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.
Famous Past Pupil
Probably the best-known past pupil of this old school was the poet Padraic Colum. Padraic was born in Longford on the 8 December 1881. During the late 1880s his father emigrated to the United States to participate in the Colorado gold rush. During his father’s absence Padraic lived for a short time in Hermitage, Crossdoney with his cousins the Burns family. While he was staying in Hermitage he attended Ballinagh School. The education he received there did not do him any harm because he went on to become a famous Irish poet, novelist, dramatist, biographer, playwright, children’s author and collector of folklore. It is believed that his well-known poem She moved through the Fair may have been inspired in part by the fairs in Crossdoney which he experienced while he was living in Hermitage. He died in America on 11 January 1972.
In the 1920s judging by inspectors’ reports there was a great demand for an improvement in the conditions at the school. One such report dated January 1924 stated that ‘the ceiling of the room is unsafe, the desks are very old and unsteady and the out-offices are in a poor state of repair’ while another report of February 1925 said that ‘ the children are alert and interested in their studies despite depressing surroundings.’
Ballinagh National School 1818-1934
(Now Ballinagh Service Station, Cavan Road. Picture taken circa 1928)
Back row (left to right): Isobel Finnegan, Kathleen Farrell, Mary Gaynor, Baba Conaty, Lily Noonan, Bridget Collins, Katie Gumley, Maggie Holmes, Bridget Sheridan, Molly McCann.
Second row (left to right): Mary Ann Collins, Maggie Boylan, Beatrice Noonan, Peggy Smith, Roseta Devine, Maureen Wall, Kathleen Gaynor.
Third row (left to right): Loo Somerset, Marie Duffy, Maggie Ferns, Phyllis Cowan, Mary Ellen Murray, Maureen Bradley, Nancy Rourke, Maura Boland, Kathleen Murray, Maureen Stewart, Kathleen Smith, Patricia Campbell.
Front row (left to right): Bridget Farrell, Maggie Smith, Kathleen Smith, Bridget Reilly, Kathleen Sheridan, Mary Connolly.
‘The old school house’ as it is today
Ballinagh Service Station (owned by Mr Colm Smith in picture)
New School (Crossdoney Road) 1934
In the early 1930s negotiations took place between the parish priest Fr Lynch and Jack Smith from Crossdoney Road. A deal was arranged. Jack gave Fr Lynch a half-acre site to build a new school and in exchange he received the old school premises on the Cavan Road to convert into a garage. He also received £50 as part of the deal. The school initially operated in the Courthouse while the new building was being built. An inspector's report of July 1933 stated that ‘the pupils are receiving a very useful training and preparation to become worthy citizens of the state’.
Fr Lynch organised a number of different events including sports days, which proved very popular to raise money and on the 7 May 1934 the pupils moved into their new school on the Crossdoney Road. Soon after moving into the school another inspector's report of June 1934 stated that ‘both teachers discharge their duties in a highly efficient manner. The pupils are alert, upright, and well mannered and the progress made in the various subjects especially in Irish is very pleasing’. Another report of July 1935 said ‘the teachers continue to discharge their duties in a highly efficient manner and the pupils show evidence of very careful teaching and training. The schoolroom and premises are all very well kept’. In June 1939 the children were described as ‘orderly, attentive, industrious and self-reliant’. It was also stated that there was a very good Gaelic atmosphere in the school.
Ballinagh National School (17 May 1934-16 December 1998)
In 1968 Ballinagh Boys’ and Girls’ schools and Drumcor and Drumcrow two small schools in the parish were all amalgamated. Two prefabs were erected in the schoolyard and the school became co-educational. The plan was that a new school would be built in the near future. Nobody imagined this would take thirty years to become a reality.
Drumcrow National School 1889-1968
(Pupils transferred to Ballinagh National School on 28 October 1968)
Drumcor National School 1860-1968
(Pupils transferred to Ballinagh National School on 28 October 1968)
Scoil Náisiúnta Naomh Féilim 1998
In the 1970s and 1980s the Ballinagh community were actively involved in building a new Community Centre (opened 10 May 1978) and also a new Catholic Church (opened 2 July 1978) and the building of a new school wasn’t a priority. During the late 1980s conditions at the school worsened and its location along the side of a busy road became increasingly dangerous for children, parents and through traffic. Efforts to have a new school built took on a new focus. There was a united effort from teachers, Board of management and parents to push for a new school on a green field site. In February 1994 the parents decided to withdraw their children for one day to highlight the awful conditions. This attracted huge media attention.
The pressure had the desire effect and on the 9 December 1997 the sod was cut for the new school on an elevated green field site in the town land of Corstruce. On the 17 December 1998 the pupils bid farewell to the old school and marched through the town led by local piper Seán Kelly to the new school, which opened for the first time.
Scoil Náisiúnta Naomh Féilim (Opened 17 December 1998)
On the 14 January 2000 the new school named St Felim’s National School was officially opened by the then Minister of Education Micheál Martin TD.
On the 23 January 2002 the old school was demolished. A beautiful new housing estate called Village Manor was built in its place.
In March 2005 enrolment numbers increased and an extension comprising of two new classrooms, resource room and staff room were added to the new school.
Scoil Náisiúnta Naomh Féilim (Extension opened 15 March 2005)
In September 2011 a Special Needs Unit for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder was opened following an invitation from the local Special Education Needs organiser. This unit know as the ‘Rainbow Room’ operates in the large prefab, which can be seen in the picture above.
In September 2012 another prefab was added to cater for an increased enrolment. This was replaced by a permanent one classroom extension which was opened on 2 September 2013. In August the school was given the go-ahead to build a 2 Class Base ASD Unit with all facilities attached. This project is currently at the planning stage.