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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon


And what to me is Gael or Gall
Less the Latin or the Greek
I teach these by the dim rush-light,
In smokey cabins night and week,
But what avail my teaching slight?
Years hence, in rustic speech a phrase,
As in wild earth a Grecian vase.

--Padraig Colum.

I’m not the type of fellow you would ask to give an after dinner speech. There is no danger of the local Toastmasters headhunting me. However, on Friday 03rd February I was invited to Poulaphouca House to say a few words to several generations of past-pupils of my old Alma Mater, which I left three days before my fourteenth birthday. (Like Mark Twain, I didn’t let my schooling interfere with my education).

On right, Mattie Lennon at age Eleven. 

But, what can one say about Lacken National School?

The Hedge Schools, which owed their origins to the suppression of Catholic education, during the Cromwellian regime and later under Penal Laws were replaced by schools under the National Board of Education, which was established in 1832.

It was at such a school, in Lacken (where Richardson’s shop is) that my great-grandfather Patrick McLoughlin taught. My father would often speak of the legendry brilliance and sagacity of his ancestor; a view which, evidently, was not shared by the local Curate.

The following letter, seeking ”…. aid towards payment of teachers salary and for supply of books ….” was written to the Commission of Education in 1864;


         I beg to submit to you this application in favour of the above school. I wish it to be a non-vested one, and if in accordance with your rule I should be glad it’s claim would be considered before that of Blackditches which I had the honour of submitting to you on 02nd.Ult.
         It is situate beyond two miles from Blessington- the nearest Post-town. The house is a one roomed building measuring 30ft by twelve and well situated. The present teacher is a man of about 48 years named McLoughlin whom I don’t intend should remain. It is a mixed school with an average attendance daily of 30 boys and 30 girls. The school is but lately built and therefore the furniture is not as convenient as desirable this I shall remedy. The books used are of no particular class and are of a ……rudimentary ……
         Religious instruction occupies a half hour in the earlier portion of the day. I am the Manager.
         Have the honour to be…..
         Your obedient servant
         James Keon C.C.

A report brought out as a result of Fr. Keon’s application contained the following information:

    There was a Hedge-school in Ballyknockan.
    The state of repair of the school in Lacken, which was established “ more than 30 years ago” and the erection thereof funded by “ local collection,” was “Pretty fair”.
    The walls were plastered, the room not sealed and the clay floor very damp.
    The dimensions were; 32ft long, 16ft 06ins wide and 08ft high.
    The rent was £9.
    It contained; “2 desks with forms each 14ft. long, one table with corresponding form 11ft. 10 ins. Do about 30 pupils”.
    The school did not have a clock, a suitable desk with seat for teacher, properly shelved book-press or blackboard.

The teacher, Patrick McLoughlin, who was aged 55 years and had been appointed in 1855, had no instruction in the art of teaching and produced no Testimonials of fitness for his office. He had not at any time previously been employed as a teacher in a National School.

His “acquirements” were described as, “Wholly incompetent”, his character “Excellent” and his method of conducting school, “Very unsatisfactory”.

The rates of payment, regulated by the Manager, were; 1/6, 2/2, and 5 shillings per Qtr.

In the initial application to the Commission of National Education for aid towards Lacken School, as we know it, on 12th June 1868, it was stated, “Mrs. Elizabeth Smith, widow, owner of the property at Lacken, purchased by her in the Landed Estate court, will give a lease for sixty years, and vest the site in the Commissioner of National Education, attendance of children expected between sixty and seventy at present area school room considered sufficient.”

A report on the application stated:

“Site about 30 Perches, nearly triangular in shape, the sides being 188, 149 and 156 ft. respectively in length.”
To the question, “Is it in a healthy situation?” the answer given was, “Extremely so”.
“Proprietors of the land and tenements locally;
The correspondent (Mrs. Smith), the Marquis of Waterford, Mrs. Brady.
Mrs. Smith, the correspondent who purchased the Lacken Estate recently, she has a Parliamentary title from the Indys of the Landed Estate Courts”.

The probable average number on Rolls was given as:

    Males; 100
    Females; 60

Children expected to attend:

    Males; 60
    Females; 40

Probable daily average attendance:

    Males 30
    Females; 20

A subsequent report resulting from an Inspector’s visit, on 26th June 1868 referred to

, “…. a wretchedly constructed “hedge” school convenient to the site of the proposed schoolhouse….”

The report went on to state, “The Roman Catholic Clergyman will support the school but will leave the Religious instructions to the teachers. No Protestant pupils likely to live within a convenient distance of the schoolhouse…It is proposed to build two small bridges over the King’s River which will enable the male pupils who reside near Baltyboys School (about two miles distant in a bird’s flight) to attend this one and the female pupils are expected to go to Baltyboys (small ones excepted). Good schools are very much needed in this hitherto neglected portion of the district and are likely, if properly fitted up, to be well supported by the parents of the locality”.

It was stated that, “The third of the estimate for the building of the schoolhouse and offices will be paid by the correspondent (Mrs. Smith, Baltyboys) and the Marquis of Waterford".

A school was considered necessary because, “ ……the people of the locality are proverbially rude and ignorant and it is most desirable that a………..building should be erected as a model for other schoolhouses that are required in the neighbourhood…no National school within three mile distance.”

The report indicated that there was no connection with any Religious Establishment.

On 07th January 1873 an application for aid for salary of an assistant teacher (May McGuirk “about 40”) was made. At the time the schoolhouse was described as consisting of one apartment. The Principal was John McDarby and the Monitor was Lizzie McDarby. The number of children on the Rolls was given as 82 Males and 55 Females. Daily average attendance “for last six months” was 33.7 Males and 20.5 Females. The appointment of an assistant teacher was considered “most desirable” by the District Inspector.

On 07th July 1875 there was, once again, an application for aid towards the salary of an assistant teacher made. Peter Jones and Kate Jones were the teachers and the assistant teacher was Kate Jones, 31 years. (It would appear that Peter and Kate Jones were husband and wife and the second Kate, the assistant teacher, was Peter’s sister.) The number on the Roll at this stage was given as; 69 Males and 58 Females, with the average attendance “for the past six months” given as 25.9 and 22.6 respectively. The appointment of an assistant teacher was considered.

In Folio 42 in the National Archives we find the following entries:

    04th November 1879: On appointment grant £30 Salary with Results Fees to Kate Jones as teacher- Class2. From 01st July 1879; Free stock £4 granted. Sale stock value £1, 5s to be purchased.
    23rd November 1881; ………Religion Instruction wait.
    31st December 1881; Manager states there was a violation of Rule altering Time Table as to arrangement for giving Religious Instruction.
    20th January 1882; Late attendance of Kate Boyle wait.
      09th August 1883; Attention of Board of Works called to defects in Gable Wall.
      1884; Board of Works sent copy as to state of school and Teacher’s Residence; see under Roll 10111 Male School Vol.1.
      11th May 1885; Board of Works reminded of letter 21st October 1884 and of Inspector’s statement that rain came in through gable wall and requested to say if any steps have been taken to remedy the serious defects in question---Inspector advised.
      12th October 1885; Inspector notes the Board of works has issued specification for the necessary response.

    From “Return From all Schools Receiving Grants From The Commission Of National Education In Ireland (1882)” we learn the following:

      Lacken had one boy’s school (Roll No. 10111), unmixed. R.C. only.
      Total number of pupils on Rolls for year ended 31st December 1890; 83.
      Average daily attendance for same year; 37.
      It had one Catholic, 2nd. Class, trained Teacher.
      The Commissioners of National Education paid, from Parliamentary funds;
      Class Salaries; £46 00 00.
      (Local Aid) Result Fees; £09 19 06.
      Total; £55 19 06.
      School fees brought in; £06 16 06.

    There was also listed a girl’s school (R.C.) in Lacken, (Roll 11913.)

      Total number of pupils for year ending 31st December 1890; 73.
      Average daily attendance for same year; 37.
      There was one (R.C.) 2nd class teacher (untrained).

    To this school the Commissioners of National Education paid, from Parliamentary Funds:

      Class Salary; £07 00 00.
      Result Fees; £15 14 00.
      From Local Aid the girl’s school received:<
      School Fees; £10 09 06.
      Subscriptions; £05 00 00.

      16th November 1893; Mrs. Jones cautioned for non-observance of T. Table

        Mrs. Jones reached age of compulsory retirement on 02nd November 1903 but was retained as a teacher. £35 per annum was granted to her from 01st April 1904.
          Her husband, Peter, had retired in 1895 and Thomas Hickey was appointed in the same year.

        From Register ED/2/147 Folio 143 we learn some facts about Master Hickey and his times:

          08th February 1906; Accounts, in view of Manager’s statement appointment of T. Hickey may be sanctioned, and his former classification recognised.
          24th March 1896; On memo with QR 31st December 1895. Teacher, Mr. Hickie, to explain as to erroneous statement in Quarterly Returns as to the date of his entering duty.
          12th April 1896; Mr. Hickie’s explanation to inspector for observations.
          07th May 1896; Salary may be paid to T. Hickie from 14th December 1895.
          05th October 1896; Religious Instruction card suspended during Secular Instruction time.
          06th February 1900; T. Hickie admonished on unsatisfactory pro……..Unless next report shows a marked improvement severe action must be taken.
          20th November 1900; Manager promised to speak to teacher as to want of cleanliness order in school.
          07th March 1900; Thomas Hickie severely reprimanded for continued inefficiency.
          02nd March 1904; Captain Stannus recognised as Manager in the absence of Mrs. Stannus.
          30th April 1904; Proficiency of pupils still unsatisfactory.
          26th August 1905; Serious action may have to be taken in the case of T.Hickie if a marked improvement be not effected before the next annual Inspection.

        The average number on the Roll in Lacken School in 1904 was:

          Boys; 62.2
          Girls; 66.

        According to records for 1904 girls were better attendees than boys. The average attendance for girls was 39.5 while for boys it was 30. The boys occupied a room measuring 30ft X20ft and the girl’s room measured 20ftX18ft. About this time there was an instruction from the Office of National Education to “change rooms” i.e. put the boys in the girls room and visa verse, but Master Hickey refused to do this.

        When Mrs. Jones retired she was replaced, from 01st April 1904, by a Miss. Cleary, who had been teaching at Baltyboys. It would appear that the School Manager, Captain Stannus, wished to appoint Miss. Cleary to Lacken and a Miss. Rose O ‘Donnell to Baltyboys but Father Heffernan objected. He told Captain Stannus if he (Stannus) insisted on appointing Miss. Cleary to Lacken that he (Fr. Heffernan) would, “….go up to Dublin, hire a teacher and conduct a school in the Chapel and tell his people not to send their children to Lacken School.”

        Miss. Cleary remained in Baltyboys and Rose O ‘Donnell was appointed to Lacken, on 17th May 1904, at a Salary of £44.Captain Stannus proposed that Miss. O ‘Donnell share the residence of Thomas and Mrs. Hickie; the Hickies had no children. Thomas Hickie wrote to the Office of Public Works ”complaining of the proposal to curtail his apartments.”

        (From File ED/17336 dated 10th April 1904 we learn that, “ The residence was built by Grant, an agreement was signed by Thomas Hickie in January 1996 but none with any other…apparently since….”)

        A letter from the Secretary of the Education Office, A. M. Bonaparte-Wyse, stated,” Miss. O ‘Donnell is a young woman of 23 or 24 years of age and it does not seem becoming to have her living in the same house with Mr. and Mrs. Hickie, especially in view of the fact that Mrs. Hickie is occasionally absent from home for several days at a time. There is no closet accommodation in the residence, the out-offices are at the rere of the house.”

        On 02nd September 1904 the Office of Public Works decided that the, “….Manager’s proposal to allow the teacher of the girls school to share the Official Residence with the Master and his wife could not be sanctioned”.

        An Inspector, in a report in 1906, complained of enrolment of boys under 7 (contrary to Rule 12713). They were; G. Brennan (5), P. Murphy (5), J. Higgins (5), Ed. Kelly (4). “The teacher had no authority from Manager for the violation of Rule.”

        Thomas Hickie was dismissed and his Salary terminated from 31st December 1906. By this time Miss. O ‘Donnell had married a local man John Cahill. And on 22nd May 1907, aged about 26, she died. Consumption had claimed another victim.

        It would appear, from records, that the school was closed from the time of Thomas Hickie’s dismissal until 06th May 1907 when a Brigid McGuigan took charge of the pupils of both schools.

        On 20th July 1907 Christopher Lambert became Principal of Lacken School. His sister Bridged had been a J.A.M. from 09th July. She had taught in England (Salary £60) as a Supplementary Assistant Teacher, in Saint Winifred’s R.C. School (Flintshire) and at Heckmondwike R.C. School, West Riding and Saint Patrick’s, Broadford.

        A letter from the Board of Education, Whitehall, London stated, “……so far as the Board are aware her character, conduct and attention to duty have been satisfactory.” Her appointment was sanctioned by the office of National Education, Dublin on 04th October 1907. She did not receive any remuneration for the period 09th July 1907 to 21st December 1907 because of,”…..the insufficiency of the average attendance.” On 21st December 1907 her brother, Christopher, as Principal of Lacken School, wrote to the Manager, Rev. Father J. O ‘Carrol, P.P. about this, asking him to communicate with the Commission of Education. Mr. Lambert stated in his letter,

        “During the month of September the school was closed owing to an epidemic of Whooping Cough, the effect of which, especially in the case of the junior pupils, lowered the average attendance during the two succeeding months; October and November”.

        On 28th March 1908 Briged Lambert got a clean bill of health from Dr. Louis Crinnon, Blessington.

        On 16th November 1916 Lacken School was “sold” to the people of Lacken and the precincts thereof, for the nominal purchase price of £5, by Elizabeth Graydon Stannus, granddaughter of Mrs. Smith and mother of Edris Stannus who was destined to become the world-famous Dame Ninette de Valois.

        Trustees Most Rev. William Walsh Archbishop of Dublin, Rev. James O’ Carroll, William Osborne and Philip Lawlor became registered owners on behalf of the people of the area.

        Mattie Lennon in photograph he says inspired the shortest poem in the world, by hisself, no less
        At three."


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