The former National School at Sopwell, County Tipperary. Primary education was officially introduced to Ireland in 1831, with schools run by the National Board of Education. This building apparently dates from six years earlier, but stylistically follows the form of such establishments throughout the country, with two large rooms on either side of the entrance, one for boys and the other for girls: children were segregated by gender rather than by age. According to Samuel Lewis, in 1837 the school had no less than 150 pupils. Seemingly it closed in 1925 and looks to have been converted at some later date into a domestic residence but now stands empty and rather forlorn. Nevertheless, while the timber bargeboards are deteriorating, much of the rest of the structure is still in good condition and it could easily be restored: all the pretty mullioned windows are still intact for example. Note how metal flags flying above the façade gables are punched with the letter ‘T’. This refers to the local landed family, the Trenches who lived close by in Sopwell Hall; presumably it was then resident of the house Francis Trench who was responsible for the building’s original construction.
When Laurence Gilson died in London in February 1810 he left a will drawn up the previous year leaving all his property to be vested in a trust for the establishment of a school in his native town of Oldcastle, County Meath. In addition, Gilson ‘declared his desire that all the children of the said parish, being natives thereof, should be admitted thereto, to whatever denomination they might belong, and he further expressed his desire that Protestants as well as Roman Catholics should be equally eligible to be appointed masters of the said School, according to their respective merits.’ The Gilson Endowed School opened thirteen years later, its design attributed to C.R. Cockerell who was then working on plans for Loughcrew House outside the town. A neo-classical variant on the Palladian model, the central house of two storeys over raised basement and five bays provided accommodation for the staff (as well as boardroom and hall), while classrooms for boys and girls were in the wings. Although the buildings now look in need of a little attention, the Gilson Endowed School continues to operate according to its founder’s wishes.
The terrifically severe neo-classical former national school in Bagenalstown, County Carlow dates from c.1825. Of one storey, despite its modest proportions the building achieves a certain monumentality thanks to the use of large blocks of local granite and the insertion of this grandiose entrance flanked by Doric columns. The window openings are equally severe but have been ruined by the insertion of unsympathetic uPVC glazing.