THE old schoolhouse at O’Callaghan’s Mills has been a landmark in the community since it was built in 1848 and plans are currently underway to renovate the building so its legacy of benefiting the local youth may continue.
The building was responsible for educating young people in The Mills from 1848 until 1973 and since then it has remained a focal point for local activities as the community centre. In more recent times it has returned to its educational function as Stepping Stones Montessori found its home at the centre.
Planning permission has been granted for the proposed development and refurbishment of the community centre following an application submitted by a local committee headed by Eamon Cooney.
He explained that proposed works include the provision of new toilet facilities, storage, a new activity room downstairs, kitchen facilities, a new floor, windows, doors and stairs at the main hall, as well as dry lining.
“A small bit of effort from every house in the parish and we’d be able to get a couple of grants and get the project off the ground. We need to get cracking on it because the grants could go on us,” Mr Cooney said.
The group has already held a successful quiz night and car boot sale but is now hoping people will get behind a greyhound night on June 29.
Speaking about the project, county councillor Joe Cooney said, “It is welcome news that they committee have planning permission. This building has been in a bad condition and it will be of great benefit to the local community when completed”.
At a recent gathering in the centre, past pupils of the old school came together to recall their school days and share its significance with the young people in the community.
O’Callaghan’s Mills man Seán Moloney was a pupil there between 1935 and 1945 and recalls not only his education but the mischief he got up to during that time.
“If you were a good scholar you got great attention and if you were a bad scholar you would be skipped over. In my time there were four teachers. The girls were upstairs and the boys were downstairs and in later years it was amalgamated. Mrs Doyle, Mrs Lynch, Mrs Hurley and Master Collins were the teachers there then.
“There were 80 pupils but there would have been more going back the years. I left school at 14. We had 20 acres of tillage to look after, so there wasn’t much talk of school, only to come home and do the work,” he said.
One of the funniest things Seán recalls about going to school was the day one of his teachers was preparing them for confirmation.
“One of the teachers took us out for a day for instruction and she had the living life frightened out of us about hell and limbo. This woman took us across the road and she said I’ll show ye what’ll happen when you die.
“She said, ‘what did you do this morning that you shouldn’t have done’. One little girl said ‘I spilled milk’. Another fella said, ‘I used too much butter and I had no more butter’. It was during the war so it was serious business that time if you ate all the rations. Then she’d stick your sins onto your forehead. They were stuck onto our foreheads and left there for the day,” he recalled.
Seán also recalled his three-mile walk to and from school each day and said they would try any means possible to shorten the journey or to avoid having to go to school at all.
“There used to be asses on the road and some of them would be wild. There were two of us and we would catch an ass every morning and we would hop up on his back.
“We’d arrive there below and we’d put him into someone’s field and when the evening would come we’d go for him again and we would take him home and put him into another man’s field. They’d be in one field by night and another field by day,” he explained.
On another occasion, Seán was working on the bog cutting turf on a school night and thought he might avoid going to school the next day.
“We had a meitheal of men in the bog cutting turf and I was barrowing the night before so I thought I’d be left at home barrowing. I had to take the milk to the creamery in the morning and I said to myself this looks good. So when I came back from running through the fields, my father said there’s your bag for school and my heart was broke.
“There’s a bog there between two roads on the way to school. I came up across the bog and I jumped into the deepest trench that was in it. I sat over beside my teacher and she says to me, ‘Moloney you go out and wash your feet by the pump at roll call time’,” Seán recollected.
He said his teacher obviously didn’t trust him because she sent out another pupil with him to keep an eye on him. Her suspicious were right, as Seán revealed.
“They used to wear ties going to school so I pulled the tie off of him and brought him over to the water pump and tied his hands behind his back and I said stay there until I’m at home above in the bog. So I cut across the bog again and I went off cutting turf and barrowing turf for the day,” he said.
The schoolhouse had a great number of functions, hosting socials, dances and meetings.
Speaking about the proposed refurbishment, Seán said, “If there’s a meeting to be held or youngsters want somewhere to go, it is a big asset to the parish. It does mean a lot to the parish so it’s great news something will be done.”
Another local who shared her memories of The Mills schoolhouse was Mary O’Brien, who was not only educated there but went on to become principal from 1965 to 1973.
“I remember I went to the new school on the first Friday in December 1973. It was completely different. We had flushed toilets and running water. We never had it up here. We had no heating up here, only the fire and the parents provided the fuel. The bottles of milk were also heated even when I was teaching there,” she recalled.
Mary always had an interest in teaching and when she was leaving school, Tulla Secondary School had just opened in 1950, enabling her to continue her education.
She went on to become a teacher and after a spell in a school in Tipperary and Kilkishen, she took over as principal in the old schoolhouse in O’Callaghan’s Mills in 1965.
It had gone from a four teacher to a two-teacher school and there were 67 pupils at that time. Mary remained at the school until 1998.
The last time the schoolhouse was renovated was in the 1970s and together with the backing of the community, the 14-strong committee is now aiming towards raising enough funds to extend and renovate the building.
So far they have held a table quiz, cash for clobber and sale of work, with the next event being a Night at the Dogs on Friday, June 29, at the Limerick Greyhound Stadium, which they are urging the public to support.