School in the Canton Hall

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The Canton Hall brings a lot of memories for people, especially past pupils of the fifties. It was here that second level education for girls started back in 1947.

Prior to that the Presentation Sisters taught up to Inter—Cert level in the National School, free of charge, long before free education began. After Inter-Cert those that could afford it had to complete their studies in a Boarding School.

By 1947 the numbers coming into school from outside areas was increasing all the time, so the Nuns decided to start a Secondary School proper.

They acquired the upper part of the Canton Hall. There was a large room to the front and a smaller room at the back. In September 1947 they started off first and second year students in the big room and the Inter-Cert class in the small one. The fourth and Leaving-Cert students were “housed” in the Convent Parlour.

While Canton Hall was fairly suitable, it had its disadvantages. Fair days presented some headaches as the entrance to the side (the only entrance there was) was usually taken up by sheep. Many a morning we could not get in and the farmers were very angry to be disturbed. Also the place was not open to us on Saturdays and as we had classes on Saturdays we had to go to the National School classrooms for drawing and music. We had the cookery classes in the Convent kitchen.

The heating system was an open fire in one room and a stove in the other. The caretaker of the Hall, the late Ned Qualter, used to light the fire every morning.

Down on the ground floor there was a Billiard Room. To while away the lunch break we used to have great fun hitting the coloured balls all over the place. We were not allowed to go near them, we were always told they were not our property.

There was punishment exercise for breaking the rules. Looking out of the window onto the street was another offence with a severe “fine”.

Around about 1949 the Presentation Sisters decided to build there own school.
Fund-raising got under way. There was concerts, sales of work, raffles, etc. We were out on the street fair days selling flags. It was great excitement in the beginning but the novelty wore off after a while as I think the farmers and “jobbers” got fed up with us.

However work was started on the new school in the field adjacent to the National School. It was completed in September 1950 and ready for the opening of the school year. The Leaving and Intermediate Certificate examinations were held there in June prior to that. One large classroom was completed for the occasion so as to avoid the trouble of travelling to Tuam Presentation Convent and having to stay there for the duration of the exams, as was the practice before that. So began the Secondary School complex that exists today.

The first building erected in 1950 is only a speck in the midst of all the new buildings there now. It stands nearest to the Parochial House.

We owe our education to those dedicated Nuns who worked so hard to provide a school in those days without much money or resources. Sadly many of them have now passed away to their eternal reward- Sr. Rosario, Sr. Agnes, Sr. Celestine, Sr. Columbus. Happily Sr. Viarney and Nuala Newman, the only lay teacher we had, are still with us.

To all of them we say “Thank You for your dedication and hard work which brought Secondary education to girls in the catchment area of Athenry” – I suppose the first awakening of Women’s Lib.

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About this record

Written by Julia Rooney

Published here 09 Feb 2021 and originally published November 1995

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