Education and Schools in Leckpatrick and Dunnalong

Although there was a parish school in Leckpatrick from the seventeenth century, it is only from the beginning of the nineteenth century that we have any real information on the history of education in the parish. In 1804 the parish schoolmaster in Leckpatrick was Daniel Kane who received an annual salary of two guineas. At this time the schoolhouse was ‘much out of repair, but a new slated roof is about to be put on’. The number of pupils attending was between fifty and sixty and the fees paid by the children ranged from two to five shillings. In addition to the school kept by Kane, there were four other schools in the parish in 1804. The names of the schoolmasters, the location of the schools, and the number of pupils in each were as follows: James Storie, Woodend, 52 Protestants, 4 Roman Catholics; Patrick Mullin, Loughneas, 28 Protestants, 20 Roman Catholics; Paul Schoales, Milltown, 46 Protestants, 12 Roman Catholics; John O’Neill, Glenmornan, 35 Roman Catholics.

In George Mansfield’s report of the parish of Leckpatrick in 1821 he noted: ‘A very general wish for education does prevail, and as far as the means of the people allow, education has spread. Poverty appears the only barrier to it. Popular opinion is with it. A spirit of inquiry is abroad’. In recent times James Sinclair of Holy Hill had established a school on his estate on the foundation of the London Hibernian Society. However, this school must have had a particularly short history as there is no further record of it. A few years before Mansfield compiled his report, there had been an attempt to establish a school on the foundation of Erasmus Smith on the glebeland. However, due to ‘mismanagement’ the grant was withdrawn and never renewed. Mansfield considered this to have been unfortunate for, in his opinion, there were ‘few situations better suited or more in need of such an establishment than this parish’.

In the mid-1820s a parliamentary inquiry was carried out into the state of education in Ireland. The results of this make interesting reading and provide a fascinating insight into the schools of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong. In 1826 there were seven schools in the parish of Leckpatrick - Leckpatrick, Strabane, Ballee, Ballylaw, Balnegran and two in Cloghcor. All of the schools were mixed, though there was only one Catholic pupil in Ballylaw. In Donagheady parish there were a total of fourteen schools, including Coolmaghery, Tamnaclare, Drumgauty, Sandville, Ballyheather, Castlemellan and Altrest.

The buildings in which classes were held varied greatly. The parish school in Leckpatrick townland was stated to have been a ‘good slated house’ which was believed to have cost £40. Margaret Gibson’s girls’ school in Strabane was a good house costing £200. Classes in Sandville were conducted in the retiring room of the Presbyterian church. This was also the case in Altrest. The school in Coolmaghery was held in a barn, while the rest were held in either thatched houses or small cabins which were worth as little as £3. All of the schools were pay schools and the total income of the master or mistress could vary from the £37 10s. received by Margaret Gibson in Strabane to £6 5s. received by Andrew Stephenson in Ballylaw.

The school with the largest attendance was Ballee where there were over one hundred pupils, while there were fewer than thirty pupils at Tamnaclare, Drumgauty, Ballylaw and Balnegran. The funding of each of the schools also varied. The rector of Leckpatrick contributed £5 towards the parish school. The school in Castlemellan was under the patronage of the London Hibernian Society, while the Kildare Place Society contributed towards the running costs of the schools in Strabane, Ballee and James McDavit’s school in Cloghcor. The school in Ballee was particularly fortunate, because not only did it have funding from the Kildare Place Society, the master, Thomas Edmonson, received annually £5 from the Rev. F. Brownlow and another £5 from the marquis of Abercorn. The patron of James Kelly’s school in Cloghcor was a Mr McCrea who each year paid £7 4s. towards Kelly’s salary. The rest of the schools were not connected to any outside society and depended solely on pupils’ fees for their maintenance.

Although not included among the schools in Donagheady parish, the school at Grange must have been built very soon after the 1826-7 educational report was compiled. From January 1826 we have a deed covering the transfer of a plot of land in Grange from the then owner of the former abbeylands, John Hutton of Summerhill, Co. Dublin, to the bishop of Derry and the rector of the parish of Donagheady, the Hon. and Rev. Charles Douglas. The following is a brief abstract of the deed: ‘[John Hutton] for the purpose of establishing a school with the ... approbation of the said Lord Bishop in consideration of five shillings taken in hand paid by the said minister of the parish of Donagheady .. did grant, bargain, sell, alien, release and confirm unto the said minister ... all that plot or piece of ground being part of the lands of Grange ... at the yearly rent of one penny ... [the] schoolmaster to teach and instruct all such children as should be sent to him for that purpose in the principles and practice of reading and writing the English language and of arithmetic ...’.

The parliamentary inquiry of 1826-7 noted that the teacher in Altrest was a Joseph Hamilton. In October 1834 this man moved to Bready National School where he taught under the patronage of the marquis of Abercorn and received from him a salary of £5 per annum. The rector of Donagheady parish was also supposed to pay Hamilton £3 every year. However, the rector, the Honourable the Reverend Charles Douglas was somewhat lax with his payments, and his subcription of May 1837, which wasn’t actually received until February 1838, was his last. Apart from the £5 he received every year from the marquis, Hamilton’s income was based on payments he received from his pupils, some of whom paid him one penny per week or two shillings sixpence every quarter. Quite often these payments were made in kind. For example, in 1849, ½ ton of turnips cancelled an account of seven shillings. Hamilton supplemented his income by conducting night classes. He continued to teach at Bready until 1869.

There would appear to have been an air of informality about schooling in those days as revealed in the inspectors’ correspondence books. For example, in August 1837 it was reported that Donagheady National School was closed in order to ‘enable the teacher to attend Divinity lectures in Scotland’. In 1835 the inspectors had found that the inscription stone from the school in Cloghcor had been pulled down and thrown into the stream. The calibre of a number of the teachers can also be questioned. In 1840 Mathew Hamilton was appointed teacher of Castlemellon National School. The entry in the inspectors’ correspondence book for 19 August 1853 reads: ‘Inspector reports that teacher was tried and fined at the late sessions in Strabane for wounding a neighbour with a turnip cutter’. Hamilton was dismissed from his teaching post, but he stubbornly refused to go. Even as late as the following June he was still in possession of the school and it was reported that it was ‘unlikely the affair will be speedily settled.

In 1838 the parish schoolmaster in Leckpatrick was John Forbes who received £10 from the marquis of Abercorn and £5 from the rector. He was described as ‘an excellent master and a good man, a regular attender at Church and Sacrament’. The schoolhouse was ‘an excellent one, in good order and kept so by the incumbent’ and about eighty children were taught in it. By this time there was a separate female school in the schoolhouse, the mistress of which was supported by Lady Abercorn. In 1850 it was reported that the parents of the schoolchildren ‘promise a shilling a quarter - but pay badly’.

From the early part of this century we have a detailed account of the condition of the glebe school in Leckpatrick from the schools’ correspondence books. The patron of the school was the Derry Diocesan Board of Education. In January 1903 it was reported that £140 had been spent on an enlargement to the school as well a number of structural improvements. The principal at this time was Samuel McCleary. By 1909 he had gone several years past the compulsory age for retirement and finally stood down in July of that year with a pension of £35 per annum. The report of June 1910 was critical of many aspects of the running and maintenance of the school. The grounds were neglected and overgrown with weeds and nettles. The report also stated that the walls needed to be whitened and that the larger room was not sufficiently lit. The following year it was noted that the light in the room had been improved by the cutting down of several trees and shrubs growing in the school grounds.

A report of November 1920 was critical of the conduct of the principal who had left the school early to go to an auction; the timetable was also not being observed. The same report also noted: ‘The pupils of his [the principal’s] division appear to suffer from lack of training in good manners’, their written exercises were apparently careless and the corrections were not regularly entered. The following month the inspector was again critical of the principal and commented that ‘a higher standard of merit should be aimed at in his standards’ and also that he needed to put more preparation into his work’. However, the following year the inspector was able to report: ‘The principal has made a determined effort to improve his work & written English is now good’.

Rural depopulation has seen the closure of a number of schools in this century. One ill-fated school was located on the Holy Hill estate. It was founded in 1909 largely at the instigation of Rosabel Sinclair, a member of the landowning family. It had a very short history, however, and closed in the 1920s. In the 1970s the Glebe school and Ballylaw school were closed down and a new school built in the village of Artigarvan. Grange and Castlemellan schools have also been closed. At the present time there are five primary schools in Leckpatrick and Dunnalong - Artigarvan, Bready, Cloghcor, Glenmornan and Sandville.


Unfortunately surviving records for the schools in this locality are few and far between. A large part of this chapter has been based upon the schools’ correspondence books (ED/6) which are available in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. Also available in PRONI are the visitation books for the diocese of Derry (DIO/4). Much useful information on Bready Primary School is contained in John Turner’s book, Magheramason Presbyterian Church (Omagh, 1978).

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