This Story is: True Story
The Old School on Chapel Hill
It was my first day teaching at the Irish Harp Centre in Castleconnell. There were strains of harps, pianos, even clarinets all over the lovely old house. Tea was on tap in the big kitchen with its huge wooden table where teachers and parents would sit and chat. I had already roamed the garden, with its various outhouses and even a fully self-contained little cottage. Only then did I realize that this historical building on Chapel Hill alongside the River Shannon had in fact been the local school for a hundred years. As the twenty-first century children skipped in the door, fresh from a few minutes in the playground nearby, I began to imagine the students of generations before.
Curiosity drove me to the Irish Times Archives, and there I even found a picture of one student. A Miss Isobel Kernahan, age 13, Stradbally Cottage, Castleconnell. She looks thoughtful, her long straight hair parted in the centre. She is also very pleased, as she has won a chocolate box by writing a “very neat” letter into Granny’s Corner in the Irish Times on December 11th 1909.
“My Dear Granny, I have only written to you once before and I am going to try this time to obtain one of your boxes. I live in the little village of Castleconnell. I attend a very good school, There are not many pupils attending it, only 11 girls and 8 boys. A large river, which is called the Shannon, flows beneath where I live. “
This “very good” school intrigued me each Wednesday when I would arrive for my teaching. It dates from 1867, when the parish priest apparently fundraised among the local gentry, (many of whom were Protestant), to erect a purpose built village school. It was quite a grand building compared to your average two classroom affair. Boys were taught upstairs, girls below, boys went in the front door, girls by the side. Within a few years of building it, the parish priest was cap in hand again. This time he organized a concert of songs and piano duets in the Castleconnell Courthouse to “liquidate debts” on the school, and the Irish Times reported that there was a “numerous and fashionable attendance”. Did he have an inkling then that in 2001 the renowned musician Janet Harbison would set up the Irish Harp Centre, attracting young and old not just from Castleconnell but from as far away as Germany and Japan?
I went back to the archives for more and discovered another girl not afraid to write letters to the national press. On May 7 1910 ‘Granny’ (The Editor in Chief perhaps?) printed a delightful letter from Aileen Cox, Woodbine Cottages, Castleconnell. I’m glad to tell you she won a chocolate box as well. Aileen was a sixth class pupil and told Granny she attended school every day. Her letter described the annual school treat and prizegiving. “ I got a very nice book called The Sign of the Red Cross. Then I got a nice bag for attending school. Afterwards we had our tea and heard some very nice songs on the large gramophone.” More music, probably in the beautiful room upstairs, the pride and joy of the house with its magnificent views of the River Shannon. A house full of music and children down through the years – that’s a house with a good history.
This story is True Story