In the next three blogs I will focus on the school lives on my Mother, Ena and her siblings during the 1930s and 1940s. Firstly at Mullaghduff National School, then through an imagined story and finally at Masterson National School and at “The Tech” in Manorhamilton. These blogs will be shorter than previous ones.
This photograph of the forty-four pupils and two staff of Mullaghduff National School was taken in 1931. In picture Reco (10 years old) is sixth in from the right on the back row, and possibly in the same row Herbie (11) three over to the left; Ena (8) stands beside the teacher on the right; and Cecil (7), I think sits on the ground beside the teacher on the left. Phyllis (5) does not appear to be there, if indeed she had started school at that time. At home were Wallace (4) and Alf (2) and Jack (John) wasn’t yet born.
The picture tells a wider story. It was probably taken before the school broke up for the summer and the older pupils left. While the children have dressed for the occasion many don’t have shoes, this being an expense their families could not afford. Many of the older boys appear to project a stern and serious expression to the camera; they are aware of being captured in print, something unfamiliar to most their parents. A few of the girls look too old for the school. However, as the only formal education available at the time they stayed on at national school until 13 or 14 or as long as they could.
The Larkfield farmhouse sits on a small rise about 200 yards off the Manorhamilton to Carrick-on-Shannon road. This trunk road running from Carrick-on-Shannon to Bundoran was surfaced with tar and chippings by the late 1920s. A daily bus service ran each way but otherwise there was little motorised traffic. On school days the children would turn left at the bottom of their lane and walk towards Killargue, other pupils joining them as they covered the mile distance to the two-roomed schoolhouse sitting on the left by the roadside. They each brought a turf for the school fire, a lunch and a bottle of milk or tea. Books were being introduced at the time although it is most likely that the students still used slates and slate pencils; the cost of these and other expenses were met by the parents.
Mullaghduff NS was a state school with a local Catholic Church management as it had been for many years before Irish independence. The school is listed in an 1859 schools survey. It was common that children of rural Protestant families would go to their local school, having no means of transport elsewhere.
The collapse of Richard Davis’s cattle shipping business, and consequent near bankruptcy was some 5 years previous, although the family were still in severe financial straits (see the earlier blog – Richard Davis, Swindled). Along with Richard and Annie and their eight children, Richard’s older brother Alec, aged 62 and his older sister Mary Jane, 67, were living there; twelve mouths to feed. My Grandmother was under considerable strain caring for the growing family and the keeping the household together. They were sustained to a large extent by their farm produce. Milk, taken daily to the Killasnet Coop Creamery and the sale of store cattle brought in welcome cash. However, in 1931 their labour was the prime resource and the older boys would soon join the effort.
Ireland was changing during these times. The Irish Free State would be ten years old the following year and was moving towards a new constitution in 1937. The Protestant population of the 26 counties fell by 30% from 1911 to 1926 as many families felt uneasy with the changing values and culture of the new Irish Free State. Border counties particularly, like Leitrim saw many families leave for Northern Ireland or other parts of the UK. The Davis family at Larkfield were not sheltered from these pressures.
Mullaghduff National School closed in 1956 with pupils moving to a new National School in nearby Killargue. In 2001 Ena, Cecil, Reco and Wallace attended a school reunion in Killargue Community Center, from where the above picture was sourced. As children going to Mullaghaduff school with their neighbours they strengthened bonds of community and established friendships that would last throughout their lives.
1. Thanks to the unknown provider and photographer of the above school photograph.
2. For background to the evolution of the Irish National School system see: The National System of Education, 1831–2000, Tom Walsh. Chapter 2 from Essays in the History of Irish Education, edited by Brendan Walsh, Palgrave Macmillan Limited, 2016.
3. Protestant population decline between 1861 and 1991 see
4. And again thanks to Padraig Fitzpatrick his review of dates and detail.