Carnaun School: An Ancient Tradition

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The close association of the O’Regan family with Carnaun National School which began with Tim O’Regan and Babs, continued through Mrs. Tim O’Regan and is now maintained by Finbarr O’Regan and Anita Coffey (O’Regan) is, intriguingly consistent with Irish Bardic tradition.  The ancient Gaelic system tended to assign the art of teaching more than any other to specific families, members of the learned class or “Aos-Dana”.  These families transmitted the traditions, laws, customs, history and genealogy of the race from one generation to the next and often maintained a close link with teaching within the family itself.  The long association of the O’Regan family with teaching and specifically with Carnaun has given to that school a unique tradition. and a spirit which has always fostered a pride in local identity and heritage.  This partly explains the special relationship between “oide” and “dalta” that has existed there, a relationship said by Padraic Pearse, to be characteristic of the ancient Bardic schools also.  The school has always been conscious of its location, set firmly as it is, in the heart of rural east Galway and drawing its pupils from an industrious farming community.  Aspects of local life such as farming practices, local lore, the Irish language, hunting, sporting and social activities have always been part of the particular curriculum of this school.  Indeed it can truthfully be said that bearing was “environmentally based” here before the principle was ever enshrined in the official national curriculum.

The link with the Bardic tradition in the case of Carnaun school is not as far fetched as it may seem when one considers that teachers of Tim O’Regan’s generation had second hand if not first hand exposure to bearing within the “hedge” school system, particularly in Munster.  The hedge schools survived as a link between the days of Cromwellian persecution and the setting up of the national school system.  They were chosen by Catholic parents in preference to the parish schools and grammer schools established by the crown authorities and protestant societies.  Dr. T.A. Flanagan N.T. of Ballinasloe has written that the oral method of instruction involving memorisation and recitation which was associated with the Bardic schools was also used in the hedge schools.  Added to this is the fact that Carnaun school, like other national schools, replaced the hedge schools in the area.  It is recorded that at least two such schools were in operation in Athenry parish in the mid nineteenth century.  One school was kept by Mrs. and Robert Kane in Athenry town which had an attendance of thirty pupils who each paid a maximum of two shillings and six pence per quarter.  The setting up of another hedge school at Palmerstown in 1835 is also recorded.  It was established by a Mr. Donoghue and instruction was given in reading, writing, arithmetic and Roman Catholic catechism.  Though there is no mention of this school in local oral tradition it is interesting to note that pupils walked from Palmerstown to Carnaun school in the days before Lisheenkyle school was built.


National Schools System

The Irish National System of primary education was the first of its kind in these islands.  It was established under the new Whig government in 1831 by the chief secretary for Ireland, Edward Stanley.
The setting up of the system was the subject of much controversy, not alone between the various churches but also within the catholic church itself.  One section of the catholic hierarchy was prepared to accept the system but another group, led by Dr. John McHale, Archbishop of Tuam, opposed it.  Archbishop McHale regarded the system as both anti-catholic and anti-Irish in its spirit and intent.

However, a severe shortage of proper schools and the spread of protestant proslytising societies in the Arch Diocese gave the Archbishop no option but to give a grudging “go ahead” to the system.  In a pastoral letter of 1852 he wrote in favour of the establishment of national schools, where there was no alternative.

Thus, Tuam was a late participant in the system and not many of its original school buildings are much older than Carnaun National School.

Carnaun National School – Almost in Turloughmore!

It is an interesting fact that the school standing in Carnaun today was almost built in the parish of Lackagh, probably on the Coolarne side of Cahertymore Crossroads.  Canon Thomas of Athenry first set about building a school in the district around the year 1877 but failing to get a site within the parish boundaries he accepted a site from W. Meldon of Coolarne in the parish of Lackagh.  The stones for the school were quarried but before any building had begun Canon Thomas died.  About a year and a half afterwards Canon Canton came to the parish and Walter Lambert of Castle Ellen gave him a site at Carnaun where the present school stands.  The school was originally built to accommodate forty pupils but was later extended to cater for thirty eight additional pupils.  The last major renovation of the building took place in 1961 when a new third classroom was added.
It is fitting that this proud institution enters its second century refurbished and fitted out to a standard which will prepare pupils for the challenges of life in the new millennium.

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About this record

Written by Martin T Kelly

Published here 05 Feb 2021

Page 060 of the The Carnaun Centenary Book archive.

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