An advertisement in the Irish Independent in July 1931 invited tenders from competent builders for the erection and completion of the proposed new St Nicholas’ National School in the Claddagh. When the new school was built it was described as “An attractive rectangular building with a red tile roof made by the Galway Brick and Tile Company”. The outdoor toilets were at the end of the playground.
Classes started in 1933 with two teachers, Mrs Moran and Mrs Donnellan. Canon Nestor was the manager. The school was divided in two, the boys’ school to the right and the girls’ to the left, and it was formally opened by the Bishop in 1934. Subjects were taught through Irish. In the boys’ school, George Conboy was the principal and he was followed by Mr Blunny and later by Mr O’Rourke. In the girls’ school, Mrs Lohan taught second class. Gretta O’Donoghue joined the staff and remained in the school all of her working life, finishing up as principal. Apparently she had two coats, one pink and the other a darker colour. Her students believed she wore the pink one when she was in good humour so they always hoped she would arrive to school in pink. She was known as Bean Uí Dhonnacha and her colleagues were Mrs Moran (the principal ), Mrs Bríd Murphy, Mrs Anna Reid, Bridie MacDonagh, and Barbara MacDonagh (not related ).
There was a lot of poverty in the area at the time so a highlight of the day was the big slice of bread and jam, sponsored by the government, which was handed out to each pupil. The baker would come with fresh bread every day, three or four pupils were selected to cut the bread, and the jam was taken from a big seven and a half pound crock.
The classrooms were bare except for a large crucifix on the wall which was paid for by the pupils. There was a heating system but it was very cold in winter. The visit of the dentist was dreaded by one and all. Every Friday the children brought in a penny towards the cost of oil and then there would be a raffle with all the names going into a hat, the prize being a bar of chocolate or a pencil. The desks had inkwells and a drawer for storing books so the children did not have to carry them home. Headline copies were used to try to keep their writing straight. When they were preparing for First Holy Communion, they practised with silvermints.
The girls were taught knitting and sewing, crochet and embroidery. Mr Murphy the butcher used to give them wooden skewers for knitting. They were taught singing, mostly plain chant, and entered competitions, as they did with their school plays. The games they played in the yard were marbles (crockies and bottlers ), spinning top, bumpers, glassers, conkers (in season ), and of course football. The wall of the outside toilet was one goal and the back wall of Mr Brennan’s classroom was the other. School teams played hurling and football against the Bish and the Industrial School. There was an urban myth that there was a witch with long red hair at the back of the school near the boiler room, so that area was avoided.
Mr Brennan taught the children the tin whistle and Mr O’Grady started up the school band which has become such an important part of activities. In the early 1970s the boys’ and girls’ schools amalgamated.
Our photograph today shows the boys’ choir in 1958/59 that sang in the Pro-Cathedral. They are, back row: PJ McDonagh, Johnny Murphy, Sean Jordan, Vincent King, Tommy Trill, Dan O’Connell. Third row: P Flaherty, S McDonagh, Tom Glynn, Tom McDonagh, Owen Trill. Second row: Jerry Jordan, Joe Geary, Frank O’Neill, Sean Jordan, Martin Hynes, Joe King. In front are Michael Mullally, Michael Anderson, Michael Griffin, Michael Lee, and John Brennan.
All of the above comes from a book entitled Claddagh National School, 80 years of words and pictures which is filled with stories and photographs of this remarkable school. It is edited by Sean Leonard and will be launched this Saturday in the Claddagh Hall at 7pm. It is a celebration of the school, a delightful addition to any Galway library, and it retails for only €15. All are welcome to the launch.