A report from the Educational Commission in Ireland in 1826 lists two hedge schools in the parish of Castlegar. The first of these was at Merlin Park, built by the landlord Mr Blake. The 40 boys and 20 girls who attended got free tuition. The second school was at Ballygurrane, a few hundred yards north of where Scoil Colmcille Naofa stands today. It was a thatched house which doubled as a church on Sundays. Each pupil paid one shilling and eight pence per quarter. There were 30 boys and 15 girls on the rolls. The thatched house was accidentally burnt down in 1827, and the school transferred to a stable in the village of Castlegar. Here, without desks or books, the teacher named Duggan from Bohermore taught his pupils as they sat around on stones as seats. Each morning he rode out on his donkey from Bohermore. His salary depended on the few pence he got from his students. He taught the three Rs through the medium of English.
The hedge school survived until 1865 when the parishioners built a national school beside the Tuam Road. This closed when Scoil Colmcille opened in 1941.
In the 1920s, Father Nicholas Fagan was the parish priest and it was he who prepared the local children for their First Holy Communion. He introduced the idea of uniforms on these occasions, the girls wore white dresses and the boys wore white knitted jumpers. To ensure that all children were equally fitted out and that there would be no embarrassment for the poorer children, all the boys and girls made their First Communion barefoot.
Our photograph today of a Castlegar confirmation class was taken in the 1950s and shows how things had progressed from those barefoot days. They are, back row, left to right: Theresa Spelman, Chrissie Giles, Bridie Fox, Peggy McGrath, Kathleen O’Flaherty, Maureen Fahy, Angela Duffy, Anne Furey, and Mrs Donnellan. Middle row: Margaret Grogan, Maureen Grogan, ------------ , Dorothy Fox, ---------- , Nora Blake, ------ Broderick, and Mary Jo Corcoran. In front are -------------- , ---------- , ------------- , Mary Broderick, Maisie Moloney, Eta Fox, -------- O’Neill.
Today, the school continues to expand the local community’s educational horizons, recently winning accolades in science, environmental awareness, and sport as it meets the challenges of a rapidly changing locality. The school is issuing an open invitation to all past pupils and local people to visit the school on Friday May 31 to see old photographs, memorabilia, roll books, and to reel in the years. If you have any old photographs or copies, anything to do with the school, then bring them along. They would love to scan and return them. They will also be recording any stories people might have about the school.
Then on Sunday June 2, the parish of Castlegar is organising a gathering at the racecourse from 2pm to 7pm. The first floor of the new stand will be dedicated to the history, folklore, old photographs, and footage of the area while the ground floor will showcase stands of local businesses and sponsors. The hurling club is organising a barbecue and there will be music, poetry, and song. Everyone from all the townlands in the parish is invited, especially Castlegar people who no longer live there, and I am sure blow-ins who are not from the parish will also be most welcome. It sounds like a very interesting party, not to be missed.