Galway Grammar School, 1903

Galway Grammar School was a Protestant institution established under the Erasmus Smith Trust in 1669. It opened around 1675 and has been located at College Road since 1815. The 1950/51 school year was an eventful one when, in November of that year, a wing of the school was gutted by fire, happily, there was no danger of loss of life. Four months later a dormitory ceiling collapsed. The headmaster, George Coughlan, said that the collapse was caused by a 24 foot beam being charred through by a chimney fire. The beam brought down two other beams and half the ceiling. In many old buildings, beams went into chimney flues and successive chimney fires charred them until they came down. Neither incident occasioned an interruption in the school routine.

John Kennedy and Johnnie Ross from Monaghan entered the school in September 1950. Their families brought them to Mullingar where they got the train to Galway. They were met there by Michael Joyce, gatekeeper at the school, with a donkey and cart. Their trunks were loaded on to the cart and they walked up to the school. Twelve pupils entered that September and the total pupil body, comprising male boarders and male and female day pupils, was about 50.

Boarders were accommodated in two dormitories, junior and senior. Each dormitory slept about 20 beds, three to four feet apart. A teacher slept in one partitioned area while a prefect slept in another. Morning ablutions were undertaken with cold water. There was one toilet upstairs and four downstairs. They were partitioned but had no doors. There were three baths and boys bathed in order of seniority. There was never sufficient hot water and the first fill was frequently used by all. Open fires provided heating and pupils had to cope with the severe cold of the dormitories.

Juniors and seniors took their meals at separate tables. Residential teachers and matron sat at another table. Female pupils who took their lunch at school sat at a further table and were enjoined not to converse with the boys. The food was perceived to be good both in quantity and in quality. Most were in a position to supplement their diet with a tuck box kept under lock and key.

School facilities, other than playing pitches, were limited and consisted of a handball alley, a billiard table, some library books, and a radio. Sport was the main pastime with the headmaster and several teachers interested and involved. Cricket was recommenced in 1949 with the school playing a team drawn from Galway banks and offices. There were occasional hockey matches and table tennis was played. Rugby was the most popular game but lack of numbers made it difficult to field a team. In 1958 they won the Connacht Junior Schools Cup. They were allowed to play some overage players and as there were only 30 pupils in the school, some of whom were girls, it meant that all were required to play.

Attendance at religious services, morning and evening, was required on Sundays.

The Grammar School closed in June 1958.

All of the above is taken from an article by Michael Kavanagh which is included in a new book entitled Growing Up in Galway: Histories and Memories, edited by Sarah-Anne Buckley and John Cunningham. This volume emerged from a cluster of talks held in Galway City Museum held on Culture Night 2016. It spans a period from the 1840s to the 1970s with a mix of urban and rural perspectives, all relating to County Galway – oral histories, songs, research papers, document studies, etc. It should be in all Galway libraries and is great value in good bookshops at €10. Highly recommended.

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