A Slow Beginning: 1854 to 1870

The records show that the old school, known officially as Lack School, although located in Tonlegee at that time, was established in October 1854 and ‘taken in’ by the Education Board on 9 November 1854, about 23 years following the passing of the free education Act. Fr Michael Dinan is listed as patron. The school consisted of a single room that measured 36 feet by 14 feet and was 7.5 feet high with a thatched roof. It was located on a small site on the Cranny side of Lack/Tonlegee crossroads. The school principal was housed in accommodation attached to the school.

While there is no official information on the origin of the school premises, it appears to have been an old structure in very poor condition at the time. Reports dated 1856 give instructions to the teacher to dash and plaster the house outside and deal with the dampness on the floor.

The first principal of the school was Michael McMahon, who took up office on 9 November 1854 on a salary of £14. He served for only a year and was removed from the position on the grounds of incompetence. His salary ceased to be paid with effect from 1 October 1855. He was replaced by Mr Denis Crowley from Labasheeda who was appointed on 26 September 1855. Ms Mary O’Callaghan, the first assistant, was appointed on 1 May 1860 on a salary of £14 per annum.

The school register for the period 1854 to 1863 does not appear to exist. However, the first school returns to the Education Board dated 25 July 1856 gives the following summary information:

Boys Girls Total
Average No. of Pupils for previous 12 months 57 39 96
Average attendance past 12 months 30 22 52
Present on 25 July 1856 14 13 27

The averages for the period 1856 to 1860 were as follows:

 

Boys Girls Total
Average no. pupils for previous 12 months 71 52 123
Average attendance in past 12 months 33 26 59
Attendance 46% 50% 48%

The lowest daily attendance figures in these returns were recorded on 19 October 1856 when 15 pupils out of 101 on the register were present, while on 25 July 1856 only 27 pupils out of 96 on the register were present. It seems the hay making and potato harvesting had taken their toll on attendance. On the other hand, there were 100 pupils in attendance on 14 July 1858 from a register of 139.

Given the fluctuations in attendance and the limited space available, teaching must have been extremely difficult.