Recently, an article by archaeologist and photographer, Enda ‘O Flaherty, on Ireland’s abandoned old school houses, triggered memories of an experience I had in my own National School of Kilrickle in Co. Galway, over 80 years ago.
The article referred to 1937 when the Irish Folklore Commission, in collaboration with the Department of Education and the Irish Teachers’ Organisation, initiated a wonderful revolutionary scheme. School children were assigned to collect and document local history and folklore from parents, Grandparents and knowledgeable people in the area. I was one of those 100,000 children. No doubt, many readers can say the same, but how many were fortunate enough to see their handiwork again?
I entered into the project at the time, with great gusto and enthusiasm. This new type of learning appealed to my longing for exploration and discovery. To my fourteen year old mind, it was a novel way of gaining information, besides sitting in a stuffy classroom, soaking up the teacher’s words, with no colourful charts or slides, to make the lessons interesting. I read up and scoured the neighbourhood for information on home cures, riddles, old sayings and historical places. I was especially very interested in the meaning of place names in our locality. By the end of the eighteen months given for research, I was very proud to present my teacher, Mr. Jim Wynne, with my grey copy book, full of knowledge. As school took on its daily routine once more, the memory of the project became swallowed up in the mists of time.
Last year, I had a surprise visit from my grandnephew, Joe Regan, his father and my brother. They were all very excited. It turned out that my grandnephew, while doing historical research in Trinity College, Dublin, came across my old “Champion” copy book, made in “saorstat” with my name printed neatly on the cover. He was allowed to make two photocopies of it, one for me and one for himself. Now and again I read its contents; interesting letters, weather lore, description of the hedge school, riddles and so on. I find myself comparing the neat, carefully formed letters with my present scrawl. My copy book takes me back down memory’s lane, to my little National School of Kilrickle and I say a silent prayer for the teacher, who encouraged me in those far off days, and who has long since gone to his eternal reward.
Sr. Euphrasia Regan. RNDM