Picture the scene that may have appeared before any 14 year old student in 1934 or even for many years after.
As they made their way from their homes in the town or the surrounding area, remembering that it was the beginning of the 1930’s when our young State was only 12 years old.
Walking past the imposing high grey limestone walls of the foreboding workhouse now closed Thank God – housing memories of another era. It must have been heartening to see a bright new building full of hope and promise of an education that would prepare them well for life.
Six, 3ft square and 8ft high gate pillars with high quality capping from which hung two 4ft wide by 7ft high side-pedestrian gates and a pair of 5ft main gates at the centre.
These forged wrought iron gates were symmetrically designed with strong vertical lines and ornamental scrolls. A similar railing to the gates adorned the road boundary wall.
To the left inside the gate was a bicycle shed fitted with a row of individual bicycle stands.
Newcastle West Ceard Scoil
The photo speaks the view of perfect balance.
The spacious box frame windows allowed bright light into all classrooms. These windows were ornamented with an overhead projecting reveal.
Behind the cast iron “ogee” gutters was also a moulded projecting concrete fascia-soffit. Going through the porch, into the ground floor hallway, the floor was covered with geometrical patterned Pilkington tiles, similar to those still found in some churches.
The student could have turned left to the Woodwork room or right to the Engineering room. All internal doors were exceptionally wide five panel doors, surrounded by a five inch detailed architrave.
There was a dado rail, a picture rail, nine inch skirting and a cast iron fireplace in all rooms. The first floor of concrete was supported by reinforced concrete beams.
The concrete stairs was three foot six inches wide with a rest landing halfway and a continuous mahogany handrail.
The kitchen upstairs was fitted with very stylish cupboards and an Aga style cooker with all its sparkling copper pipework exposed and a scullery at the back.
Upstairs was a general purpose room, a staffroom as well as a cloakroom and again all were furnished impeccably. At the back of the main building was a 70foot long storage room which was also required as a classroom.
This building was a credit to the men who designed and built it. We know what an impressive piece of architecture this building was in 2000. It must have seen far more impressive back in 1934 when comparisons were made with the standard and facilities of the homes at that time.
Over the next 70 years, this school provided ample, varied and excellent education for its students.
It was a fine building, built at a cost of only £3,900 which, even in those days, must have been considered pretty reasonable.
For a school premises, however, it was rather small for class and subject divisions, containing only four rooms, in which seven teachers had to find space to conduct their classes in Irish, English, Geography, Metalwork, Mathematics, Drawing, Agricultural Science, Woodwork, Domestic Economy and Shorthand and Typewriting.
Later, Christian Doctrine became an integral part of the programme, the classes in which were conducted by priests of the area.
Mr. Eamon O’ Connell
From there, he won a scholarship to the Salesians College in Palliskenry. He won a further scholarship to the National University in Dublin and qualified with a bachelor in Agricultural Science, achieving Honours and was also awarded a gold medal.
He was appointed an agricultural inspector in Co. Kildare. Soon after that, as a young man, he became a teacher in the Vocational School in Tipperary town. From there, he came to work in Kilfinane and in 1935 was appointed headmaster in the Vocational School in Newcastle West.
The first teacher of Irish was Tomás Ó Conbá/Thomas Corbett who also cycled in all weathers to Knockaderry, Croagh and Ballingarry to teach Irish. It was only fitting that the present Gaelcholáiste Uí Chonbá was dedicated to his name.
He was succeeded by Michéal Ó Conchubhair and Michéal was succeeded by Pádraig Collery. In those early years, the other teachers were Irene Ryan, Pat Twomey, Liam Higgins, Ms. O’ Neill and Bríd O’ Connor.
Owen McAuliffe was the first caretaker of the school. Most people’s memory of all Vocational Schools is that they were always situated amid gardens, with flowers, shrubs, fruit trees and lawns.
These gardens were cultivated by the caretaker who was assisted by the students for educational purposes under the supervision of their Rural Science teacher.
Available to them also were the services of Mr James J O’ Carroll, horticultural advisor. He contributed Gardening Notes for many years to the Limerick Leader newspaper.
The garden in Newcastle West Vocational School was noted for its impressive orderly layout and multiplicity of fruit and vegetable produce. All of these fruit and vegetables were used in the domestic science classroom.
The students gained experience of crop rotation and were introduced to many ‘new’ plants and vegetables – sweet peas, broad beans, beetroot, radish, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and various types of herbs.
This gardening experience opened up a whole new world to the point where students began reading Mackeys and Powers seed catalogues. Then there was the flower garden, bulbs, roses, annuals and perennials and the process of bedding, budding, potting, pruning and grafting.
Right up to the 1990’s there was one exceptional and interesting shrub which contained a variety of branches from various other shrubs such as Laurel, Variegated Holly and Weeping Willow inside the wall on the left.
In addition, the school was put to good use for night classes and this added to the worthy impression that they were serving the community to the limit of their capacity. Through the years, the school was also made available to local groups, clubs and societies for their meetings, shows, seminars and exhibitions.
Classes in Irish and Domestic Science were held at outside centres. Teachers encountered many difficulties in the course of their work, particularly the Domestic Science teachers, who usually had to carry their equipment with them, and more often than not had to work by the light of an oil lamp.
Finance, which depended on the rates and Department grants, was always a difficulty and CEOs as well as teachers were frequently frustrated by the lack of it. The provision of equipment alone was not a simple matter, yet it was essential for practical subjects.
The earlier syllabi covered a wide range of subjects, each subject being an entity in itself.
The examinations were divided into three grades or stages— Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced. A first class pass in the latter was accepted by the Department of Education (Technical Branch) as a teaching qualification for a part-time teacher and was considered equal to a university degree.
The Group Certificate was introduced in the 1940s. It was called a ‘Group Cert’ by reason of the fact that certain subjects were grouped together for a particular examination, and to these, optional subjects may have been added.
After two or three years in attendance at Vocational Schools, boys and girls sat for what was known as the Group Cert. For boys this meant either the Manual or Rural Science Group or both.
In fact, young men who went to England in the 50’s were able to qualify as woodworkers on the strength of possessing a Manual Group Cert.
This Group Certificate may have been called the key to apprenticeship in various trades, e.g. Engineering and Electrical, Furniture, Motor, Building, Post & Telegraph (P&T), ESB, Irish Shipping, the army, CIE and other large Irish companies such as Bórd na Móna, Waterford Glass, Hotel Catering etc. A minimum specified number of subjects were required for apprenticeship to the various trades.
The girls took the Home Economic Group Cert. After a further year or two, students generally girls, sat for the Commerce Group Cert, either General or Secretarial, these certificates prepared students for bank, office and secretarial work.
This is one of the earlier photos of the school.
Notice the gravel footpath and the shrubs in front of the building.
Centre of the back row; Mr. Higgins, Mr. O’ Connell and Mr. Twomey.
The Group Cert also offered the opportunity in later years, through scholarships to successful students to continue their studies at higher courses in Building, Draughtsmanship, Radio Technology, etc.
The majority of Newcastle West students found a wide variety of positions locally but of course, as was the case nationally, a number had to emigrate as well.
‘I have visited many schools, taken note of the work done and of the men and women who are doing it — teachers and chief executive officers. I am sure that many of those whom I met are moved by a spirit that is unpurchaseable in cash, that every effort of theirs is directed towards being prolific of good results for the nation, and I would wish to express my deep feeling of gratitude for the fact that such spirit exists among our vocational teachers’
Seán Moylan, Minister for Education (1950s)
A magnificent photo from 1951 with the students and staff.
The back of this original photo states that 34 copies of this photo were ordered.
As time went on, various factors, among them proximity to Shannon Airport and Shannon Industrial Estate, the expansion of the original industries in the town and the appearance of new ones like Deel Vale Products, Scanglo International and Neodata Services, brought about a change in the general outlook.
School authorities, businessmen, members of the Co. Council and others saw clearly, that the future welfare of the town lay in industrial growth.
This new outlook is fully evidenced by the decision of the Co. Council to provide land to enable the Shannon Free Airport Development Company (SFADCo) to build nine advance factories thus creating an Industrial Estate.
This was later added to by the construction of extra advance factories at Gortboy, on the road traditionally known as Bóithrín na Plaigh.
This change did not of course come overnight, and the credit for drawing the attention of the people of Newcastle West to the importance of industrial development must go in large part to Mr. O’Connell, who worked unceasingly towards that end, even to the point of going abroad himself for the purpose of trying to encourage foreign companies to set up branches here.
His involvement in this work acted in the interests of the students as well. It was often instrumental in helping them to find employment and they certainly gained a deeper insight into the value of their studies as a result of it, more especially as he was always ready to share his first-hand knowledge with them.
In this framework, the educational programme worked exceptionally well, especially as it had the added advantage of excellent communication between teachers and students.
This relationship meant that the students could discuss their problems of whatever kind, freely with the teachers and be sure of a sympathetic understanding and assistance. In fact, before ‘Career Guidance Officers’ were even thought of, the teachers in Newcastle West Vocational School were successfully guiding students into careers suited to their personalities and ability.
Reference letters from appropriate departments within the school were valued as much as national certificates by local employers for students. Below presented is such a testimonial from Mr Higgins. Few words but worth their weight in gold. As the student said ‘short and sweet like an ass’s gallop but it did the trick anyway’.
Generally the reference was sought from the teacher of the subject which was most applicable to the employer’s requirement.
Around this time also, there was positive acclaim for the results in some of the major exams taken by night class students. Among the honours obtained by students in Newcastle West in this stage were several first places in Ireland and the seldom awarded Silver Medal.
1951, Left to Right: Mr. E. O’ Connell – Science teacher and Principal, Mr James J. O Carroll- Horticultural Advisor, Mr. P.J. Twomey – Woodwork, Mrs. P. Coughlan – Domestic Science, Ms. Irene Ryan – Commerce, Ms. M. Curley – student who came 1st place in Ireland in Advanced Irish and Silver Medalist, 1st place in Ireland in Advanced English and 1st place in Ireland in Elementary Book-Keeping, Mr. M. Moran – CEO and Mr. P. Collery – Irish teacher.
Many night classes were given by Rural Science teachers and agricultural instructors throughout the country to young farmers to discuss improvements in agriculture. These classes partly contributed to the founding of Macra na Feirme in 1944.
These night classes formed a bond between the school and the community as most of the classes were given by the schools’ teachers. In the 1940s the president of UCC Dr. Alfred O’ Reilly decided to disperse Diploma Classes to various towns around Munster. A number of these classes were held in Newcastle West VEC School between 1950 and 1987.
The late Eamon O’ Connell, who was principal in the early years, embraced the classes with enthusiasm, as he saw the value of harnessing the University’s expertise to meet the needs of the local community.
Refer to a Short History of Aspects of Adult Education in Newcastle West by Connie Murphy, later in this book.
1956 Prize Winners
Front: Joan Enright, 1st Place Irish Gen. Cert, Mary Hartnett, 3rd Place in Ireland Irish, Mary Collins 3rd Place in Ireland Irish
Back: Kathleen Woulfe 1st Place Inter. Irish in Ireland, Mairín Costelloe, 1st Place in Co. Limerick Advanced Irish, Sheila McCarthy, 1st Place in Ireland, Elementary Bookkeeping.
In the mid 50’s, the school, particularly the metal work room, was utilised during the summer to further the skills of blacksmiths and farriers. This was necessitated, as at this time there was a transition in forge work from a manual to mechanical and electrical nature with skills such as welding being introduced. A considerably amount of theory on the subjects was also involved specifically the diagnosis of care and analysis of animals hooves. The students for this course came from all over Limerick and parts of Kerry for these week long courses. Metalwork was not available in some of the other Vocational Schools.
Newcastle West Show 1954
This show was one of the biggest agricultural shows in the country, covering a massive range of exhibits of rural interest. From the Vocational school, Mr. O’ Connell and other teachers were involved in its organisation, and some acted as judges.
Mr. Healy the secretary of the show, was the father of Michael Healy who taught in this school at a later stage. A snippet from the recording of information from the Limerick Leader in September 1954 states of the Newcastle West Show:
‘Upwards of 4000 people thronged into Newcastle West for the annual show, with a total entry of nearly 1,500 exhibits in 236 classes which established new records in all departments’.
The efficient show secretary Mr. Michael J. Healy was complemented on the success of the show and for the hard and unremitting labour he put into it. Over 500 entries in the Arts and Crafts classes provided a really magnificent collection of works of craftsmanship in the spacious lecture room of the library.
The adjudicators in this easily one of the most important sections in the show, were loud in their praise of the exhibits and special praise was bestowed on the prize-winning entries in the woodwork classes, in which the remarkable high standard of former years was more than maintained.
There was also a noticeable improvement in the iron work which as in the case of the woodwork attracted an increased number of exhibits from present and past students of the Co. Vocational schools section.
In the home craft section Mrs. Curtis adjudicator was greatly impressed by the all-round quality. In reference to one competition she said; “I was terribly thrilled by the entry in the fruit and vegetable bottling classes, in which the exhibits were simply delightful. I understand this was the direct result of the recent special course in the preservation of fruit and vegetables held in NCW Vocational school by Mrs. Coughlan, domestic economy instructress”.
In the cabinet making woodcraft, Kevin P. Kennedy, National Bank was a winner, as was Jerry Normoyle, Church St. and Seán Kennedy.
The Leader contained 3 pages full of comment, detail and prize winners’ names. This record is an interesting history in itself. Newcastle West was justifiably known as a ‘mighty town’ of importance in County Limerick.
By Mike Healy
Mike posing with a portrait of Alan Dukes in Newcastle West Library.
Eamon O Connell, an eminent agricultural statistician, often stated that the valley of south west Limerick had the greatest density of dairy production in Western Europe. Newcastle West, with its local government identity Newcastle Town Commissioners, had developed commercially and socially as a market town for the surrounding agricultural hinterland. Newcastle West Agricultural and Industrial Show was held annually as an expression of the social and economic life of the town.
All public buildings and spaces were utilised in the running of the show. The Market Yard was the focus of town centre activities- as the back of the Carnegie Library was opened for pedestrians to view the horticultural exhibits and on the opposite side the opened Co Council sheds housed the poultry and egg exhibits.
The Vocational School was the exhibition Centre for industrial and arts and crafts entrants. Past the school around by the back of the Home, trucks and horse boxes brought the cattle and horse entrants to the Churchtown entrance to the Demesne. The Castle Demesne – Town Part – a relic of landlordism was the Earl of Devon’s gift to the town.
This parkland was the exciting focus for horse jumping, equestrian and cattle judging in addition to numerous stalls and outdoor agricultural exhibits. Exhibition soccer and GAA matches were held during show weeks.
Brouder’s field in Churchtown Road was the venue for Fossett’s Circus whose annual visit coincided with the show. Nash’s Ballroom was the location for the Gala Show Dance.
The Carnival in the Desmond grounds was the added attraction to the town’s harvest festival.
Newcastle West Agricultural and Industrial Show was the only one in Co. Limerick- the nearest being Limerick city and Charleville. Show week itself was the culmination of 4-5 months preparatory work, overseen by the Show Committee.
Nearly all members of the organising committee remained in their respective positions for over three decades into the early 1970s. Many were involved in a myriad of local voluntary organisations but their commitment to the success of the show was unstinting.
Richard Nash (Nash’s Mineral Waters) was the undisputed figurehead and Chairman, Kevin Kennedy (Bank of Ireland) Hon. Treasurer, Michael Healy (my father) Hon. Secretary, Eamon O Connell (Vocational School) Cattle Section, Michael Leonard (Ringwood) Horse Selection, James Breen (St. Ita’s Secondary School) Horticultural Section, Maura Mc Cullagh (Mrs. Sommers) Poultry Section, Mrs. Mai O Connor (ICA) Craft and Textiles.
The Carneague Library was prepared by Jim Breen and Tim Murphy.
The Vocational School exhibition was overseen by Joe McCann, Pat Twomey and John McAuliffe.
Ned Lynch was in charge of Demesne spaces.
In addition to all those above who had specific responsibilities, was a whole army of volunteers who ensured the success of the show. Michael Healy’s (my father) involvement began in January of each year with the scheduling of meetings culminating in two week for time preparation of the show catalogue.
Paddy Reidy (Bicycle Shop Maiden St.) drove me and my father to every town in North Cork, North Kerry, South Tipperary and Co. Limerick to post up show posters printed by McKearns Printers of Charleville.
Advertisements were placed in all the regional newspapers in the south west.
Three weeks prior to the show, the entries for the various categories came flooding in. All my brothers and sisters and myself, as soon as we were literate, now became intimately involved in the mammoth task of creating the show catalogue. My father grandly appointed each of us his assistant honoury secretary.
The floor of the top storey of the Carneague Library was covered with individual entry chits categorised, numbered, officially receipted and recorded, as the skeleton of the show catalogue slowly took space.
Each entry was double checked and then my father typed, as each of us in turn read out entry details in each category. Some names reverberate 50 years later, Neenans and Irwins in cattle section, Ringrose and Wade in Horse Jumping, Dwyer and Flynn in Art/Crafts, Kantoher and Ardagh entries for butter and poultry.
As I strolled around town on Show Day, I felt I had a special relationship with the exhibitors and a certainty that my father could not have succeeded without my essential contribution.
My father presented me with a show catalogue which I marked extensively with winning rosettes, highly commended and exceptional merit badges, as I travelled the entire town to view the success of our show.
First Major Extension
In 1955, to cope with the increasing number of students, a new separate building, consisting of five extra classrooms was built. A Woodwork room and Metalwork room with storage facilities.
These two rooms freed up two large rooms in the main building, one for commerce and the other for general subjects. There were three other general subjects’ rooms in the new building. Also included was a state of the art heated cloakroom.
The hallway and cloakroom were spacious and of interest the floors were covered in terrazzo – easy to clean but prone to much condensation. This material was also continued up to a height of three feet on the walls. The terrazzo lessened the benefits of the boiler somewhat.
An aerial view of the school in 1956, shows the building extension which was completed in 1955.
The presbytery house can be seen on the right of the picture.
Mr O Connell’s greatest joy was to debate and discuss topics of interest and importance. It is fitting that we publish an extract from an article in The Observer where we can best try to understand this man’s visionary genius.