Connolly National School 1905 - 1994

by Bríd Bleasdale

Connolly National School stands on the main Ennis-Miltown Malbay road, equidistant from both towns. It is now in its seventy sixth year and to date, one thousand one hundred and eighty six pupils have been registered there.

In 1905 the first pupil took her seat in the newly built school. I say 'her' seat because the girls moved in first (that was the age of chivalry). The original school was situated in the church yard where the Post Office now stands. At that time, unlike the present day, there were two separate schools - the Boys School, whose roll number was 15408, and the Girls School, whose roll number was 15409. The former number was retained when the two schools became one.

The building of the school lasted from 1901-1905 and it was not complete even then, as the boys were a little later arriving than the girls. They stayed in the old school which was a very small two roomed building and its condition deteriorated so much that they were forced to move into the church.

However, the first girl to be registered in the present school was Maggie McGuane from Bealcragga. She was born in November 1888. She was actually sixteen years and two months when she was registered on the 15th January 1905 and she continued her education for another year as did many of her classmates.

When the boys came in July 1906 the first to be registered was Denis Hehir, born in May 1890. Paddy Doohan of Connolly was one of the 99 boys who remembers walking over from the old to the new school for the first time. There were already seventy six girls registered which brought the total number to one hundred and seventy five.

The first teachers in the girls' school were Mrs. Kate Burke who taught there from 1903-1931 (formerly Kate Riordan), Miss Bridget O'Grady who taught there from 1903-1932 and Miss Annie Murphy who taught there from 1903 to 1908 when she married and became Mrs. Annie Meany. In the boys school Mr. John Meany was principal from 1906 to 1923. Mr. Edmund Quinn, a teacher from the old school, taught with him until 1908 when he left to take up a teaching post in Clarecastle. Mr. Quinn was a native of Tipperary and a keen footballer. In 1908 Mr. Meany was joined by his wife Mrs. Annie Meany from the girls school and both taught there until 1923. The Meanys, who came from Tulla, built their house next door to the school. This later became the Garda Barracks and is now owned by Mrs. Ellen Hehir.

Mrs. Meany was exceptionally good at Irish and held a certificate from Colaiste na Mumhan, Beal Atha a' Gaothriagh. She taught Irish classes after normal school hours from 3.05 to 4.05 p.m. between the years 1916-1919.

Another interesting fact about these early years was that from 1906 to 1909 night school was held there. There were seventy eight pupils on rolls and they were between the ages of sixteen and thirty four. All the usual subjects were taught plus some extra subjects such as Geometry, Algebra and Rural Science. This was a wonderful opportunity for those who wished to further their education in later years and for those who had no educational opportunities due to overcrowding in the old school and other factors.

In those early years there were student teachers who were known as monitors in many National Schools. These young people taught for two or three years before going to teacher training colleges. One of these was Patrick Kinnane from Bealcragga who taught as a monitor in Connolly from 1913 to 1916. He later took up a teaching post in the Midlands.

There was a big change in the teaching staff in 1923. Miss O'Grady left the girls school and was replaced by Miss Nora Culligan of Kilmaley and Miss Laoise de Burca, daughter of Kate Burke joined the staff as a monitress. Both Meanys left the boys school and Thomas Brodie and Brid Bean de Burca from Kilcolumb replaced them.

But a bigger change was about to occur. The numbers in both schools were falling rapidly and when Antoine McMathuna replaced Thomas Brodie in 1928 there were only 58 boys and 50 girls on the rolls. Therefore in 1931 both schools amalgamated which resulted in a three teacher school with 109 pupils. Antoine McMathuna as principal, Brid de Burca, assistant and Maire Ni Luasa who later married and became Bean Ui Chonchuir. The school now had three classrooms.

Numbers still decreased and Bean Ui Chonchuir left in 1946. Connolly School was then a two teacher school with seventy four pupils. This was a time of great emigration from the country and it had its effect on Connolly.

Another historical occasion which affected Connolly also was World War 2. In the year 1947 three refugees arrived, Hainsbert Schiffman, Dieter Schiffman and Willi Ripphahn. They stayed in some of the neighbouring families' houses during the war and mixed well with the locals. Some even kept in touch after returning to Germany in 1952.

In 1940 Brid de Burca left and was replaced by Eibhlin Bean Ui Airbhi who taught until 1967. In 1966 Seosamh McMathuna succeeded his father as principal. He had been principal of Lisroe since 1963 and prior to that had been principal of Rockmount.

In 1969 another change took place, as a result of Government policy, to close small schools. Lisroe and Kinturk, both one teacher schools, were closed and the pupils and teachers were transferred to Connolly. It again became a three teacher school. Seosamh McMathuna as principal, Noirin Bean Ui Cheallaigh who taught in Kinturk since 1963 and Aine Bean Ui Mhurchu who taught in Lisroe since 1966. The number on rolls was eighty three.

In preparation for this amalgamation the Department of Education sanctioned a reconstruction grant which provided for water supply and sewerage, a concrete yard, and toilets, indoor plastering and ceiling and new tiled floors.

In 1974 a playing field was bought by a Parents' Committee and funded by subscriptions from parents and past pupils. This field has proved a great asset to the pupils.

In 1975 the School Management Board was set up as a result of a Government directive to channel E.E.C. funds to National Schools for the purpose of heating, cleaning and general upkeep and the provision of teaching aids. This management board comprised of priest, teacher, two parents and four bishop's nominees and are elected every three years.

In 1975 new windows were installed and the interior of the school was newly painted. Further improvements in 1976 included a new central heating system and new school furniture. 

During the seventies many young families returned from abroad to settle again in Connolly. These were Healys, Hickeys, Brackens, Hassetts, Glynns, Dunphys, Lydons, Kennedys, McCaws and McMahons.

This led to a great influx of pupils and in 1980 many more young families arrived in Connolly via the Rural Housing Organisation. As a result of this the number on rolls increased dramatically and a fourth teacher Ms. Geraldine Keane was appointed in September 1983. To accommodate this new appointment a new pre-fab was purchased by the then Chairman of the Board of Management Very Rev. Fr. Madden P.P. and erected in the school yard.

In November 1989 Noirin Ui Cheallaigh retired and was succeeded by her daughter Maire Ui Chathain. Finally, in July 1993 work began on a major extension and refurbishment of the original building. This was completed in the Spring of 1994. Connolly pupils now attend school in a building which is second to none in the country and teachers and pupils enjoy all the facilities of a late 20th Century educational establishment.

The number on rolls now at the start of its ninetieth year is 106. The last girl to be registered to date was Sarah Kennedy and the last boy was Conor Mungovan, both registered on September 1st, 1994, ninety years after the first boy, Denis Hehir, and the first girl, Maggie McGuane. 

Clare County Library wishes to thank Clare Local Studies Project for preparation of text for this publication.

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