Michael O’Donohoe’s transcription of the roll book of Castleisland Boys’ National School contains his own enrolment there in 1945:
This followed the appointment of his father Matt, a garda based in Farranfore, to the station in Castleisland. From this time on, the town was home to the O’Donohoe family.
The roll book, which consists of 72 handwritten pages covering the period 1875 to 1958, includes a useful index. Michael studied at the school for four or five years before he earned a scholarship to the Good Counsel College, New Ross, Co Wexford. He subsequently graduated from St Patrick’s Training College, Drumcondra as a national school teacher.
Michael returned to Castleisland in 1956 to take up a post at his former national school, one he would hold for 35 years.
The history of the boys’ national school in Castleisland can be traced through Michael’s career. The school where Michael was educated and at which he first taught was situated in the former Fever Hospital in College Road. A new school was built on the same road and opened in 1961 (St Carthage) and there Michael taught until his retirement in 1991. The school celebrated its fiftieth year in 2011.
The old ‘Fever Hospital’ school is now St Patrick’s Secondary School. Schooling in that building began in 1930 after the existing national school, built in 1875 and situated at Bawnluskaha on the Limerick Road, was condemned.
Nothing, save remnants of an outside wall, remains of this Victorian building which was demolished in the 1990s.
Many schools have disappeared in like manner in recent years, taking with them unfathomable tales.
National Schools in Kerry
Some stories, however, come down to us, like the robbery at Cloonclogh national school in Currow in 1864. The school, built in 1854 (and of which nothing remains) was entered in the dead of night, the master’s desk smashed and its contents made off with. The patron of the school, Rev James Scanlan, offered a reward of £2 for information on the intruders, a sum matched by the locals.
A fine of £2 was handed out to a school teacher of Castleisland National School in 1874 for ill-treating a 12 year old boy. A description of the offence was given in court:
He made the poor creature kneel upon his bare knees on the ground with his arms extended and a slate in each hand, and the moment he let his hands clasp he was struck with a rod across the arms. The Head-constable said he saw the child the next day and his arms and body were covered with welts. He had seen soldiers after being flogged, and they were not in a worse state.
The first national school in Castleisland – long since demolished and forgotten – opened at chapel quarter in 1844 under Lord Stanley’s multi-denominational primary education system of 1831.
Lord Stanley, known as the father of national education in Ireland, established a board and put building funds in place. Applications began immediately: there were 789 schools up and running in Ireland by 1833.1
Castleisland numbered among the earliest schools in Kerry. The national schools were not entirely trusted by the Roman Catholic population. At Listowel a rumour went out that the children attending the national schools were to be branded with the letters V.R. by order of the government. The rumour gained ground and anxious parents rushed to the school and took their children away.
Store of History in Registers
There is a store of history in the schools. Michael’s registers are invaluable not alone for those with an interest in Castleisland national school – the archive also contains records of the convent schools in Castleisland (girls and boys) and the roll book of Glountane National School, which includes of course, the name of its famous student, Patrick O’Keeffe.
Michael used the content of the school records to create, in a separate project, a number of booklets relating to residential areas of the town of Castleisland such as Barrack Lane, Bridewell Lane and Hospital Road.
His interest in the town, its inhabitants, its history is evident in his articulate, painstaking transcription of valuable school records.
The Castleisland Boys’ National School roll book can be read here.
1 Lord Stanley's son, Edward Henry (1826-1893) would later campaign for the establishment of public libraries.