The school under the railway bridge

The Old Crumlin school, a repository of many memories for the ‘railway children’ who went there for over a century.

The Old Crumlin school, a repository of many memories for the ‘railway children’ who went there for over a century.

Apart from the profound influence that teachers had on their young students at Crumlin National School, Ballyglunin, Co Galway, the passing trains on the old Claremorris-Limerick line told them all the time of day, and the seasons of the year. The old school was located practically under the railway bridge. The train passed only yards from the classrooms. “We would wave out at the trains passing....” recalls Phil Forde, who stared school there when she was three years old in 1935. “There would be extra trains during the beet campaign. The beet would all go to the station in the horse and cart, and there would be about 20 wagons after the steam engine.”

It was a different world. “ We lived simply,” writes Phil. “ We had our own hens, eggs, and our own chickens if you had a cock. We had our own milk from the cows. We made butter in the churn, and made bread with the buttermilk. We had carrots, onions, parsnips, turnips, potatoes. We would bring the wheat to the mill, and come home with bags of ground wholemeal. We would only have to buy the flour. We had marrows growing in the garden for jam. We would kill one or two pigs a year and salt them. They would be put into barrels when cut into slices to mature. So we had our own bacon.”

Jarlath Coleman began school at Crumlin NS in 1955. His overwhelming memory “is of the trains passing as they invaded our space momentarily, marking the time of day, and giving us a mental connection with the great outside world. Like many of his family Jarlath (now working for the EU in Brussels ), left his small parish to seek a better way of life on the same train.

Willie Treacy, Laraghmore, says “The trains passed very regularly. The first one at five to nine in the morning, just as we were going to school. They were really on time. In fact a lot of locals didn’t even have clocks. They relied on the trains to know what time of day it was.” But the train was also the path out of Ballyglunin into the outside world. Willie adds this sad picture of emigration: “ Those going to England would use the train. You would cycle down to Ballyglunin station, leave the bike there for someone to pick up after, take the one o’clock train to Athenry, then to Dublin, then the nine o’clock boat to England.”*

‘Robbery and disorder’

Ballyglunin, with the parishes of Kilmoylan, Belclare, Killerin, Annaghdown, and Tuam, Abbeyknockmoy, Tiaquin, and the parish of Rahoon, Galway, was part of the 10,000 acre Blake estate, which was originally a Cromwellian settlement. To give us a flavour of the times when the school opened, July 1 1885, I read that in December of the same year the local priests, led by Canon GJ Burke, went to Walter M Blake at his house, Ballyglunin Park, to seek a reduction in his tenants’ rent. They had prepared a courteous petition pointing out that because of the ‘present great depression in stock, and all kinds of farm produce, particularly the low price of pigs, it is impossible this year to pay your full rent.’

It was not an unreasonable request at this time of poor harvests, bad farm prices and the growing menace against landlords as the Land War became more vicious; but for some reason Blake ‘got into a white heat of passion. He commenced lecturing the priests on their duties, stating excitedly they should mind their own business, and not interfere between himself and his tenants, that they were encouraging robbery and disorder.’

‘At this moment the poor tenants came before this wealthy landlord’s windows, anxious to know the result of the interview. On seeing them he ordered them off his demesne, roaring at the top of his voice that he would summon them for tresspass.’***

However, not all the Blakes were bad landlords. Mr Thomas Seymour Blake of Crumlin Park, Ballyglunin, leased the site for the schoolhouse for ‘the education of the poor children of the parish.’

Friendships to treasure

I am gleaning these memories from a very fine book compiled by Catherine Forde, to mark the 125th anniversary of the opening of the first national school at Crumlin, Ballyglunin, last year.*** Some remarkable documents survive telling us about the school’s history, including the plea for a teacher’s residence, as up to that time the poor teachers had to walk from a neighbouring town five or six miles away. A report states: ‘How in the name of common sense can they, after walking that distance on a wet winter’s morning or during the heat of Summer, be expected to bestow reasonable attention to their classes...’ How indeed. They got their two-story residence.

The school participated in the Folklore Scheme 1937-1938, where the children interviewed the old people in the village, and the parish. They sourced the origin of the word ‘Ballyglunin’. Apparently, tradition says that local people stole some cattle belonging to the priest, and sold them at Mountbellew. The priest followed them, and when he heard the cattle were sold, he got into such a rage that he knelt down, leaving the marks of his knees (Gluin ) on the ground. Their research work can be viewed on microfilm in the Galway Co Library, today.

There was a more serious investigation on whether the original teachers, John and Honoria Hoban, had used excessive force in punishing an 11-year-old boy. The Hobans were remanded in Galway gaol! Further investigation by the Commissioners of National Education however, revealed that it did not consider that the child’s illness was mainly caused by the punishment. Yet John Hoban was reprimanded, and warned ‘against a repetition of such an irregularity.’

Phil Forde remembers that on a ‘a rare day out we would walk to Ballyglunin station, get the train to Athenry, and from there walk to Ladyswell, on August 15 for prayers and devotions. We would have to leave early to get the last train home. Another day out would be a walk to Knockroe. I never remember unhappiness as a child or any badness between children.’

I have noticed how well our national schools are looking in recent days despite these times of recession. Most have been freshly painted, minor repair jobs done, their names proudly displayed in large letters. National schools are the centre of our community life and rightly prized in any town or village. Ms Niamh Molloy, the principal of Crumlin NS today, reminds us that: ‘Our primary schools are the foundation blocks of a lifetime education not only in academia but also in sport, culture, and most importantly, the friendships of our primary years that we will always refer back to, treasure, and hold dear, no matter where we settle in later life.’


* The line closed on April 4 1976, 80 years after its inauguration. However, as part of the Transport 21 plan, the Limerick -Sligo route is slowly being restored in stages as the Western Railway Corridor. The Athenry-Claremorris section is due to open sometime between 2011 and 2014. I‘ll keep my fingers crossed on this one.

**This was reported in the Tuam Herald, December 1885. However, in March 1916 the Blakes accepted a final offer of more than £60,000 from the Congested Districts Board for 9,800 acres of their estate.

***Crumlin National School 1885-2010 is on sale for €15 from Ryan’s of Caraghmore, Ballyglunin Post Office, or from O’Donoghues of Abbeyknockmoy. Also available from Ms Catherine Forde at 087 6900352.


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