The former Erasmus Smith schoolhouse in Cahir, County Tipperary. Erasmus Smith was a 17th century English merchant who acquired large amounts of property in Ireland running to over 46,000 acres. He then decided to use some of the income from this property to establish a trust, granted a royal charter in 1669, the purpose of which was to further children’s education in this country, not least by the establishment of a number of schools here. But over time the organisation also provided financial assistance for the creation of other schools, including that in Cahir, which was completed in 1818 at a cost of £1,034: the Erasmus Smith Trust providing £600 and local landlord Richard Butler, first Earl of Glengall paying the balance. Thought to have been designed by John Nash (who was also responsible for the adjacent Church of St Paul, see Figures of Mystery « The Irish Aesthete), the neo-Gothic building is constructed of cut limestone with a three-storey teachers’ residence in the central section and a classroom on either side. Open to children of all denominations, from the start the school was very successful, in 1824 having 131 pupils, of which 90 were Roman Catholic and the rest members of the Established Church. Due to the need for additional classrooms, the building was subsequently extended to the rear. It continued to operate as a school until 1963 after which it became a sawmill and steelworks, railway museum and warehouse before falling into disrepair. More recently, the former school has been restored by the local authority for use as an area office.
Anyone approaching Sligo town from the south cannot fail to see a large range of rock-faced limestone buildings rising to the immediate east. Erected in 1890-91, this was Summerhill College (or, more correctly, The College of the Immaculate Conception), a secondary school for boys designed by local architect Patrick Kilgallin on the instructions of then-Roman Catholic Bishop of Elphin, Lawrence Gillooly. Further additions to the site were made early in the last century and again in the 1930s. However, ten years ago a new school was built on an adjacent site and the old buildings offered for sale. In 2016, the Diocese of Elphin announced it had sold the property to a Liverpool-based company Eastview Limited for an undisclosed sum (believed to be in the region of €400,000). Nothing further happened until in April 2020 when Eastview sold the former school to another company, RIPL Strandhill Ltd for €1.6 million. However, it appears the agreement was never finalised and last April legal proceedings were initiated by lawyers acting on behalf of Eastview to ensure completion of the sale. At the same time, a fire broke out in the building, believed to have been started by arsonists and inflicting serious damage to the upper storeys. Meanwhile, the rest of the site is being left to deteriorate.
Reference was made last Monday to Charles Strickland who for many years in the mid-19th century acted for land agent to the Dillon family in Ireland, not least at Loughglynn, County Roscommon where Strickland lived during the course of his career. He was particularly concerned for the welfare of tenants on the estate for which he held responsibility, not just during the years of the Great Famine, but in its aftermath. Therefore in 1854 he persuaded his employer to provide the necessary funds to erect a new national school opposite the entrance to Loughglynn; this opened to both boys and girls in February 1856. It is a handsome, sturdy building, like the main house faced in limestone, of eight bays and with an entrance in the pedimented porch. At some date it was adapted into a hall, but has since been abandoned and fallen into as pitiful a state as the main house with which it was once connected.
Last week, the Irish Aesthete featured the former Convent of Mercy in Ardee, County Louth, which is now for sale. Today, here are some pictures of the former St Joseph’s School which was run by the same order in Ballyhaunis, County Mayo; the main block may have been designed by busy Dublin architect William Henry Byrne who was certainly responsible for the adjacent convent. St Joseph’s School opened in October 1901, and closed in July 2012. Since then the property appears to have stood empty on a large site in the centre of the town and left to fall into its present decay. Not only does this make the centre of the town look unsightly, it is also gratuitous waste of sound building stock.
Located in the north-west corner of County Westmeath, this is Wilson’s Hospital, a secondary school which in 2011 celebrated its 250th anniversary. The school’s founder was one Andrew Wilson who, the year before his death in 1725, made a will stipulating that if there were no direct male heirs to his estate, then this should be transferred to the Church of Ireland for the establishment of a hospital for elderly Protestant men and a school for impoverished Protestant boys. After a few decades had passed and no male heir had appeared (and a family dispute over the will resolved), work began on the building, its design sometimes attributed to the little-known Dublin architect Henry Pentland. From the front Wilson’s Hospital looks like a Palladian country house, since to the rear of the main block (shown here) are quadrants leading to two-storey wings. And the façade features a two-storey-over-basement limestone breakfront, the three centre bays stepped forward and with fine Venetian windows on the extreme first-floor windows. The institutional nature of the place is indicated by the clock tower visible above the roofline, and, immediately behind the front, by an arcaded, three-storey courtyard that recalls that of the earlier Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, albeit on a smaller scale. Elderly Protestant men are no longer accommodated here, but boys (and for the past 50 years, also girls) continue to be educated at Wilson’s Hospital.
The former National School in Ardlow, County Cavan. A single-storey, three-bay building, it carries a plaque on the exterior advising date of construction was 1897. As is usually the case, the interior features two large rooms, one for boys, the other for girls, and the remains of a wall to the rear indicate the yard behind was likewise divided. Now empty and losing slates from the roof, so liable to fall into ruin before too long.
Marooned in a lake of tarmacadam and looking rather bleak, this is the former National School in Esker, County Galway. Solidly built of limestone and designed in a loosely-Tudoresque fashion, it would have contained little more than two large rooms, one for teaching boys, the other for girls. A well-carved plaque over the entrance carries the date 1858, which was two years after the Board of Works had taken over responsibility for the design of such buildings from the architectural department of the National Education Board. Above the date is an heraldic crest featuring a running stag, presumably part of the coat of arms of the local landowner?
Opened in 1902, Fortview National School in Clones, County Monaghan was designed by Thomas Elliott from adjacent County Fermanagh. By now almost seventy, Elliott had a long career behind him during which he was responsible for many Orange Halls and Presbyterian churches in West Ulster. The severity of these buildings is reflected in the Clones school, which looks more like a place of worship than a place of education, and can scarcely have inspired the minds of young children arriving for classes.
Constructed of craggy limestone Fortview National School’s austere façade is only slightly relieved by a tower on one side and a gabled porch on the other. A testimony to its solid construction is the fact that the building ceased to be in use ten years ago, but still stands strong. Nevertheless, a shame that it now serves no purpose since water ingress is beginning to be evident, and if left untreated this will lead to long-term damage.
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.