In 1833 Fr William Drummond was appointed parish priest of Killybegs. On his arrival he found that the only good school was the Robertson School on St. Catherine’s Road. In the outlying areas children were still attending the so called “hedge schools” which were being conducted in barns and outhouses. Fr Drummond decided to build two schools – one on either side of the parish, to replace these hedge schools. He had to find sites. He approached some landlords to see if they would provide land for schools. At the western end of the parish James Hamilton of Fintra gave a small site on which a school would later be built. At the other end of Killybegs, Alexander Murray, the principal landlord of Killybegs, who lived in Scotland, responded and in 1834 built a new two storey school-house entirely at his own expense of £200. This was the old Commons School, situated one mile east of Killybegs. The school house was 34 feet by 22 feet and had a slated roof. It was built of lime and stone. There was one classroom in which were four desks and twelve forms, capable of accommodating 70 to 80 children: The teacher’s living quarters were on the ground floor and the classroom upstairs was reached by a stone stairway directly from the ground at the gable.
Life at the School
The first master at the Commons School was John Dargan. In those days, the scholars paid the teacher directly and the rate was 1p per day, but the master was paid a generous salary of £40 per annum by Alexander Murray, the landlord and the pupils were not asked for any money.
The master had the school house free of rent, as well as the school ground on which he could grow crops. During the first year there were 100 boys and 64 girls on the Roll Book but the average daily attendance was just 70. Children were not compelled by law to attend school in those days, so large numbers of pupils were kept at home during the summer months to help on the farm. In the winter when there was no work with the crops, the school was filled with scholars. There were no summer holidays.
Religious instruction was given once a week, on Saturday. six days a week were for teaching. The school hours commenced at nine o’clock a.m and ended at four o’clock pm.
As early as 1837, Agriculture was proposed as a subject to be taught in Irish rural schools which had a male teacher. For some years, the Common’s School operated a Model Farm, using the school plot, as well as the ground known as “the Curragh”, across the road. The Master was responsible for running the farm and he was allowed to use the produce of the farm for the benefit of his family.
On the 29th of March 1838, the Commons School was recognised by the Board of Education and so became the first National School in Killybegs.
Master Dargan remained in the Commons until September 1840. He was replaced by James Hegarty who took up residence in the school house. He was twenty seven.
The Master’s salary was £28 of which the Board of Education paid £20 and Mr Murray, the landlord, the remainder. The value to Master Hegarty of the rent free school house and school land was calculated at £4 per year. At this time the Master was receiving fees from the scholars but these varied a lot. Some were paying four shillings a year while others contributed only four pence for the same period. However, payment was made in labour by the parents. Some pupils were being taught free. The school room was suitable for eighty five pupils and there were eighty seven on Roll.
On 6th December, 1865, Master James Hegarty died. The next principal was Master Ward, aged twenty three. His salary was £44 per annum and this was supplemented by the students.
In 1875 the single classroom was deemed to be too small and overcrowded.
In 1891 a letter was written to the Board of Education asking for help in carrying out much needed repairs. The Board refused and nothing was done.
In with the new
In 1907, Master Ward retired and he was succeeded by Master Willie Diver. He was to remain as Principal of the Commons School for nearly forty years. It was during his principalship that classes in the old school came to an end. A new building was erected in 1922, on the same site, a little to the east of the existing school house. The old school was used for a time for card playing. It was eventually demolished on the instructions of the Parish Priest, Fr Arthur McLoone.
The next Principal after Master Diver was Augustine McCauley. He retired in 1962 and was followed by John Cunningham, a native of Glencolmcille living in Ardara.
1981. Lilyian Holmes (Nee Melly) from Killybegs town joined the staff at the Commons. The building had two classrooms and a prefab was also in use to cater for Junior Infants/Senior Infants/First Class, Second/Third, and Fourth/Fifth/Sixth.
1986. When Master Cunningham transferred as Principal to the Niall Mor, he was replaced as principal at the Commons by Mrs Holmes. She was the first female principal to be appointed to the Killybegs Commons National School.
By September 1986, numbers were sufficiently high to appoint another teacher. This appointment was delayed until 1987 when another prefab was acquired to accommodate the children and teacher.
With the passage of time the building and prefabs were no longer fit for purpose.
When the new became the old…..
1992 . The current Killybegs Commons National School was opened – after several building hiccups! It comprised of four classrooms, toilets, a staffroom and a little storage space.
1994. Mrs Holmes took a career break.
During this time the position was covered by various teachers, until 1998 when Mr Joseph Cannon was appointed Principal.
In 1995 a Learning Support Teacher was appointed at the school.
Meanwhile, what was now known as the Old Killybegs Commons School, or the Old School, was being used by The Boxing Club. It was also a venue for card playing. When numbers and circumstances dictated, it was used as an extra classroom. In 2006 this building, having had some work done, took on a new role as a base for the Play group.
2001. Additional accommodation was required due to the appointment of an assistant teacher. Two prefabs were rented; one was used as a classroom, the other as a Learning Support Room. These served their purpose for a number of years until their condition deteriorated.
2010. Funding was sought and eventually acquired. The money provided was used to improve the sewerage system and build a new section which comprised of one large classroom, a Learning Support Room, an office, toilets and a storage area. Officially opened 5th October 2012 by Mary Lafferty (past pupil).