History of Labasheeda National School

by Phyllis Malone

Pre-National Education Act 1931

labasheeda_ns.jpg (16900 bytes)The Penal Laws of the late 17th century, which suppressed Catholic education in Ireland, ultimately led to the establishment of the hedge schools. The desire of many Catholic parents to have their children educated within their religious tradition resulted in the setting up of a hedge school in each of the townlands of Clonross, Killofin, Mountshannon, Knochphuteen and Clonkerry.

Markham (1991) notes, "the Catholic School Census of 1824 is the earliest list of school teachers available in the parish", and from this has been gleaned the following descriptions of the teachers and schools involved:

  1. Clonross, Anne Burke [25 pupils], a bad cabin.
  2. Killofin, James Hennessy [74 pupils], Parish Chapel.
  3. Mountshannon, Denis Foley [40 pupils], A thatched cabin.
  4. Knockphuteen, Peter McEnroe [70 pupils], A bad mud cabin.
  5. Clonkerry, Honora Hinchy [17 pupils], A bad cabin.

Post-National Education Act

The National School System was established by an Act of Parliament in 1831. A board of seven unpaid commissioners of national education were appointed by the Lord Lieutenant to administer the system. An appointed Resident Commissioner held a position which was similar to that of a permanent head of a department, and the position was also full-time and paid.

It is most likely that the hedge school system in the area continued well after the introduction of The National School System. The first national schools in Labasheeda village were established in 1853 and 1854 - a school for females in 1853 and a school for males in February 1854.

The school and yard for females had a half annual rent of 13s. 6d paid by the manager to the immediate lessor, Mr. Michael O'Brien. Nolan (1982) states: "Houses were classified according to size and material conditions", and thus the low rent paid would suggest that this may have been a class 3 house which was, according to Nolan, " a better description of mud-cabin, consisting of 2 to 4 rooms and windows". The school was non-vested, which meant that its legal title was not secured in the possession of the Commissioners. No further information regarding the building is available.

The school records state that the school for males - also non-vested - was originally a dwelling house and that a rent amounting to £4 was paid to the parish. Griffith's Valuation Map of Labasheeda village (1855) records tenement no. 118 as "National School House", with a half yearly rent of £1: 10s : 0d (£3 annually), paid to immediate lessor, Mr. Michael Walsh. Apparently inexplicably, this amount differs from the £4 annual rent recorded in the school records. In the National Archives, Bishop St., Dublin, Ed2 file no. 171 includes a record dated the 11th October 1863 which states that an annual subscription of £3 was paid to a Charles Keane Esq. This would suggest that since the early 1850s the ownership of the building had changed. The dimensions recorded are: "thirty three and a third feet long, sixteen feet broad and eight feet high, with a thatched roof". The building was in such a bad state of repair that the connection with the Board of Commissioners ceased on the 31st of May 1863, but the school nonetheless continued to operate thereafter.

In the Inspectors Observation Book from 1860 onwards, comments of dissatisfaction with the substandard state of repair of the school for males with its "leaking roof" and "earthen floor" are recorded. W. J. Browne (1985) noted "as regards the house I can only reiterate and emphasise my oft-repeated complaint of its cold and comfortless condition. I greatly wonder how teacher and pupils can exist in it. A boarded floor seems an absolute necessity and the walls should be made airtight" (10th May 1883).

Two years later, the same author noted: "I hope measures will soon be taken to provide proper school accommodation with suitable sanitary arrangements. The present house continues very damp and uncomfortable, and the sanitary officer complains greatly of the want of out-offices as a means of securing decency" (5th May 1885).

A New School For Labasheeda

The construction of a new building in 1887, with separate rooms for boys and girls, led to improved conditions for teachers and pupils. According to the school records, this school was officially opened on the 1st of May 1888, although this date differs from that on the Supplemental Report.

Local historians, Willie Lillis and Sinon Cahill, say that the school may have been built on the site of an earlier church which is marked on the Ordnance Survey Map of 1840, "RC Chapel in ruins", which is situated at the end of the village, within yards of the Shannon shoreline. Willie Lillis believes that a Mr. Holly - a builder from Kerry - erected the school and it was then vested in local trustees, namely Daniel Moloney, Kilkerrin House; Dr. J Vaughan, Clonkerry House and James O'Donohue, Ballina House.

The year '1887' inscribed on the stone tablet on the front of the building is traditionally held as the year that the school was erected. However, government grants that had been sanctioned for Labasheeda schools in order to accommodate 90 males and 90 females, had not yet come into effect by the 31st of December 1887. According to Akenson (1970), by the end of December 1887 the Crown Treasury had begun to worry about the amount spent on building and improvement grants for Ireland. Consequently the Treasury moved "to curb the spendthrift tendencies of the National Education Commissioners". Nevertheless, the erection of the building proceeded in the absence of the grants, which eventually materialised in 1888. The estimated cost of the building was £521: 12s : 8d.

The following official registration numbers were allocated:
Roll Number - Boys school - 13393
Roll Number - Girls school - 13394.

The new schoolhouse (1887) was considered to be a very fine building. It comprised one classroom for boys and one for girls. Each of the rooms had its own small porch at the front of the building, which was used as a cloakroom. There were also separate play areas for boys and girls and outside dry toilets in separate cubicles. However, by todays' standards, working conditions remained primitive, with no running water or electricity until at least 1960.
The insufficient space provided in each classroom and the inadequate amount of furnishings quickly resulted in the problem of overcrowded classrooms. The inadequate accommodation thus evoked more criticism from the inspectors.

labasheeda_ns1.jpg (25269 bytes)On the 21st October 1908, J. McNeill states, regarding the boys school, "the dimensions of this school are 30 feet by 18 feet, giving accommodation for 54 pupils. Occasionally, there are over 70 in attendance. The room is far too small and a classroom is required". F. M. Hollins noted on the 8th February 1911, "the school is very well conducted as a whole and still better work will be done when more accommodation is provided".
In 1887, Labasheeda girls school had enrolled 81 pupils and the boys school had enrolled 85 pupils. A small decrease in numbers is noted in the subsequent 30 years up to 1917. Between 1917 and 1927, a total enrollment of 31 girls and 44 boys is recorded.

Amalgamation, 1926

In 1919, the Killanin Report recommended the amalgamation of small rural schools. Extra accommodation - which was recommended by the inspectors earlier in the century - did not materialise, and it had certainly became unnecessary by 1926 when the amalgamation of both schools was necessitated by falling pupil enrollment. Amalgamation of both schools - in keeping with Department of Education policy (1925) - took place on 1st October 1926, at which time there were 42 boys and 34 girls on the roll books. The play areas and toilets remained segregated according to the sex of students. The amalgamated school retained the registration number of the original boy's school, that is, Roll Number 13393.


Coolahan notes, "The turn of the century saw the introduction of a dramatically different programme and a modern approach to national school education". In addition to the 'three R's', the inspectors’ reports of the boys school draw attention to the additional subjects taught – physical drill, drawing, object lessons, singing, geography, grammar, history, shorthand, and book keeping. Quotes on the matter from contemporary Inspectors’ Observation Books include:

The Observation Book for the girls school refers to cookery & laundry, needlework, singing, geography, history and drawing, as well as the ‘three R.s’. The last comment relating to needlework was written in the Observation Book during the general inspection of 18th September 1914 by F. M. Hollins:

"Needlework was satisfactory, all suggestions have received attention".

Cookery and Laundry for Girls

The intensive syllabi of instruction as outlined in the roles for cookery and laundry lessons for the older girls from 1910 to 1922 can be found in Appendix 8. One must wonder how such an obtrusive syllabus as cooking was carried out within the confined space and sparse facilities of Labasheeda school. Instructions in these subjects was given by Ellie McGrath who states that she learned cookery at the Convent School, Tulla and at Our Lady of Mercy Training College, and that she received training in laundry in Tulla Convent, where she "attended organisers’ class there". The inspectors checked the cookery and laundry rolls, and usually made a note of the number of lessons given e.g. "over 5 months, 30 lessons, all cookery" (F. M. Hollins, 31/7/1913). Cookery and laundry were taught on Tuesday from 2.00 to 3.30 p.m. These classes were discontinued after 1922, when – under the newly-established Irish government – curricular emphasis changed in favour of the teaching of Irish.


"The Gaelic League was largely responsible for the inclusion of Irish as an extra subject in the curriculum" (O’Connell 1968). In order to qualify to teach Irish, teachers attended Irish college in Gaeltacht areas. During the summer holidays Ellie McGrath obtained a certificate – which qualified her to teach Irish – from Dingle Irish College in 1912. Sean O’Muirthille (13th March 1912) noted, "Chaitheas tamal sa scoil seo indhiu. Nach ioghantach an sceal é nach bhfuil focal Gaedhilge da múineadh ann. Tuighear dom go mba fhuirist í do mhúineadh ann tosic go bhfuil na cailíní beaga deabhésaigh agus cliste. Ta sort geallamhana agam go rachaidh ceann de na múinteoiribh go Colaiste Gaedhealach éigin í mbliadhna. Go deimhin ní haon dioghbhail é (having spent time in this school today, it is strange to that there isn't a word of Irish being taught there. I understand that it would be easy to teach because the little girls are mannerly and clever. There is a tentative promise that one of the teachers will attend an Irish College this year. That certainly would be no harm). Subsequently, Irish was taught to 3rd, 4th and 5th standards 4 days a week from 3.00 to 3.30 pm. On the 16th of July 1919, S. O’Conchubhair responded positively to Sean O’Muirthille’s observation of the 13th of March 1912 when he noted, "Ta a mhalairt de scéal annso indhiu a Sheain" (The story here today is different, Sean [re Irish language]). In 1922 Irish was placed on the school programme as an obligatory subject.
Extended summer holidays – as approved by the Department of Education – facilitated the attendance of teachers at summer courses from 1922 to 1925. Summer holidays for the boys and girls schools differed in 1922. The girls school closed for 12 weeks from the 30th of June to the 25th of September, while the boys school closed for 10 weeks on the 21st of July to the 2nd of October. It is likely that this difference in the holiday periods occurred because only the female teachers attended an Irish course in July and the late return of the boys school facilitated families who needed their children’s help during the harvest season.
In 1925 the roll for the boys school records "Irish course Monday July 6th to Friday July 21st". This is the only record of teachers from the boys school attending an Irish course. An ‘allowance in aid of expenses at Irish course’ was paid to teachers. On 14th February 1923, £9. 16s. 0d. was paid for the attendance at the Irish course – presumably to Nora O’Regan and Ellie McNamara – during the summer of 1922. An allowance was also paid to the same teachers for their attendance in 1923, 1924 and 1925. Nora O’Regan became a Junior Assistant Mistress subsequent to the introduction of the post in 1906. Since the 1st January 1927, all entries to school records are written in Irish.

School Closures

Apart from the regular school holidays, church holidays, bank holidays, race days and fair days other school closures are also recorded in the Roll and Daily Report Books. Intermittent recordings were made of Religious Examination Days between 1908 and 1924, of Confirmation Days between 1899 and 1948, and of local and general elections from 1911 to 1974 at which time the school was used as a district polling station. Following the death of James Purtill (25th May 1926), the boys school closed from Wednesday 26th May to Tuesday 6th July at which point John Crowley (jnr.) assumed the position of Principal. This closure clearly facilitated staffing arrangements following the cessation of Purtill's acting Principalship, and the permanent assumption of the position by Crowley. On the 21st November 1974, "Socraid an Uachtarain" and "Insealbhu an Uachtarain" (on 19th December 1974) refers to the funeral of President Childers and the inauguration of President O Dalaigh respectively. The school was closed due to a one-day general strike on Monday 24th April 1922, when "in obedience to the manifesto of The National Executive of The Irish Labour Party, the workers of Ireland with an unanimity never equalled in history 'downed tools' as a protest against the present military and political situation. All normal activities of the Nation were completely suspended between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m." (Clare Champion, 29th April 1922). A 'Centenary Day' was held on the 24th June 1929, presumably to commemorate Catholic Emancipation in 1829.

The rural agricultural economy of Labasheeda and its' hinterland benefited from the 'attendance exemption clause' for children whose labour was needed for seasonal work. The summer holiday in 1944 was extended - as the Rolls state - for week ending 15th July 1944, "scoil dúnta, saoire, ag sabhail na móna" ('school closed, saving the turf') and on the 9th September 1944, "saoire breise - obair na feirme" (extra holiday - farm work). School closures due to "gallraí tógalacha" (contagious diseases) - "an flú (flu), plucamas (mumps) and an bruitineach (measles)" occurred occasionally. On 12th February 1925, 8 children were present in the girls school when S. O'Conchubhair noted; "Níl ach fíor bheagan de na scolairí ag teacht de dheasga na h-aicíde ata sa chomharsanacht. Níor bhféidir feabhas na hoibre do mheas ach samhluigheann mé go bhfuil dea-theaghlaigh a dhéanamh annso" (There are very few pupils coming to school because of the illness in the neighbourhood. It's not possible to assess progress of work, but I think that the work here is undertaken efficiently).
"Each school determined its own school year" (Coolahan 1981); in Labasheeda, the school year ended on the 30th April until 1905. In 1906, this changed to the 30th of June and remains so today. The school opened daily from 9.30 a.m. throughout its history. The school day for infants started at 9.30 a.m. and their dismissal time was 2.00 p.m. A suitable timetable to include religious instruction as well as the secular subjects was drawn up.

Infant Education

In the school year ending 30th June 1912 a change is noted in the records of both schools. From that date the names of infants admitted into the school were included in the Registration Book for the whole school where heretofore an infant register was held.
Curriculum reform after 1900 brought a new focus on Infant Education. In the 19th century the infants had been included in the Payments by Results scheme. On 1st February 1900, D.J. McEnery recommended that the teacher provide "12 to 20 objects for Object Lessons". "The purpose of Object Lessons was to develop the faculty of observation by allowing the pupils to examine and observe before the teacher passed on any information about the object" (Durcan 1972).
Further comments include "infants should be provided with long pencils when writing on slate (18/7/1947)". "The slate was made and polished at home. The pencil was a piece of slate worked into shape on a grindstone" (Kierse 1987).
The changeover to writing on copies took place between 1907 and 1914. This is evidenced in F.M. Hollins recommendation on the 27th February 1914 that "smaller writing exercise books with wider spaces are desirable for infants".


The decline of the overall population from 606 in 1841 to 65 today is mirrored in the enrollment figures for the school, which boasted a total of 166 pupils in the opening year of the school and today has 30 pupils. While traditional trades such as clay-pipe making, bootmaker, tailor and boatmaker have vanished from school records, the proportion of farmers in the area has remained at a relatively constant figure and represents roughly half of all families. Perhaps the present decline in Labasheeda’s fortunes may ultimately carry with it the seeds of rejuvenation in the future – the village now enjoys a gentle and relaxed pace of life amid relatively undeveloped and unspoilt beauty of the kind which must surely appeal to seekers of a peaceful haven in the increasingly chaotic world of today, and the increasingly unpredictable world of the future.


Akenson, Donald H. The Irish Education Experiment: the National System of Education in the 19th Century. London: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1970.
Browne, Terence. Ireland: a Social and Cultural History. London: Fontana Press, 1985.
Coolahan, John. Irish Education: its History and Structure. Dublin: I.P.A., 1981.
Durcan, R.F. History of Irish Education from 1800. Dragon Books, 1972.
Kierse, Sean. Education in the Parish of Killaloe. Killaloe: Boru Press, 1987.
Markham, Paul. Kilmurry McMahon and Killofin Remembered. Ennis, Clare Champion, 1991.
Nolan, William. Tracing the Past. Dublin: Geography Publications, 1982.
O’Connell, T.J. 100 Years of Progress: the story of the Irish National Teachers Organization, 1868-1968. Dublin: INTO, 1968.
Taken from ‘A Passage of Scholars’: The Social and Educational History of Labasheeda National School, 1887-1975 by Phyllis Malone. A Project for a Diploma in Local and Regional Studies, U.C.C., 1998.

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

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