Open to All

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.

Not so Dapper

Looking distinctly down-at-heel, the once-dapper Naper Arms Hotel which occupies a prominent site on The Square in Oldcastle, County Meath. Built in the mid-19th century when the town enjoyed commercial prosperity, the building now offers vivid evidence of the way in which Ireland’s smaller urban centres are embarked on what seems to be irreversible decline. If national and local government are serious about attempting to halt the phenomenon – a new €60 million initiative called ‘Action Plan for Rural Ireland’ was announced on Monday – a good place to start would be obliging owners to give them purpose, on the premise of ‘use it or lose it.’ Otherwise one suspects little will change…