The First National School in Redwood

Redwood National School ed. Michelle Hogan, published by Redwood National School, Co. Tipperary, in connection with the 75th anniversary of the school, June 2014


There was a letter to the Education Office (the predecessor to the Department of Education) in Dublin from Rev. James Meagher, P.P. on September 8, 1879, reporting the opening on that day of a new school of Redwood, in Redwood House, which was situated beside Redwood Castle.
The letter stated that the school had been 'so nobly given for that purpose by Mr. Henry Trench of Cangort Park, Roscrea.' The letter continued: 'I have appointed Miss Winifrid Carroll, former assistant in the female school in Lorrha, as teacher and respectfully request the sanction of the appointment. There is no school within four miles of it. The attendance (today) was over 50.
He looked for a 'free stock' (of books) and 'all the help in your power for the new school'.
There was an earlier letter to the Office from Henry Trench, dated June 18, 1879, in which he requested the setting up of a National School 'in a portion of my house in Redwood.'
He added that he believed the house was suitable and that the P.P. was willing to act as manager, under him as patron.

(There were historical reasons why the location was a suitable place of a school. The Normans had built a timber structure in Redwood shortly after their arrival. It was burned down by the O'Briens in 1207 and the Normans replaced it with a strong stone fortress. In spite of its strength the O'Kennedys ousted the Normans in 1350 and installed the MacEgans, who were Brehons and Ollaves to that family, as other branches of the MacEgans held similar positions with many of the leading families in the country. 

When the MacEgans were installed they enlarged the Castle considerably, so that it could function as a school. The fame of the school spread and it was helped by its location close to the banks of the River Shannon, which was one of the main thoroughfares in the country at the time. The fact that Michael O'Clery, travelled from Donegal to be educated there, as did Donald MacFirbis from Sligo, is an indication of the fame of the of the MacEgans as teachers.
In the early 1600s the building appears to have suffered fire damage, and in the Civil Survey, which was carried out in 1640 the description given was 'an old ruined castle, the walls only standing.')

There was difficulty later about Henry Trench's role as patron. He died in March 1881 and the agent of his successor, Henry Bloomfield Trench, wrote to the Office in June requesting that he be recognised as patron. In the course of the letter of June 5, 1882 he stated that the original Mr. Trench was patron of the school. He was the owner of the adjoining land and of the house in which the school was held and in which the schoolmistress resided and that he had given this accommodation without charge.
The Office replied that there was no documentation to attest that the original Mr.Trench was patron. The matter appears to have rested at that.


Application Accepted

As a result of Fr. Meagher's request for recognition of the new school the premises had to be inspected and Form A 121 completed. The inspection of the school was carried out on October 8, 1879 between 11.40 am and 3 pm. It involved answering a list of 82 queries and this was completed by a Mr. Dugan, District Inspector of National Schools, and returned to the Office on October 24, 1879.

The information contained in the document is of great interest at this remove. We are told the school was situated in one of the 15 rooms of the two-storey Redwood House. It was a large room, 30'' x 18'' x 11'', and was 'fitted up as a schoolroom.' On the privy situation there was one for the girls but the boys' wasn't yet ready. There was a separate play area for the girls.
The school was to be kept in repair with the manager's and local funds. The schoolmistress occupied two rooms in the house, Mr. Trench's steward occupied three and the remaining nine were locked up.

There was no teacher's desk on the day of the inspection but it was being made by a carpenter.. The teacher was Winifrid Carroll. She was a Roman Catholic. and was aged 22 years. She was trained in 1874 and had been assistant in the female school in Lorrha.
The school was classed as being in the First Division of Third Class. Salary levels varied according to Class and Division. A male teacher in the First Division of Class 1 was paid £52 while the lowest Division in Class 3 was paid £18.

The document tells us, in answer to the question on what amount of Local Funds was paid to the teacher, that her free residence was worth the equivalent of £5 and that school fees amounted to £12.

In answer to another question it was stated that virtually all the children paid fees. Apparently the manager had the right to absolve some children from paying.

Religious Instruction was given for 3 to 31/2 hours per week in the summer and 21/2 to 3 hours in the winter. The school day commenced at 9.30 am and finished at 3.30 pm in the summer and 3 pm in the winter. Thirty-five children, 15 males and 20 females, were in attendance on the day of inspection but there were forty-two altogether on the rolls.

We are informed that only three of the children had been in another school before the opening of Redwood. There was big support for the school from among the neighbouring farmers.

In conclusion the inspector stated that the 'school is much required' with the nearest schools about four miles distant. However, he recommended a three-month trial period in order to ensure that 'the attendance keeps up'.

At the end of the report it is stated that Winifrid Carroll was granted a salary of £25 plus whatever would accrue to her from results. The salary would be paid on condition that an attendance of thirty pupils was maintained.


The Results System

The Results System in National Schools was introduced in 1872. While it meant a significant increase in teachers' incomes there was always an element of uncertainty about it. As it depended entirely on the answering of the pupils and the number present at the examination, the amount could vary from year to year. At the end of every school year every pupil in the school, who had attended on at least 100 days was examined individually by the Board's inspector and was awarded a mark, 1 or 2 denoting a pass, or 0 denoting a failure. Each subject carried its own pass value, which ranged from one shilling for spelling to five shillings for agriculture. Result fees were paid annually in one lump sum.)

As well a free stock of books to the value of £4 was agreed on condition that a sale stock to the value of £1-5-0 was purchased.

Following the death of Fr. Meagher on the 19th March, 1881, Rev. R. Kennedy was recognised as manager.


Redwood House

According to the inspector's report, nine rooms in this house were vacant. It appears that they were later occupied by the two Kennedy families and the O'Sullivan family. The heads of these families worked on the Trench estate. Jack Kennedy, for instance worked as a herd. Later with the division of the estate in the thirties, they got divides of land and houses.

Redwood House and the surrounding estate were originally owned by the Bloomfield family, who originated in Eyrecourt, Co. Galway. It appears they acquired the estate in Redwood during the eighteenth century. It is uncertain when the house was built but it would appear to have been constructed early in the 19th century.

The house was occupied by Major Bloomfield in 1837. In 1840 the Ordnance Survey Name Books mention that Redwood was 'a commodious house at present occupied by a party of the constabulary and also the residence of Mr. Ryan, under-agent to Major Bloomfield.'
The house is marked as a police station on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map. At the time of the Griffith Valuation (1847-1864), Phillip Crawley held the property from Lord Bloomfield and the house was valued at £15.

The estate of 1977 acres was put up for sale in 1851 and purchased for almost £13,000 by William Hort and George Armstrong.

The Trench connection commenced in 1836, when Henry Trench of Cangort Park, Shinrone, married Georgina Mary Amelia Bloomfield of Redwood. Sometime after 1864 Redwood House became a Trench home and it was valued at £18-15-00 in 1906.


Early Pupils

The names of some of the first pupils in the school are as follows. The following boys were in infants: Larry Guinan, Redwood, Thomas Quinlan, Moatfield, John J. Loughmane, Killycross, Michael Lambe, Redwood, Willie Lambe, Redwood, John Sammon, Moatfield.

Tom Lambe recalls being told that Willie Lambe attended a hedge school in Hickey's field at the back of Tom Quinlan's old house, above Redwood Chapel before Redwood School was started. Some information on that school is available in the accommpanying piece on 'Old Schools' from the Folklore Collection. The master was Brian  Carroll, who was related to the first two teachers in the school at Redwood Castle, Winifrid Carroll (1879-1889) and Ellen Carroll (1889-1923).

According to the report English, Reading and Writing were taught. The school was held at night for the men and during the day for boys and girls.

The following girls are listed: Bridget Crean, Fort Alice, Anne Loughmane, Killycross, Mary Sammon, Moatfield, Julia Sammon, Moatfield, Mary Elizabeth Donoghue, Moatfield, Bridget Carroll, Ballea..

The occupations of the parents are also given in the Roll Book and they include labourer, blacksmith, farmer, orphan, herd, gamekeeper, coachman, pensioned policeman.


School Inspections

One way in which we learn of the progress of the school is through school inspections.One of the first recorded is to be found in the District Inspector's Observation Book in which he wrote his report after each visit. In his report of a visit on October 10, 1881, he states that he emphasised to the teacher that no books could be used in the school except those sanctioned by the Office. He also stated that all pupils should be on the register, including infants.

We are also informed that the monitor, Maria Somerville, was absent on the day. This is the first time we are informed that Miss Carroll had a monitor to help out with the classes in the school.

There is another inspection a month later and the inspector reported that one girl had her examination cancelled because she was found copying her answers from a book under the desk!

A Mr. Purser replaces Mr. Dugan as inspector in 1882 and he visited the school on November 15, 1882. According to the report this visit was to examine for result fees. Sixty one were present and fifty-nine were examined.. No results are given but an observation at the end noted that some children were leaving the school as soon as the roll call was completed. The inspector stated that such pupils should be marked absent.


Poor Performances

The next report, dated July 6, 1883, which was probably the result of the examination the previous November, is anything but favourable. Class 1 with 8 pupils was 'weak at tables'. Class 2 with 10 present, was weak at reading. Class 3 with 10 present was weak at grammar and geography. Class 4 with 8 present was middling at reading, poor at spelling and grammar, and defective at maths. Class 5 & 6 with 8 present were poor in 'deduction' and bad at grammar.
The inspector added the following note: 'The defects in arithmetic in these classes show that repetition is not enough attended to: only 1 in Class iv could multiply 8096 x 270 and all failed in dividing 175,488 by 297; in v & vi only one could reduce 10,001 square yards to square inches.
He made further observations. He believed the pupils were prone to copy from one another and 'this would account for the low proficiency in arithmetic.' The girls worked without thimbles in needlework. On the positive side the house was in fair order, with just one window frame in poor repair.

From the information given above the total number of pupils at school on the day was 44.
There is better news following the inspection on November 19, 1883. Fifty-two pupils were examined and the inspector found that 'the answering of the juniors was very good with the exception of grammar.' The oral examination of the seniors was very creditable. However mental arithmetic needed attention. Discipline in the school was good.

A report in May 1884 stated that needlework was not good enough. 'More care should be given to this matter – the girls to be made bring suitable material for sewing unless strips of callico for practice are provided in school.'


New Teacher

It appears that Miss Winifrid Carroll married between inspections held in November 1885 and November 1886 as she appears as Mrs Winifrid Loughnane on November 19, 1886.

There was a change in inspector in 1887, with a Mr. S Allman signing the inspection book in November of that year. In his report of a visit to the school in May 1889, the name of the principal is given as Miss Ellen Carroll. The inspector adds: 'Mrs Loughmane died on May 22, 1888. The school, since then up to 1 April 1889, had been in charge of an unrecognised teacher. Miss Ellen Carroll took charge on 1 April 1889.'

The report continues: 'Many children have been in the same class since November 1887 and it is only reasonable that they should be anxious for promotion. Miss Carroll should, however, be careful to ascertain the fitness of each pupil for promotion before making a change.'

The numbers attending appear to have dropped from a high of 59 in 1885 to under 40 in 1891. The reports given by S. Allman are much shorter than under the previous inspector and information is much less as a result. Numbers begin to climb again in the mid-nineties with 51 being examined in May 1897.

A new inspector, E. S. Cromie, was appointed in 1898 and his reports are much more detailed..

Following his May visit in 1899 he wrote: 'Throughout the school the pupils should be accustomed to speak much more clearly and distinctly than they do at present.' The teacher is advised to use the blackboard more when teaching arithmetic. Also: 'It would be well to use the inkwells. Time is lost in giving out ink bottles and these are liable to be overturned.'

There's a new inspector in 1901, Mr. D. Mangan, and for his annual inspection the following year there were 51 present. The report stated that the 'Reading is fluent, but it is not expressive or incisive.' Also: 'The children should be taught to express themselves freely and to speak distinctly and audibly.'

A Mr. A. J. McElwaine inspected the school in 1903 and found 44 out of 49 pupils present. Among his complaints was the state of spelling and grammar in the school.

The inspector's first report is interesting in that it tells us the subjects that were taught in the school in 1903: English Oral and Written, Arithmetic, Drawing, Object Lessons (sic), Needlework, Geography, Physical Drill.

In his report following a visit on July 6, 1904, Mr. McElwaine stated that the ventilation in the school was insufficient: 'One small window is not enough to ventilate the room.' We learn that there are 31 pupils on the Roll..

A Mr. J. D. Bradshaw did the inspection in September 1906 but Mr. McElwaine was back again in 1907. Further inspections in in that year and 1908 report the same old problems. Reading is generally indistinct. Writing leaves a lot to be desired and more thoroughness in teaching was required.


Detailed Report

There is a very detailed report of an inspection carried out by Mr. J. P. Dalton on May 26, 1911 The report begins: 'I consider the school accommodation here most unsatisfactory. The ventilation of the room is particularly defective: there are no means of sending a current of pure air through the schoolroom and the atmosphere is, therefore, quite oppressive.'

The report continues: 'Much more attention should be paid to order, arrangement, tidiness, etc. Copy books and papers are left lying about in loose heaps, official documents are scattered through the records, and no attempt seems to be made to keep things in their right places. Some school portfolios should be got and used for filing papers.'

'The organisation would admit of much improvement. The whole tone of the school needs bracing up. The pupils seem to be allowed to answer their lessons along in an aimless, unthinking way; the desks are not supervised and much of the work shows great carelessness. The teaching methods show some radical faults.'

A new inspector, J.A. McMahon, was appointed in 1912 and a report of his following a general inspection in March 1915, is much more positive, The report stated: 'The teacher here works honestly though with moderate success. The progress of the pupils is fair generally. There is need of increased attention to the development of intelligence at arithmetic and oral answering. Desk discipline might be easily improved. . . . A globe is needed.'

The most interesting part of the report is the statement that the school was very unsuitable and that it was hoped that the new one would be built with as little delay as possible.. It was to be twelve years before the school was replaced as World War 1, the Rising in 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War, followed by the setting up of the Irish Free State, put paid to any plans in place in 1915.

Inspections were held in 1916, 1917, 1918 and 1919. There is no report for 1920. 

In the 1921 report it is stated that 'Efficiency of instruction is defective in various respects.' This is signed by J. O'Riordan, who gives his address as 46 Grosvenor Square, Dublin.. There is a second inspection in December the same year. J. C. Kyle is the inspector and his report includes the following: 'The accommodation is not ideal but at the same time the room might present a more tasteful appearance: mantelpiece and top of press should be clean and tidy and floor should be cleaner.'


The Free State

The takeover of the Education Office by the Free State Government is reflected in the inspector's report of November 16, 1922. The inspector, who now signs himself in Irish, S. C. Ó Cadhla, writes his report in Irish.

In the course of this report he informs the teacher of the new policy of the Department of Education that the school must provide 1 hour's instruction in Irish per day in every class. In the following years there is a big emphasis on the teaching of Irish, both oral and written. In his report on the 1926 visit the inspector is critical of the progress of Irish in the school. He states that the speaking of the language is awful and the handwriting is equally bad. According to him too many children are showing no signs of improvement.


New School

In the same year the children moved from Redwood Castle to the new school at Kilmurry. There were occasional reports from the inspectors over the years about the condition of the school in Redwood House.

There is a report on 25th September, 1900 that the house in only in middling repair. There's a further report on September 10, 1901 that 'the windows are bad, the floor boards are loose and the roof leaks.' On August 15th, 1904 it is reported that improvements have been carried out. There were other reports that the ventilation was very bad. The report in 1915 seemed to suggest that a new school was imminent. The commencement of World War 1 and the he political developments following the Rising of 1916 probably hindered any building plans and the replacement school wasn't opened until 1926.

In fact there is confirmation of this in the official report of the Department of Education covering the years 1925, 1926 and 1927. It included the statement that at least 350 new schools would be needed to make up for arrears of building that accumulated during the period from 1914 to 1924. As well more schools were required to replace unsanitary and unsuitable premises.

This report also states that during the year 1925-26 grants of £27,652 were sanctioned in respect of the erection of 13 new schoolhouses. The names of the schools aren't given but the new school in Kilmurry could well have been one of them. There is the additional information that grants for new schools were normally sanctioned on the basis of two-thirds of the cost, but in poor and congested districts a larger grant could be given or in extreme cases the whole cost of the building could be defrayed by the Department.

The site for the new school at Kilmurry appeared to be ideal. It was a piece of land owned by the parish and so would cost nothing. It was adjacent to the old school so there wouldn't be any great difficulty for the schoolchildren getting there. There was about an acre of land attached to the site which would provide a playground.

However, it was the site of an ancient graveyard and Tom Lambe recalls seeing bones being thrown up when the foundations were being dug.

The school at Kilmurry was in use for only 13 years when the present school was completed beside Redwood Chapel in 1939. Why this change took place so quickly is a story for another day.


Teachers: 1879-2014
Miss Winifrid Carroll 1879-1888
Miss Ellen Carroll 1889-1923
Miss Mary Guinane (later Mrs. Grogan) 1923-1930
Miss Mary Clune Jan-Aug 1930
Miss Mary Kelly 1923-41
Miss Margaret McCormack 1930-1952
Miss Nora Moran
Miss. Nora Kelleher
Mrs. Annie King 1941-1974
Mr. Jim Keane 1952-1977
Mrs. Joe Needham 1974-2000