Schools in Ballinagh - a brief history
There was a tradition of education in what we know as the parish of Kilmore and the town of Ballinagh long before the national school system was established in 1831. This tradition dates back to the 6th century when the first Christian establishment was founded by St Felim close to the river Erne and Lough Oughter. It became a centre for faith and learning and radiated its influence into the surrounding district. St Colman came in the 7th century and established a monastery in the townland of Slanore overlooking the river Erne the remains of which can be seen today. The tradition is that this monastery was visited by St. Columbkille on some of his visits from lona and that he stayed there overnight occasionally. In the 12th century with the synodal reforms the diocese was established and it took its name from St Felim’s foundation at Kilmore. A fine Romanesque cathedral was built around 1170, which is thought to have resembled some of the structures at Clonmacnoise. Part of this building remains forming the vestry door of the present cathedral at Kilmore. In 1137 the Premonstratensian Canons arrived at Trinity Island and they built a priory. Trinity Island is situated across the meandering River Erne from Slanore. Known as the White Canons they flourished on the island until 1570 when they were suppressed and their property confiscated by the Crown. For years Trinity was a renowned centre of faith and learning. In 1620 the former Catholic Cathedral of St Feidhlimidh, which had fallen into disrepair, was fitted up for Protestant worship. From 1628 to 1642 William Bedell a man acknowledged by all to have been strong in faith and learning was bishop there. Bernard Martin and Michael Tully in their book Drumcor its School and Surrounding District 2002 identify a school in the townland of Ricehill as far back as 1629 which was founded by Bishop Bedell; and a school has continued in the general Crossdoney area ever since. In 1974 the new Kilmore Church of Ireland Central School situated in the town land of Farragh (beside Ricehill) about a mile and a half the Cavan side of Crossdoney village was opened.
Dr Philip O’ Connell in Schools and Scholars of Breifne 1942 refers to many Hedge schools in the Kilmore parish. He mentions Killygowan, Trinity, Drumcor, Clarebawn, Farragh, Clonegonnell, Marahill, Urney and Ballinagh. According to him the Ballinagh school was ‘in the village in a house of stone and lime’. The attendance was 31 comprising 21 boys and 10 girls.
The first permanent school building we can identify in Ballinagh was located on the Cavan road adjacent to Saint Felim’s Roman Catholic Church. It is now Ballinagh Service Station and is owned by Mr Colm Smith and is often referred to as ‘the old school house.’ A school was established there in 1818 and the school name and that date inscribed on the front wall are visible today (see picture below). It is likely that this school grew out of the hedge school, which O’Connell already mentioned as having existed in Ballinagh.
1818 is a significant date in the history of the parish of Kilmore for another reason because in that year Fr Thomas Brady was appointed parish priest. He lived in Lismoreville a couple of hundred metres outside the village of Crossdoney on the Killeshandra road, now the home of the Flood family. On the 20 June 1832 Fr Brady made his initial application to the Board of Education for financial assistance to ‘equip, upgrade and maintain the school’ and thereby bring it properly under the newly established national educational system. On the 15 September 1833 his request was ratified by the Board of Education.
We get some idea of what the town of Ballinagh was like at the time by reference to Lewis Topographical dictionary 1837. Samuel Lewis was the editor and publisher of topographical dictionaries and maps of Great Britain and Ireland. He described Ballinagh (recorded in 1831) ‘as a market town with 702 inhabitants’. He stated that ‘there are 135 houses in it the greater part of which are thatched and of which only three are in the parish of Ballintemple… There is a good slated school house containing on the ground floor a school room for boys and on the upper storey one for girls.’ This school on the Cavan Road lasted for over one hundred years and served many children through an eventful, and at times turbulent, century.
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