St. Patrick’s National School, Castlebar, high infants class of 1948. At back, from left: Enda Flynn, Mickey Neary, Colin Kelly, Brendan Guthrie, Ollie Ainsworth and Henry Horkan. Second row: Leslie Browne, Tom Walsh, Tot Colgan, John Lydon, Joe Golden, John Waldron (Fr.), John Deacy, Tom Higgins, Alan Young (Moneen), Alan Kelly, Anto Condon, Davy Power, Kenneth McGreal, ? Rabbett and Tommy Joe Lally. Third row: Des Scahill, Malachy Moran (Bro.), Jan Crilly, Michael Cameron, Eamon McAteer, Cormac McDonagh, John Hamrock, Brendan Kearney, Tom McDonagh, Joe Chambers, Michael Brady (Fr.), Shane Rodgers, ? Coyne, Paddy Conway and Seamie Fair. Front row: Jim Brett, Owen Bresnihan, John McEvilly, Billy Whittaker, Ivan Browne, Pat Ruane, Sean McEllin, Pete McDonnell, Pat Flannelly, Paddy McGreal, Pado Byrne, Ray McGing, John Hanley, Peter Tierney, Martin Neary, Liam Keane and Niall Hamrock.

Mayo county town: Fifty-three pupils in St. Pat's high infants class of 1948

By Tom Gillespie

THIS photo above, of the high infants class at the old St. Patrick’s National School in Castlebar, is 76 years old.

It was taken in 1948 and the boys were lined up in the yard.

I started as a pupil at the school on Chapel Street in baby room in 1955. The school was destroyed by fire in February 1957, and after a two-year construction period the new school, on an adjoining site, opened on November 9, 1961.

I spent almost two years in the old school – baby room with Mrs. McDonagh and high infants with Mrs. O’Flaherty.

My first day was not pleasant. My father walked me from Spencer Street, where we lived, and led me up the few steps into the school yard. On reaching the gate I baulked and downright refused to go any further.

However, my father must have offered me some bribe and he led me around to the main door on the right, facing St. Gerald’s College.

I was brought into Mrs. McDonagh class. She immediately put me at ease as well as the other new arrivals.

Mrs. Josephine McDonagh lived at Mons Terrace and as she passed each morning she collected her Spencer Street pupils - Tony Kelly, Ger Munnelly, Michael Dolan, Padraig Lyons, John Mitchell and myself - and walked us hand-in-hand to school, and home again.

Mrs. Josephine McDonagh who taught in bab yroom in St. Patrick’s National School.

The following year we progressed to high infants and by then our family had moved to Marian Row.

On February 28, 1957, our educational progress was put on temporary hold when the school burned down. It was Lent and I attended 8 a.m. Mass with my mother. As it was dark on arriving at the church we were not aware of the fire. But as we existed the church, across from the school, we saw the fire brigades in the daylight and a report of the fire was aired on the nine o’clock news on Radio Éireann. The fire resulted in a month plus long unexpected break from class.

In her history of St. Patrick’s NS, Aisling Grier recalled: The alarm was raised at around 3 a.m. during the night that a fire was raging through the building, burning the contents of the school. It was not until the following day that the true impact of the inferno could be assessed.

The building was destroyed and much to the delight of the pupils classes did not resume until April 3, 1957. There are, however, accounts of some pupils who went back to school the following week in another building up by Pavilion Road.

One of the few surviving items was the school bell. It was slightly damaged and was repaired and used again up until the 1990s.

The exact cause of the fire was never officially known but speculation suggested an electrical fault.

On April 3, classes temporarily transferred to the Military Barracks, Blocks G and H.

In 1959, building commenced on the new school, on a site overlooking the remains of the old. It was officially opened in November 1961.

In August 1889 St. Patrick’s had their first visit from the inspector of the National School Board. This inspection lasted four days and every single subject was examined.

One of the De La Salle Brothers teaching in the school at that time noted down the questions asked by the inspector. The children had to know: geography; sixth class: England, Scotland, Wales; fifth class: geography of Ireland in detail, all the counties and their principal towns and industries; fourth class: geography of Ireland, islands, headlands, and chief towns; third class: asked to point out principal towns, mountains and rivers on the map of the world, while the pupils were expected to do English, spelling and know the meaning of words.

The fourth, fifth and sixth class students were examined about agriculture orally and in writing.

It is important to note that the teachers were paid according to the results of their class and if a pupil failed any of the subjects then the teacher’s salary was lowered accordingly.

The first record of salaries is from April 1889, six months after the Brothers started in the school. The entry indicated that the salaries of five Brothers amounted to £105-9-10 for the period September 4, 1888, to March 31, 1889.

An interesting fact to note is that when the school first opened in 1888 it was not compulsory and parents were not obliged to send their children there. There was a reduction in attendance of pupils in 1896 which coincided with the introduction of The Compulsory Education Act, when parents kept pupils at home in protest of this new Act. It is said that this lasted nearly a year because in October 1897 one of the Brothers wrote how the Compulsory Education Act was ‘a complete failure’. By 1898 everything went back to normal and classes were once again full.

The school had to close on a few occasions and for a variety of reasons, including an outbreak of typhoid in January 1934 and the Big Frost - closed for two weeks in 1947.