A History of Fethard Presentation Convent National School, Fethard, Co. Tipperary (Roll No. 8903) from 1862 to 1907.
By Maria Treacy
Senior Sophister, Fourth Year B.Ed. Trinity College, Dublin
I chose this topic for my history assignment as even during my primary school years I was aware of the historical aspect to the school, i.e. my mother had taught in the old school building, my father and two aunts had been taught there, and my parental grandmother worked there giving lunches to the poorer children of the town - these lunches consisted of "grinder bread and jam". The money for these lunches had been donated by a wealthy member of the Fethard community to provide lunches for the school-going poor of the town. Even at an early age I was in awe of this building due to its existence for over one hundred years. Another reason for my writing this paper is my good fortune of having the Fethard Convent Annals at my disposal. I am one of the first outside of the Presentation Order to have had the privilege of reading such interesting first-hand accounts of history. The Annals are written on thick parchment paper and are very eloquently written with beautiful hand-writing (which can be difficult to decipher) which describe many events in great detail paying particular attention to names, dates, etc.
The official records of the school state that the school was founded in 1872. However, through the Annals I have learned of a Convent run school which opened on Friday, May 1st 1862, this school then transferred to a new building in 1872. In this paper, I will attempt to look at the founding of this school in 1862. The first section deals with the school's geographical location, the environment of the school and its locality. The second section deals with the history of the school from 1862 to 1907 including dimensions of the classrooms, improvements made to the school, etc. The third section deals with the move from the condemned building to the new school on the Rocklow Road on September 11th, 1978. It also deals with the school in the 1990's as regards the number of pupils, number of teachers, curriculum, etc. In the conclusion, I will attempt to differentiate between the buildings which housed the school over the years i.e. 1860's, 1870's to 1970's, and 1970's to 1990's. I will also use a trend graph to illustrate the rise and fall of pupil numbers over the years.
CHAPTER 1: 'Setting the Scene'
The town of Fethard lies in the South Riding region of County Tipperary. It is a small town and lies eight and a half miles north of Clonmel. Direct communication by rail was established in 1880 on the Clonmel to Thurles route, but his line is no longer in use. The town rises gently from a valley, through which the Clashawley, a good trout river, runs on the way to the Anner. It is surrounded by hills namely Bennett's Hill, Market Hill, Kilnockin Hill and Grove Wood. It gets its name 'Fiodh Ard' from the 'high wood' which overlooks the town. It lies approximately two miles north-east of the famous mountain, Sliabh na mBan. Other mountain ranges can also be seen to the south and west of the town, e.g. the Knockmealdowns, the Comeraghs and the Galtees. Fethard was a garrison town and had a Barracks up until the British troops pulled out of Ireland.
Fethard has a medieval town wall which consisted of five gateways - one to the south, one to the north, one to the east, one to the west, and one to the north-east. A lot of this wall has been restored by the 'Friends of Fethard' and Fethard has the most intact medieval town wall for a town of its size in Ireland. It also has the second oldest used church in Ireland, i.e. the Augustinian Abbey. "The earliest reference to the Abbey is the confirmation by King Edward 1, in June 1306, of a small grant of land to them for the purpose of "rebuilding their house in Fethard". Fr. William Tirry was attached to this order in Fethard.
Fethard is on the edge of the Golden Vale and therefore its surrounding areas has very fertile farmland. As a result many of the school children come (and came) from agricultural backgrounds. Due to the expansion and prosperity of Coolmore Stud (situated three miles outside of Fethard) many of the pupils' parents are now employed there also.
The present Nano Nagle School is situated on the Rocklow Road about a quarter of a mile from the Main Street. This means that it is situated outside of the old town wall (as was the school built in 1872, although the priest's house used from 1862 was located inside the town wall on the Main Street). The only access to the Rocklow Road is through the archway of the north gate of the town wall - the only gate which survived and so every child goes through this gate on his/her way to school. This north gate is known as Sparagolea.
'The Parish of Fethard and Killusty'
CHAPTER 2: History of the school from 1862 to 1907
Very Rev. Sean Cantwell, P.P.V.G., Fethard arranged with the Archbishop, the Most Rev. Dr. Leahy and the Thurles community of the Presentation Order that a convent be founded in Fethard. It was founded on the 12th of April 1862 and the following nuns were placed in Fethard:
* Sr. M. Agnes Ryan as Superior * Sr. M. Aiphonsus Holohan, Bursar * Sr. de Pazzi Gubbins as Novice Mistress.
A house on the Main Street in Fethard (beside the Parish Church) was given to the priest, until a convent and schools would be built. £70 per annum would be received by the nuns from the parish.
The school opened on Friday, May 1St 1862. 90 Children were present on that day. The instruction given for some weeks consisted for the most part of Religion and preparation for their First Holy Communion and Confirmation. On the opening of the school, there were 2 classrooms. One on the ground floor capable of accommodating 80 infants, and another over this capable of accommodating 80-100 "grown girls". These classrooms were quite unfurnished having neither desks nor forms. There were only borrowed planks supported by logs of wood fitted around the rooms. A few borrowed forms from the Parish Chapel were used as centre desks. The schoolhouse was a thatched one and situated between the Dean's and the intented Convent. There were no books or slates with the exception of a few dozen which were sent from Thurles.
Within a few weeks the number of pupils had risen to 300, therefore some of the apartments of the intended Convent had to be converted into schoolrooms. The school closed on the 1St of August, after which the roof was taken off and the front wall "thrown down" in order to slate it and make it more spacious by raising the roof. So an additional schoolroom was built over the middle schoolroom, of the same dimensions.
His Grace, the Most Rev. Dr. Leahy visited for the first time on Saturday, the 3rd of May. In August a number of children were allowed to make their First Communion and many received their Confirmation from the Archbishop.
The first Retreat commenced on the 18th of August. Very Rev. Dean Cantwell attended for the first five days and gave appropriate lectures. The Most Rev. Henry Harbison attended towards the end and heard Confessions. On the 8th of September 1862 a sermon was preached by the Archbishop, the Most Rev. Dr. Leahy in the Parish Chapel for the benefit of the school.
In 1863 the school was raised by two stories, the upper storey of which was given to the nuns for a schoolroom which was 40 feet by 24 feet. They opened school in the room on
17th of June 1863. The Dean came to reside in the portion of the house under this schoolroom in July 1863.
The Very Rev. Dean Cantwell got his parishioners to build a new school for the nuns, in lieu of the old ones, which with the old convent yard and garden attached, the nuns agreed to resign to the Dean for the Monks of St. Patrick (in September 187 1) as soon as the new ones would be built. The nuns gave a portion of their own ground for a site within a few perches of their new Convent as they found it rather impossible to secure a convenient site anywhere else. The cost of building the schools was £1,000, and of this sum, the nuns contributed £200 towards getting the right wing or classroom erected. The schools accommodated over 300 children and measured respectively, Main or Middle School 72 feet by 22, Infant Room 48 feet by 17, and the Classroom 48 feet x 17.
The principal schoolroom was divided by a glass folding door (extending the entire breadth of the room) into two rooms of equal size called St.Mary's and St. Joseph's, in the former of which was erected a large statue of the Blessed Mother in a niche over the mantelpiece which formed an Oratory which was subsequently painted and ornamented. The wings were at both ends of the school. The infant room at the left and the classroom at the right of the building. Some feet of the latter had to be partitioned off for a turf house. The yard or playground extended along the rear and right of the building.
On the morning of November 22nd 1872, there was Mass held in the new school and offered up by the Rev. Dean Cantwell at seven o'clock. The Rev. James Cantwell celebrated at eight o'clock. After ten o'clock the children were admitted to the old school as usual and immediately after twelve o'clock the procession formed and the children walked (two by two) through the Convent garden, all wearing white veils and singing the litany of the Blessed Virgin. When they arrived at the new schools they arranged themselves in rows, on their knees, and after receiving an exhortation from Rev. James Cantwell, he gave them Benediction and the Blessed Sacrament.
A concert was held on March 29th 1883 in aid of improvements in the schools. It realised £30.
A concert and operetta by the pupils was held in the school on Wednesday evening, November 28th 1883, for the purpose of raising funds for further improvements in the school.
Early in 1893 Rev. Mother Agnes secured the services of a London Professor, Mr. Ames, to introduce the Tonic-sol-fa method of teaching singing into the schools. When Mr. Ames returned to the schools a year later, he was agreeably surprised at the excellence of the pupils.
A bequest of £600 was made to the Community (Nuns) in 1901. The Council thought well to purchase a new entrance to the schools as the children had to come through a very undesirable laneway. The small field underneath the schools was presented to the Community a few years before by the late Mr. John McCarthy, Fethard. The housing and ground between their small field and the road being for sale, the purchase was completed, lodge built, steps erected and railing put round the school yard. The total cost was £492.17.11.
In May 1902, the Most Rev. Dr. Fennelly, Coadjutor Bishop administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to the school children. In 1906, the schools were painted and decorated at a cost of £40.
In 1906, the sisters were most anxious to create a local industry so as to give employment to the poor girls of the town. Therefore a laundry was set up in the original schoolhouse on the Main Street.
The following letter was sent to the Convent School and is dated June 3rd 1907:
"Guarantee Explanatory between the Nuns and Brothers of Infants Schools of the Convent and the Monastery.
As. Principal of the Monastery School I hereby guarantee and promise that no boy younger than six years shall he received or kept in the Monastery Schools for the future ".
Signed: Br. Stanislaus Bergin
William V. Jones, Manager.
June 3rd 1907
This agreement between the boys and girls schools was reinforced in January 1933 when Bishop J.M. Harty wrote to both the Nuns and the Brothers confirming the agreement from 1907. It has certainly proved the test of time and is still in operation at the time of writing (1997) i.e. boys remain in the Convent school for junior and senior infants and then transfer to the Monastery school for 1St to 6th classes, which in normal circumstances is the age of 6.
CHAPTER 3: The School at Present
The school that had been in use since 1872 was condemned in the 1950's. However, it remained in use until the late 1970's as a Primary School and the early 1990's as extra classes for the Secondary School. The school is no longer called the Presentation Convent National School. It is now known as the Nano Nagle Primary School. (Nano Nagle being the foundress of the Presentation Order) This change came about with the setting up of the Primary School Board of Management in November 1975. A new Girls' Primary School was needed in Fethard.
Proposed Name: Nano Nagle Primary School, Fethard.
Grant: Sanctioned by the Department of Education in August 1976. Department grants were 6/7 the total cost of the school with the local contribution beng 1/7.
Estimated Cost: £156,250 + £9,000 furniture Total = £165,250.
Architect: W. Noel Carroll, Monkstown. Dublin,
Contractor, John Hafrington & Sons ( iampscastle Fethard
The contract was signed on Friday, March 18th 1977. The first sod was turned on March 24th 1977 by Sr. Mary MacNamara, Principal. Work commenced on the school the following week. The new primary school on the Rocklow Road was opened on September 11th 1978 and blessed by Fr. P. O'Gorman on the 27th. In August 1980 Sr. Maureen Power was appointed as Principal in the school and still holds that position to date.
Today in 1977 there are only two nuns teaching in the primary school - Sr. Mary MacNamara and Sr. Maureen Power. There are also six lay teachers on the staff - Patricia Treacy (Vice-Principal), Maureen Maher Rita Kenny Mary Hanrahan, Margaret Gleeson and Anne Ryan. These are all permanent teaching posts and include a Remedial teacher and a Resource teacher, both of whom are shared with the Monastery school. This is a huge change on the teaching staff as up until about 1970 it comprised totally of nuns.
There is a FAS Scheme working in the school which provides help in the form of a Caretaker and a Classroom Assistant. There are now approximately 160 children attending the school. This includes a number of children from the Group Homes - three houses which are run by the nuns and which cater for children in the care of the South Eastern Health Board.
There is presently an 'Artist in Residence' based at the school. The artist being local woman, Pat Looby, who is doing workshops with the pupils. The majority of this scheme
is financed by the Arts Council of Ireland. There are now seven computers in the school which are shared on trolleys and therefore are available to all classes.
When the school was built in 1978 it consisted of a staffroom, shop, office, teachers' toilets, 3/4 store rooms, a hail, a playground (yard), an inner courtyard complete with swings and slide, library, five ordinary classrooms and four small class rooms with shared areas in between each two. This went in line with educational thought at that time and once again when this same wave of thought disagreed on the success and viability of shared areas, these were converted back into ordinary classrooms in 1983. (See Appendices for dimensions of classrooms and shared areas)
Therefore, it is evident that the Girls' Primary School (Roll No. 8903) had three different locations since the first school day on 01.05.1862. The initial one being a house owned by the priest on the Main Street, then a purpose-built school beside the Convent, and finally the present school on the Rocklow Road. It is evident in the records of the Convent Annals that religious instruction played a huge part in the education of the pupils as did Music, and the three R's Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Today the curriculum of the Nano Nagle School is far broader and more varied. Even though all of the aforementioned subject areas are still taught, and in great depth, there is now more emphasis on the child and how he/she learns best i.e. it is the process and not the product is most important. Therefore, there is great emphasis put on the use of the child's environment as a learning experience and catalyst. This environment has great meaning for the child and so he/she can relate to it and use it as a comparative force. This culminates in a far greater emphasis being put on Social and Environmental Studies, Relationships and Sexuality Education and Physical Education.
Due to this split from subject-centred education, there are now far more creative opportunities for each child e.g. creative writing, creative dance, artwork, pottery, music, poetry composition, drama, mime, etc.
This change in attitude as regards the curriculum, its essence and role, automatically instigates a metaporphosis in the attitudes of teachers towards the pupils - they are no longer objects to be given instruction but become subjects who only need to be facilitated in their learning in order to reach their potential. This new understanding of a child's needs and abilities probably goes hand in hand with the realisation that physical punishment can not be and is not the appropriate solution.
Another very significant part of this paper is the agreement made between the nuns and the brothers in 1907. that no boy under six years would be taught in the Monastery School, and that no boy over six years would be taught in the Convent School. This agreement was reinforced by Bishop J.M. Harty in January 1933 and is still in operation to date.
Here I will illustrate by using a trend graph how the number of pupils in the school increased and decreased from 1925 to 1997. It is important to note that in the Leabhar Tinnrimh of 1925-'27 there were columns for 3 and under 15 years and also 15 years and older
- Fethard Historical Society
- Presentation Convent, Fethard, Co. Tipperary.
- The Annals of Fethard Convent
- School Roll Books
- School Registers i.e. Leabhar Tinnrimh
- Fethard and Killusty Annual Newsletters