On the 29th January 1979, St. Ciaran’s School, Knocknacarry was opened. The old school which had been in operation for 128 years was therefore closed.
Knocknacarry National School, for that was how it was known and an inscription to that effect was inscribed on the school for 100 years, owes its existence to Fr. John Fitzsimmons Parish Priest of Cushendall. It must be remembered that at this time Knocknacarry and indeed all the townlands on the south side of the River Dun from Sleans to Mullarts were part of the parish of Cushendall until 1869.
Fr. Fitzsimmons was concerned that the existing schools were no longer catering for the educational needs of the area and also that the Catholic children were attending the Church Education Society’s school at Cushendun. This school known as Moss School was situated near the Protestant church in Cushendun. It is no longer standing and in fact ceased to exist by 1868.1 Fr. Fitzsimmons made an application to the National Board. (On the 28th February 1850) This had been established in 1831 to give aid towards the establishment of schools. His letter read, “The site for this contemplated school house is a small angular field adjoining the village of Knocknacarry which contains a considerable amount of inhabitants and in which there are a post Office, a Dispensary and a Police Station. The Proprietor is Lord Antrim who holds it – at a nominal rent. There is no National School in the parish nearer that Cushendall a distance of four miles. The National School at Lower Dromore having been shut up by Mr. Turnly, which was the school attended by the children of the district. The only school at present in the neighbourhood is the Church Education Society’s school at Cushendun, which the children are now attending. The attendance at this school for which this application is made would be very large – about one hundred and twenty and a female department would be required.
There was formerly a female National School in this immediate neighbourhood called Cushendun female School, and it was well attended, but went down for want of proper accommodation. The School will be managed by a committee elected at a public meeting of the inhabitants, the patron and correspondent the Rev. John Fitzsimmons P.P. 2
On receipt of the application, the board notified the district inspector who visited the area to check upon the local conditions. He inspected the site –a triangular plot of about 15 English perches, bordered by the old road to Cushendall and Cushendun – investigated the state of the lease and interviewed Lord Antrim’s agent who gave his lordship’s support for the project. He also met the parish priests of Cushendall and Cushendun who assured him that the school had their cordial support and the Protestant Clergyman from Cushendall stated he had no objection to the erection of the school.
The inspector recommended the application to the favourable consideration of the Commissioners, and the sum of £115.5.0 was granted towards the buildings. 3
While the school was being built a temporary school was established in a thatched house in Knocknacarry and came into operation 1st July 1850. This was in the house now owned by Miss Mary McCormick. The teacher in this school and indeed the first teacher in the new female school was Mary McAfee. She came from Donegal, had been trained at the Marlborough St. Model School and had previously taught in Larne Female National School and Ballycraigy National School. She was aged 20 when she came to Knocknacarry and subsequently married Neal McCormick of Dromore, Cushendun. Her grandson Jack McCormick now lives in Shane’s Park, Cushendun.
The temporary school in Knocknacarry is described in an inspector’s report (Sept. 1850) as thatched, in a tolerable state of repair, 16 feet long 13 feet broad and 6 feet high, containing 4 desks and 9 forms and able to accommodate 40/50 pupils though attendance is frequently above this number, the average daily attendance being 55. 4
On the 29th September 1851 the new school was ready and the first pupils enrolled. As well as Mary McAfee a new master James Kenny had been approved by the board on Fr. Fitzsimmons application, on the 15th December 1851. Mr Kenny previously taught at Ballymena Model from August 5th to August 20th, and at one of Mr Turnly’s schools at Ballycraigy. The school consisted of two rooms, one for boys and one for girls. This separation into male and female was to continue until Miss Wilde’s retirement in 1936.
The first register of the Knocknacarry Male School is still extant and gives a fascinating insight into school life in the middle of the last century. The first pupil registered was Patrick Magee of Rananagh. Forty-seven boys were enrolled on the opening day of school and their ages ran from Patrick O’Neill of Agola aged 4 to James McVey of Cushendun aged 22.
This rather advanced school age is not as surprising as it seems, for it was quite customary for grown men to attend school during the winter months and even for sailors home from the sea to try and get some educational knowledge when possible.
The early registers also give the occupation of the students’ parents and of the forty-seven enrolled on the first day 16 were sons of farmers, or labourers, 5 of sailors while the rest included coopers, nailers, weavers, blacksmiths, postmasters, shoemakers and coastguards. This cause of removal from school was also kept and examination of the registers show that pupils were irregular in their attendance and often only attended for a month or two, left and then returned, although some were recorded as having been dismissed for indiscipline and presumably not allowed back.5
As well as keeping the registers, the teachers were required to keep a Daily Report Book, recording the number in each class, the number present and the cash received. Visitors to the school were invited to enter their names in the book and their opinions of the state of the school. The Knocknacarry Male School Report book dates from April 1856 and records in that month 7/6 was collected in fees, and the average attendance was 19.5%. Not much improvement is evident one year later when the cash received was 2/10 and the average was 31%, though it is only fair to add that this had risen to 69.6% in the previous month of July.
Also on the daily report book, visits of the inspectors and their comments are recorded. They were not always satisfied with the punctuality and discipline. On one occasion the visiting inspector recorded that of 41 pupils ultimately present, none present at 10.15, 20 at 10.55 when rolls were called 28, at 11.15 when rolls were called again – was obliged to call a third time for the return of 13 pupils who came still later in the morning. Wet but inefficient excuse.
The parish priests of Cushendall and Cushendun were regular and frequent visitors. Fr. Garland P.P. Cushendun dutifully recorded his visits and observations and did not altogether share the inspector’s views on punctuality. On the 5th October 1859 he states that on calling at 9.45 he found that although it was Fair Day at Cushendun the teacher and children were attending their business. Another entry in the Daily Report book states that on the first of July 1856 Major R.J. Dobbs visited and heard the boys reading and answering on the map of Ireland. 6
James Kenny was succeeded as principal of the Knocknacarry Male School by Finton Doolan. Master Doolan had previously taught at Mr Turnly’s school in Lower Dromore, but had had a dispute with Turnly and moved to Cushendall, for a couple of years before moving to Knocknacarry. Doolan was to be principal for 20 years. His registers for those years are meticulously kept. As well as attendance, he recorded other information such as the reasons for low attendance on a particular day, and the reasons that pupils left school. In March 1858, he reports a severe epidemic of measles. In 1859, he reports that many were absent with mumps while on 21st March 1861 there were only 13 pupils because of deep snow. Finton Doolan had married Mary McCormick of Innispollan in 1846. His son John became a monitor in the school in 1862. This practice of senior pupils becoming monitors was quite common at that time and was in effect a way of training teachers.
Master Doolan left Knocknacarry School in 1874. What happened is not clear but an inspector’s report of 21st July 1873 says that there has been severe domestic suffering in the teacher’s family. He was succeeded for a short time by Peter Feenan with Michael Delaney as monitor but in 1875, Joseph Duffy was appointed Principal. The reputation of Master Duffy, a native of Westport, still lingers in the Glens. He was a dedicated teacher taking in many and unusual subjects such as navigation. Many Glens sailors were to avail of this service. Duffy had a great interest in the Irish Language and contributed an exhaustive list of Glens place names and their meanings to the 1st Feis in 1904. He also kept a leave of absence book in which those wanting to absent themselves from school had to sign and state their reason for leaving. This book is still in possession of the Lynn family, Cushendall – Master Duffy was their grandfather. The favourite reason for wanting leave of absence was to “take charge of a cow” – although other mysterious excuses such as “to do a message” occur with regularity. 7
Master Duffy retired to Kilnadore house, Cushendall about 1902. He did not enjoy his retirement long for in 1905, aged 64, he died. Dominic Quinn succeeded Duffy until 1907 when Master John Kelly came from Armagh. His appointment lasted until 1st May 1908.
Michael Doherty became principal of Knocknacarry Boys on 18th May 1908 a position he was to hold until 1939. An assistant mistress had been appointed to the boy’s school in April 1907. She was Catherine McAlister. She was succeeded by Michael Doherty’s wife the former Mary Kelly.
On Master Doherty’s retirement in 1939. Peter Paul Delargy succeeded him. He was the last Male Principal, for when he left in 1954 to become principal of St. Aloysius, Miss Healey became the first female principal of the school.
Mary McAfee mentioned earlier, as the first principal of Knocknacarry female school was succeeded by Rose McDonald in 1st April 1859. Then followed Miss Rose Kane who left in 1867 and Miss Sarah McKillop who took charge in 1868. Unfortunately Knocknacarry female school records do not show who came after that, until the appointment of Miss Mary Wilde in 1893. 8
Miss Wilde from Laurencetown, Co. Down was to serve as principal in Knocknacarry girls for 43 years. In 1920 Miss Marion Healy joined the staff as junior Assistant Mistress also in the girls school and she was to serve in the school for 42 years. As already stated on Miss Wilde’s retirement the male and female schools were united under one principal.
In 1962, on Miss Healey’s retirement, Mrs Minnie O’Hara who joined the staff in 1954 became principal for six years. Mrs Elizabeth Lynn, then took over for 4 years and in 1972 Mrs Nancy McKay became the last principal of Knocknacarry School. The last two pupils enrolled were Robert Paul and Sinead Laverty.
For 100 years the structure of the school changed very little. The two rooms separated by the folding doors were very familiar to those scholars before 1950. In that year Fr, Lynch undertook a massive reconstruction of the building when it was practically pulled to the ground and rebuilt with large windows and new toilets and cloakrooms but with very little more space. Of course the size of the school site did not lead to any further development but since the introduction of the eleven plus examination in 1947 a large number of pupils were leaving at a much earlier age. With the building of St. Aloysius in Cushendall, Fr. Lynch expected that two rooms would suffice for the remaining pupils. This scheme worked for some time but the closure of Glendun School and the transfer of existing pupils to Knocknacarry put the first strain on space. A mobile classroom was purchased and installed across the road in the Parochial Hall yard. A further increase in pupils and the appointment of Mrs Kelly, a fourth teacher meant that the Parochial Hall itself had to be utilized. It was at this stage that Fr. John Laverty decided that a new school was necessary. His successor Fr. McCall undertook the building of St. Ciaran’s.
- Royal Commision of Inquiry into Primary Education (Ireland) H.C. 1870 XXVIII Part V, p. 4.
- Application to Commissioners of Education for aid towards building a schoolhouse. No.91 1850. PRONI. EDI/3/91 p. 707.
- Inspectors report on application. 1850, PRONI EDI/3/91 pp. 709-10.
- Inspectors report upon application of aid towards payment of teacher’s salary and for the supply of books, 20 September 1850. PRONI EDI/3/ p. 102.
- Registers of Knocknacarry Male School.
- Daily Report Book of Knocknacarry Male School.
- Notebook of Master Duffy, courtesy of Lynn family, Cushendall.
- Registers of Knocknacarry Female School.
This article is from Vol. 11, of the society’s annual journal ‘The Glynns’ printed in 1983. Copies of ‘The Glynns’ journal can be purchased from the Society Bookshop.