St Nicholas’ Parochial School, a brief history

The Old Parochial School, Waterside.

The Old Parochial School, Waterside.

The Church of Ireland school of the Galway parish of St Nicholas opened its doors on July 12 1926, next door to the Town Hall and opposite the Courthouse. This marked a new departure for the primary education of Protestant children in Galway but it also marked the end of a long and sometimes acrimonious struggle for multi-denominational primary education in Galway.

The issue of primary schooling in Ireland had been contentious because during the 17th and 18th, and into the 19th, centuries, the provision of formal instruction for children had usually been promoted by the Government only in association with Protestant evangelical societies and the Church of Ireland. Many Catholics saw Government funded schooling as an instrument for proselytism. In Galway there was a Charter School operating from 1755-1791 where the Presentation Convent is today. In 1826 a Protestant parish school began to function on the grounds of St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church.

A National Board for Education, which would hopefully remove primary schooling from denominational contention, was set up in the mid 19th century and as a result the Model School on Upper Newcastle Road opened in 1852. It was supported by Fr Peter Daly and had 300 pupils of all denominations. This situation eventually became distasteful to Bishop McEvilly who wanted explicitly ‘Catholic’ education and invited the Patrician Brothers and Mercy Sisters to set up schools, which effectively ended multi-denominational education in Galway. The Model School became a school for the “non-Catholic” children of Galway.

Buckland Buildings was a Georgian house (known as the Parochial House ) built in 1835 which became the location for the new Parochial School. It had been used briefly as a detention centre by the British army in 1921. The first headmistress was a Miss O’Brien. The building was in very poor condition... “The School is like a morgue from the outside and inside it is like a ‘junk shop’... the light of day can barely get through the dirty windows so that the children have usually to work by artificial light.” It was very cold in winter.

By 1962 there were 14 pupils attending the school, which had had no major improvements since the beginning of the century. It was decided to demolish the building and replace it with one classroom and an assembly hall. While this was being done the pupils were accommodated in a room across the road in the building which houses the offices of Maurice Semple, solicitors. At the time it was owned by the Mercy nuns who offered the space free of charge. The new school was designed by PJ Tobin and built by James Brennan, and opened in September 1965.

In 1967 there were 19 pupils, in 1971 there were 38, and by 1979 this had increased to 75. The Parochial Hall was now being used as a classroom, which meant a lot of shifting of furniture when there were functions in the hall. So Noel McDonagh of Simon Kelly architects drew up plans for a three-classroom extension which was built by Scully Contractors of Claregalway and which opened on March 1 1985. Our photograph shows the original school building in the 1950s.

This evening (January 8 ) at 8.30pm in the Mercy Convent, Newtownsmyth, the Old Galway Society will host a lecture entitled Galway Genius of the Thoroughbred Industry. It will be given by John Hogan and relates to his cousin Patrick Hogan who originally emigrated from Ballindooley to New Zealand, where he achieved remarkable success in horse breeding and racing. All are welcome.

On Monday next (January 12 ) at 8pm in the Harbour Hotel, the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society will host a lecture by Professor Noel Wilkins on the subject The Bridges of Nimmo. Noel has been working on a biography of the 19th century engineer who built so many of the roads, piers, and bridges of the west of Ireland, and left a remarkable legacy. It promises to be a fascinating lecture and again, all are welcome.

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