The Role of the National School in rural Ireland by James Reddiough

 In Feature

The two teacher school is under threat due to falling populations in rural areas. These schools date back to the early to mid-eighteen hundreds. They were opened in the 1840’s and later schools were opened in the eighteen nineties due to the will of the people and the fact that the landlord gave a site from his estate for the school building. Populations were so high back then that there were boys and girls educated separately in the same building and this went onto into the early nineteen hundreds.

Yet the school was so much more than a place for primary teaching and they were community centres too and places of learning for teenagers and younger adults and for concerts too.

In Bofield School for example there was a preparatory school to prepare students for the scholarships and entry to Preparatory colleges the first step on the road to a primary school teaching career. This school was run over 16 years in Bofield from 1916 to 1932 and they were widely advertised in the Western People with the head master tadgh O’ Leary featuring in each advertisement.

In later years the school was an adult education centre and they held classes there in the evening for domestic science for the women and for the men there would be other forms of education. Seamas Maguire a secondary teacher in the Tech in Ballina was responsible for bringing these classes to Bofeild in the 1950’a and 1960’s.

Before there were any dance halls in the area they held dances in the school this was true of the school built in Bonniconlon in the 1890’s. A dance was held there on the 3rd April 1921 the night that an ambush was held in the parish and the dance in the school was raided as a result. Later after the opening of the new school in 1965 the e older school was used as a community centre for meetings. It was demolished in 2009 and now the 1965 school is gone also and there is a new ultra-modern school in its place. Variety concerts were held in Bofield and Carra over the years also to raise funds for various community ventures until the community centre was opened in Bofield in 1980.

The school developed many talents over the years and this was true for many lads and girls who later went onto to be county footballers and also true for developing the musical and artistic talents of the pupils.

They could be militant places too and there was a strike held in Bofield in October 1947 in protest at the deplorable condition of the school for the pupils and teachers alike and the parents led by a local man and parent went out on strike and withdrew their children from the school until the matter was resolved.

The small school has served rural areas well and many of them embraced the new technology of the time and now they are in fear of closing because they have as a few as 20 pupils for two teachers and in the case of Carra Bonniconlon there are only 8 pupils so with the building of as new school in Bonnicnlon they may well be moved into the central school as happened in so many other areas.

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