Masterson National School

At Masterson National School Ena, Phyllis, and Cecil contributed to The School’s Collection, now part of Ireland’s national archives.    

Masterson National School. Photo © Kenneth Allen (cc-by-sa/2.0)

The journey to school on the ass and cart takes just under an hour, and on the metalled road it isn’t too bumpy.  In the town they walk up the steep Church Lane to the school as Herbie or Reco go off to do some errands before returning home.

At first Ena, Cecil, and Phyllis find the new school strange. They were all in one room with their new teacher Muinteoir Gobnait deBúit; the newish desks all have ink pots and they have books apiece. But there is the familiar smell of the turf fire – turf which they still must bring each day. As they expect, their new teacher can be cross and sometimes the senior pupils, like Ena, have to take care of the youngest ones when they become unsettled or unruly. The subjects, including twice-daily Irish and religious instruction haven’t changed, and the weekly visit is now from their local clergyman. The school days soon fall into the usual pattern.

By 1937 they have been joined by Wallace aged 10 and Alf, 8; Ena is in her final year and is cycling to school; Jack will start the following year. They know a number of the pupils through family and church connections and have made new friends. The school numbers have now grown to some 35 pupils as smaller rural protestant schools, like Glenboy, closed during the 1920s and 30s.

The school, located in the grounds of Manorhamilton Parish church is most likely the former dispensary at the 17-century military garrison, where the church was built in 1783.  In 1809, John James Masterson, a local parishioner gave a £900 endowment towards the education of the parish children, particularly their religious education, and the school took his name.

Manorhamilton Parish Church (Cemetries Ireland) Masterson National School is to right.

Between October 1937 and the end of 1938, the school pupils took part in the collection of folk lore and tradition which has been recorded as The School’s Collection, part of Ireland’s National Folklore Collection archives. It includes bound volumes of teacher’s transcriptions of the children’s story and sources, and the original exercise books. The Davis family feature significantly in the Masterson school records. Ena, Phyllis and Cecil collected stories, riddles, lore, games and songs from their father Richard (1882-1961), Grandmother Margaret Gillmor (1862-1933), Uncle Alec (1869-1941) and neighbours Pat Lonigan (1861- 1945) and Peter McManus (?-1946).

The contributions give a fascinating insight to the family and to the wider culture, just over eighty years ago; they can be viewed at the link – Davis contributions records here.

Most notably the recording by Ena or Phyllis of their uncle’s version of “The Rocks at Bawn” is arguable most interesting, placing the song’s debated origins at Bawn near Dromahair, and citing its popularity 100 years previous. The first verse from the recorded ballad goes:

Come all ye loyal heroes
Wherever that ye be
Don’t hire with your master
Till you know what your work will be.
For you must rise up early
From the clear daylight till dawn
And I fear you won’t be able
To plough the rocks of Bawn.

Finally, here is an entry from Phyllis: “Fairy Fort” There is a fairy fort in a field beside my land. A man called Peter MacManus owns it, and it is in the townland of Buggawn. It is a round fort and is fenced round with a hedge there is a big stone in the middle of it where the fairies used to sit all night when they came out to play. There is a hole under the big stone for them to go out and in, but the people who own the field never heard of anyone going down into this fort. The owners of the field never disturbs the fort when ploughing or moving. Lights have often been seen at the fort, and there was also music heard in it.  Ends.

At the end of the school day they stack their books at the front of the room. An Muinteoir waits for the class to fall silent.

“Téigí abhaile anois. Slán agus beannacht.” 

And they are up and out as fast as they can squeeze through the door.


1. Only Phyllis and Jack went on to The Technical School (The Tech) in Manorhamilton. This was the first post primary school in North Leitrim and opened in 1935.

2.  Masterson National School, see website

3.  The School’s Collection is searchable although not all entries have been transcribed.

4. The Davises extracts from the Masterson NS contributions are at this link. Davis – The School’s Collections.

5.  Frank McNally discusses the origins of the ballad “The Rocks of Bawn” in the Irish Times and refers to Ena and Phyllis’s entry in The School’s Collection.

6. Thanks to Wills O’Malley, Padraig Fitzpatrick and Dominic Rooney for their comments and review.

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