- Snapshots of the School and the Community

Padraig Cregg

Book Cover Image Built on an elevated site at Grange cross-roads, with the Curlews and Slieve Anierin in the background, there was an air of solid assurance about the school. The door was an appropriate shade of patriotic green with the back still painted in the original dark dusty red which spoke of its origins before the foundation of the State. The Master's room - the bigger of the two classrooms and Mrs. Madden's room with its partially stepped-up floor had long ink-welled desks and big open fire-grates. The brown wainscoting and the creamy yellow washed walls did little to fire the imagination. Blackboards, big maps and a smell of chalk added to the atmosphere. In a sectioned off area at the end of the hall inside the from door, was the turf house where turf ranging from solid stone turf to five star spoddagh was stored.

Mrs. Casserly looked after the school and put the fire down each morning. If the fire was difficult to kindle two pupils would act as a human bellows until it blazed. There was a science in this. Both had to coordinate their efforts otherwise sparks were blown into your companions face. But, when it got going, it did heat the place and a row of bottles of tea were put in front of it to keep warm until lunchtime. The tea, as a result of this four hour process, developed a very distinctive flavour - one that Barrys or Bewleys should recognise the potential of. Nostalgia for stewed tea should not be lightly ignored!

There was no Accident and Emergency service, as it is now called, but accidents and emergencies were dealt with all right. The teachers looked after the emergency bit of course, but it was often Mrs. Keams who bandaged your foot, mopped your head, decided how you were to get home, occasionally questioned a few suspects if there was anyone else involved and sent them home separately and overall gave us a medical service that I don't think anyone ever got around to thanking her for.

But what of the community generally, of the children who attended school there and the teachers who taught there. What did they expect from life and what did they get? What kind of society lived around Grange School from 1902 until the seventies while it was still a very distinctive community?

Terms like Edwardian or late Victorian do little to describe the way people lived and the way people were in the earlier years. The kind of society to which these terms were meaningful was not much represented among the community around Grange. There had been a slowly developing prosperity since the 1850's - much of it based on land and a more dynamic trade. Boyle developed as a market town over this period and cattle, dairy produce, potatoes, vegetables and turf could be sold more easily for cash. There had been land re-distribution in the late 1880's and again in the early 1900's and many people came to own land in their own name for the first time. The cycle of the seasons with turf cutting, growing of meadows, saving hay and then harvesting grain crops - sometimes mown with the scythe - left a comfortable and pleasant life-style for many - provided the weather was fairly good.

Unlike now, there was no Plan B in farming at that time and if the weather came wet much of the crop, hay and turf could be lost. This, in turn depressed cattle prices.

Other less inspiring features also characterised that society. Emigration certainly did. Many left for England or America with their National School education and did well but emigration was always initially at least, sad and lonely. Many young people, reared in big, close-knit families, found themselves suddenly in a bed-sit or apartment shared with strangers and utterly detached from the social and cultural life they knew. But as time went on many emigrants returned - after perhaps 10 years or so - to the great advantage of themselves and the community. They brought home some savings - often enough to seed a business or land purchase but they also brought back ideas - about themselves, about personal liberties and in particular, from America in the earlier years of the century, about constitutional republicanism.

Was there poverty around? How good were the good old days? Mostly people at home made a living from farming often at subsistence level. Others, perhaps luckier, had permanent jobs with the local authority, the State or perhaps in a shop in town. No it wasn't poverty, but frugal sufficiency could equally be pushing it for description. Without a prosperous customer base many services did not exist. There were few good cars. Until the nineteen fifties, even possession of a radio was an achievement. Electricity did not come until the late fifties. Strangely, even then, there was not a firm consensus that electricity was a good idea. The E.S.B. insisted on a two-thirds majority in an area taking the electricity and this was not always achieved, leaving some areas not connected up for a further ten years.

In an era of large families and limited resources it was usually the women who drew the whole fabric together. Men talked about bad times, poor cattle prices, bad weather and the impending end of the world (authoritatively forecast for 1960 at one stage!) but it was the housewife who decided what was spent where, how the budget was balanced and how life should be got on with in the meantime.

The early part of the century was a time of some 'made matches' where parents and a local matchmaker proposed marriages which, incidentally, often worked surprisingly well. The degree of consent from those taking part has been much discussed but usually the couple at the centre of the discussion were not unaware of the negotiations going on. Despite matchmakers, the main means by which young people met was at 'country house dances' where they packed into one house and traditional music was provided live on the fiddle or accordion. Seemingly, of those attending one such dance in Killaraght - it must have been 1918 or 1919 - six were dead from Spanish flu three days later.

Michael (the Yank) Goldrick did not like WLH Popham. Nobody disagreed. No one knew Popham, of course. He was long dead. You may meet him in your title deeds, however, as much of the land around comprised the Popham Estate and he was, seemingly - and hence the grievance - an absentee landlord and lived mainly in London. But Popham and his friends had left us something after all. They left a well developed sense of class in place- A friend of mine with an eye for such things once remarked to me - in the nineties - that Boyle was the most class differentiated place he had ever seen. There was some truth in this. Inherent in the philosophy of colonialism was a view of people within social classes and the notion seems to have been happily subscribed to by most. Knowing your place was a listed virtue. Vertical class mobility was discouraged. So, although the 'big house' was gone, some of the afterglow remained. Within the farming community land quality and quantity largely decided your standing and some class mobility could be ensured by land purchase or suitable marriage. While there was little vertical mobility between the classes there was competition between the various groups that made up the more prosperous middle class. The bigger farmers - conservative but understated in lifestyle and the older business class lived frugally, kept to themselves and kept careful watch to ensure their off-spring would do likewise.

A 'club' of the upper middle class - comprising local politicians, doctors, lawyers, clergy and local journalists comprised a powerful grouping who, in effect, set the tone of social and economic life in the area.

This sense of class was even reflected in a pecking order in the Church collections at Christmas and Easter. Everybody had a contribution 'rate' which reflected their income and relative place in society and nobody who had contributed 1 traditionally would up that to 30 shillings! The annual St. Vincent de Paul collection - published in the Roscommon Herald, in case you missed the point - usually started with the top contribution of 20 guineas from the Right Honourable Sir Cecil Stafford King-Harman, K.G., Bart. (don't panic - that's a triple surname!) The list of names down from that in order of the size of contribution was an almost exact statement of who was who in the class pecking order. Publication helped to consolidate the idea. The Church also tended to reinforce this system. Most diocesan clergy were themselves drawn from this better off middle class.

Oh yes, the guineas. Serious toffs still dealt in guineas. This unit of currency was 21 shillings as opposed to 20 shillings in the standard pound. Guineas were never used by the under classes except when paying bills to the said toffs. Quoting or charging in guineas was almost always a statement about position in society.

Jeans and rock-n-roll arrived in the 1950's but were widely condemned. Many spurious arguments were used. Jeans would interfere with the ability to work and it was well known that Radio Luxembourg - the main source of pop music at the time - took more current from wet batteries!

The first jet aircraft to cross Grange in the mid-fifties caused much curiosity and a little unease, The long vapour trail cut across the blue morning sky from East to West as we all came out and stood in the yard looking for answers. Mrs. Madden called the show to a sharp end and ordered everyone inside with the assurance that while she did not know what it was, it would not do any harm. In the tradition of good teachers, due enquiry was made and all was explained to us the next day.

As a child, many characters seemed larger than life. The postmen - Paddy Morris, Gerry Beirne, Gussy Regan or Jim Lloyd, loaded with Christmas post and collecting letters from the post box at the school are still an abiding image of Christmas. Canon Mahon and Canon Casey before him were both an imposing presence and called regularly to the school. They never knocked before they entered the classroom, but we always spotted them arriving outside.

So what of the old and much loved adage that you can take the man out of the bog but not the bog out of the man? The dreary rigidity of the statement itself says more about the speaker than the spoken of. The school overlooked a substantial bog, but we were not defined by it. Why? For that answer we should reflect on the teachers who taught us there. They helped us develop not just our education but a vision of ourselves that would take us forward. That education and vision was first nurtured in many of us within the four walls of Grange School by Mrs. Madden, Miss Cassidy and Masters McHugh, Carty and Perry. It was that nurturing, education and development at Grange School that would make us better people and better professionals in whatever we set our hands to. It was that would build us the confidence to think as individuals.

It would instill the courage and self-esteem that is now so evident in all the young people around The teachers themselves worked under considerable restriction not always visible at the time. There was under resourcing and it was not a time when grievances or problems could be aired and discussed openly. But they soldiered on and kept faith with a community that now thanks those of them who are still with us and salutes the memory of those who have gone,

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