Midleton College, County Cork was originally endowed in 1696 by Elizabeth Villiers, Countess of Orkney, former Maid of Honour to Mary Stuart (who had died two years earlier) and former mistress of the latter’s husband, William III. He had granted Lady Orkney large tracts of land in Ireland, and some of these were used to endow the institution, intended for the education of Protestant boys. The building itself appears to have been constructed some 20 years later, the first schoolmaster, the Rev. George Chinnery, being appointed in August 1717. As originally constructed, the building consisted of an H-plan block of two storeys over basement; writing in 1750, Charles Smith referred to a ‘handsome dome’ over the centre but this has long-since disappeared. On the ground floor, the centre of the property was occupied by a school room, lit by the large arched windows on either side of the main entrance approached by a broad flight of steps; the dormitory, lit by three oculi, was directly above, and the schoolmaster lived in one of the wings. The side elevations are of eight bays, the four central ones slightly advanced. The rear of the house shares many features with the facade. The architect is unknown, although the name of Benjamin Crawley, who was involved in the building of a couple of country houses in the south-east of Ireland during this period, has been mentioned. However, the interiors were thoroughly altered in the early 19th century and then later extensions added to the block, so only the exterior bearssome re semblance to the college’s appearance when first constructed.
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?
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.
The pointed gable entrance front of a former national school in Ballinlough, County Meath. Dating from around 1850, the neo-gothic building still retains many of its original features, not least the separate entrances for boys and girls. Unlike many such school houses which have been abandoned or demolished, it is now in use as a community centre.