3 children from America. We have ‘a lot done but a lot more to do’ but one of the stories in it will be the 4 years I spent in Lisavaird NS. I was in the group who left the old National School in December 1964 and returned in January 1965 to the new NS which was built by Charlie Cullinane from Clonakilty. In the story, I hope to convey the types of desks, inkwells, how we went to school – the happy memories – and the teachers we had. Until then, take care and stay safe.
Michael F. Hurley, October 25th 2020