Wednesday 3 May 2023

Lancasterian School, Cork: a study in education


         The building on the left, now demolished, stood on the site of the Lancasterian School. 

Lancasterian School Cork: 1814-1913[1]

JM Feheney fpm

To fully appreciate the contribution of the Lancasterian school (popularly known as the Lancs) to the educational history of the city of Cork, we must first take a quick look at the educational provision for Catholic children before it came into being. The fact that Catholic schools and Catholic schoolmasters were outlawed is well known. In 1537 the English Parish School Act was passed which obliged every Protestant vicar in Ireland to keep or cause to be kept a school in his parish in order to learn himself, and introduce the English tongue’.[2] Through the medium of the parish school and the English tongue, it was hoped to eliminate Catholicism and to foster the use of English.

Several other Acts of Parliament followed the English Parish Schools Act, all intended to foster the English language and to spread the Protestant religion. These included: the Diocesan Free School (1570), Trinity College (1591), The Royal Schools (1608), The Schools of Erasmus Smith (1669), The Blue Coat Hospital Schools (1672), The Foundling Hospital (1704), the Charter Schools (1733), the Hibernian Marine School (1775) and the Kildare Place Society (1811). The Catholic Church continued to discourage Catholics from attending these proselytising schools and, instead, encouraged the growth of what the Protestant establishment pejoratively termed ‘Hedge Schools’. It should be emphasised that the term, ‘Hedge’ schools was intended as an insult and that these schools were normally held in houses or ‘cabins’, as the homes of the peasantry were called.[3]

Though education was denied to the ordinary people, there is much evidence to show that they had a great appreciation and love of it. The writer, William Carleton, stated: ‘There never was a more unfounded calumny than that which would impute to the Irish peasantry an indifference to education’.[4]

The Cork Charitable Society

It was in this context that the Cork Charitable Society came into being in 1793. Apart from its other charitable work, this institution will always be remembered for two great contributions to education in Cork. The first was that it was responsible for bringing the Society of the Presentation (and hence the Christian Brothers) to Cork. The second was the opening of the Lancasterian School. In 1811 the Society learned of the great educational work being done by Edmund Rice in Waterford and wrote to ask him to open one his schools in Cork. Edmund gave his usual response to such requests. He recommended that some suitable candidates be chosen and sent to Waterford, where he (Edmund) would supervise their religious and pedagogical training. Thus, two young men, Jerome O’Connor and John B Leonard, were sent to Waterford in 1811 and returned Cork in 1813 as members of the Presentation Society and opened a school near the north Cathedral. From this foundation evolved all the schools of the Presentation and Christian Brothers in Cork.[5]

The Lancasterian School, situated at the corner of Wood Street and Great George (now Washington) Streets was opened in 1814 in a location that was then densely populated. Originally, the school consisted of one very large room, 90x60 feet which, at the time, was the largest room in Cork. As such, it was much in demand for banquets and meetings. On one occasion, in April 1844, an important meeting was held there by the Cork Repeal Committee when it entertained Daniel O’Connell and 600 guests to a banquet.[6]

The Lancasterian school was under the general direction of the Cork Charitable Society, of which the Bishop of Cork was chair. The school itself was managed by a special committee, under the control of the Society, which raised funds from charitable events and public subscription to cover the cost of teachers’ salaries and the general maintenance of the school. The Presentation Brothers were invited to take over the management of the school in 1827 and Brother Michael Augustine Riordan was the first superintendent, as the Principal was then termed. In place of individual salaries, the Brothers received a monthly honorarium of £10.[7]

The Name ‘Lancasterian’

The name ‘Lancasterian’ came from the Royal Lancasterian Society, established in London to promote schools organised and operated along the lines advocated by Joseph Lancaster. Lancaster, born in London in 1778, opened his first school in London in 1798. He was a Quaker and insisted that his schools should be Christian, though non-denominational. Drawing on the ideas of Rev Andrew Bell, another pioneer in popular education, Lancaster developed what became known as the monitorial system of teaching large numbers of children. In this system one experienced teacher taught a select group of older pupils, who then taught groups of younger children organised into groups of 10-20. The teaching methods used involved much repetition and rote learning, but, under the general supervision of an experienced teacher, it was effective in imparting the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, including the Catechism. Moreover, it was also a very cheap method: in 1827 all the Brothers and monitors received only £10 per month between them in the Cork Lancs. The Government salary at the time for teachers was about £40 per annum.

Following the formation of the Royal Lancasterian Society, Lancaster himself retired from classroom work and devoted much of his time to travelling around the UK giving talks and lectures. He gradually attracted considerable support and patronage for his work. He was unwilling to inflict physical punishment on his pupils, though he did develop an elaborate system of sanctions, calculated to develop a sense of shame in pupils who misbehaved.

The monitorial system was a great ‘find’ in a period when the state gave little or no financial support to popular education. The system enabled large numbers of children to receive basic education for a relatively small financial outlay and the system contributed significantly to the rise of literacy. It also had some pedagogical advantages: good teachers modelled good teaching to the monitors, who were essentially apprentice teachers. Moreover, the fact that a number of monitors occupied the same space meant that children were not covertly punished. Generally, all serious breaches of discipline were referred to the ‘Head’ teacher.

The Lancasterian system was especially welcome to members of teaching Congregations, when, as time moved on, young religious replaced the monitors in teaching small groups. The trainee teachers could, in this way, observe the experienced teacher in action and gradually hone their own pedagogical skills. It was in this system that some of the great Presentation Brother teachers mastered their craft and developed outstanding study skills. Thus Brother Ignatius ConnoIly, later Principal of Presentation College, Cork, was regarded as one of the finest teachers in Ireland. Brother Peter Curtin became fluent in German. Brothers Sales Mehigan, Aloysius Rahilly, Austin Queenan, and other colleagues went on to obtain Master degrees.[8]

The Lancs, 1850-1 870

In the early days, the enrolment in the ‘Lancs’ was usually about 600 pupils. The children were organised into ‘books’ rather than years, since the school used the range of schoolbooks published by the Irish National Board. There were five Readers, ranging from Book 1 (for the youngest pupils) to Book 5 (for the senior pupils). These text books, subsidised by the National Board, so that they cost the pupils only a few pence, were highly regarded by educationalists all over the English speaking world. Moreover, they were the standard School Readers in several British Colonies, including the Caribbean. In addition to the Readers, the National Board also published texts on Arithmetic, Geography and Agriculture. Even today, critics acknowledge that there was a great wealth of English Grammar, Natural History, Political Economy, Geography and Biblical stories in these Readers. Though a non-denominational Protestant approach was attempted, there was a strong religious and moral tone to much of the material. Thus, much use was made of biblical stories, including those about Adam and Eve and Joseph, son of Jacob. Animal stories include descriptions of stags, bears, camels, cats, cuckoos, foxes and hens. The proportion of prose to verse was about three to one. The readers for older children included material on what was then known as ‘political economy’, contributed by Dr Richard Whately, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, and former professor of Political Economy at Oxford University. Whatever the weaknesses of these school readers, they had two great advantages: they were well produced and, because of Government subsidy, were available to the children at the relatively small cost of less than six pence each.[9]

Paul Townsend Era

After the death of Brother Michael Augustine Riordan in 1848, Brother Paul Townsend became superintendent of the Lancasterian school, remaining there until shortly before his death in 1870. This was a period of great stability for the Lancs. Paul was a man of great dignity and charm and had a wonderful influence on the older boys, many of whom were monitors, When we read what past students had to say about Paul Townsend, and take into account that, at that period the influence of the superintendent was all pervasive, we cannot but be impressed by the ethos of the Lancs. One of his former monitors wrote:

Brother Paul was an ideal gentleman, in his deportment, in his carriage and in his manner; he was most affable and courteous to everybody; he spoke with a tone of sincerity in everything he said, and his kindness of heart and innate nobility of character won him the respect and admiration of all. He had a great affection for children and naturally enough was loved and venerated by them in return.. It was most edifying to hear him say the prayers with the boys in the school with much unction and fervour, and to listen to his religious instruction in the afternoon...[10](Allen, 1993, 145)

Another past pupil wrote:

I doubt if ever a teacher of youth was more esteemed, admired and loved better that than Father Paul was by the boys who had the good luck to be catered for intellectually by him. He stood with the boys for something more than a schoolmaster. He was not feared, any more than a loving father may be said to be feared, for we felt that he was sympathetic, just, and considerate and gave us of his best. He seemed to me at times to belong to the past, he was so courtly in his demeanour ...In or out of school he carried a perpetual smile ...the bigger boys and monitors almost adored him.[11] (Presentation Record, No. 2, 1916, 2)

Post Townsend Era

Brother Paul Townsend was succeeded as superintendent of the ‘Lancs’ by Brother Joseph O’Callaghan, who had previously established a name for himself as Director of St Joseph’s Orphanage in Greenmount and Principal of the National School there. Joseph was born in Kinsale in 1841 and, as a young man, served his time as a shipwright. It will be remembered that Cork, at the time, was the centre of ship building in Ireland. Feeling drawn to the religious life, he entered the Presentation Brothers in the South Monastery, Douglas Street, Cork, where his natural gifts and sincerity helped him to settle quickly and become a useful member of the community. He studied hard and was soon considered ready to take his place in the classroom. Joseph’s director of novices, Brother Vincent O’Connor, impressed on him that there were three requirements to be a good Presentation Brother. These were a) to be a gentleman b) to be a life-long student and c) to be a man of prayer. It could be said that Joseph managed all three. A contemporary wrote of him:

I was at Mass at the South Chapel, and, as usual, a few minutes before the ceremony began, the Brothers from the South Monastery began to file into their seats, in the back row of the right wing gallery. I knew all the Brothers one way or another, except one, a newcomer who caused some little flutter of curiosity by his appearance there. Brother Joseph, the new acquisition, was undoubtedly the finest specimen of manhood amongst them: tall, well-built, good-looking, in the prime of life. He naturally excited my curiosity, as well as that of many others, and after Mass I heard the people discussing him.[12] (Presentation Record, No.16, Oct., 1919)

Brother Joseph was a great success as a teacher and Principal. He had a caring personality, which, when combined with down-to-earth directness, made him popular with young people. It would appear that he soon raised the general standard of the Lancs and, by 1887, one of his colleagues wrote, ‘Joseph, I hear  has beaten all the Colleges in Cork’.[13] A report in the Cork  Examiner in 1887 on the Lancasterian school gives substance to this opinion. It read:

Five Brothers are constantly engaged in this important educational work and a thorough understanding appears to be established between them and their pupils. To the senior Brother, Mr O’Callaghan (Brother Joseph), we believe is mainly due the credit of extending the curriculum as we have noticed. The general aspect of the schools is orderly, cheerful and business-like.[14]

Other Brothers teaching in the Lancs with Brother Joseph O’Callaghan in years 1878-90 included Brothers Ignatius Connolly, Bernard Shanahan, Benedict O’Connor and De Sales O’Connor.[15]

Brother Ignatius Connolly
One of the most famous and successful teachers at the Lancs in the post Townsend era was Brother Ignatius Connolly. He began teaching infants there around 1876 and continued in the school until around 1888. A colleague has described Connolly’s early days in the ‘Lancs’ as follows:

Brother Ignatius’ first years in the classroom were spent in teaching infants. He had two hundred all to himself! The monitorial system was then in vogue and was based on the Lancasterian System. The infants were divided into sections of about twenty each before whom was suspended a tablet on which was a lesson taken from the Primer, and a monitor taught each section its lesson. Brother Ignatius went from section to section -taught, examined and promoted when necessary. Thus every child was taught something definite and progressive each day. Promotion was not by class but individually according to progress. At the end of every hour there was combined teaching, such as Action Songs, simple stories to suit their young minds and marching in the playground.

Brother Ignatius never raised his voice and so was able to secure attention. There was never any confusion, noise or want of control. When seven years old, each child could read simple sentences composed of monosyllables, could point out individual words on a tablet, could spell them from memory, know Addition Tables and could make simple calculations. The Tables were learnt by sing-song method.[16]

The above quotation confirms that the practice in the Cork Lancs followed the Lancasterian monitorial system faithfully. Some of those who criticise this system fail to appreciate the degree of organisation that underpinned it. The information to be mastered by pupils was minutely divided and subdivided, even if learned by repetition. With continual examination and promotion, bright and ambitious pupils moved rapidly through the grades. This accounts for the evident enthusiasm of some of the former monitors, who were generally the brightest and most enthusiastic students.
As the years went by Brother Ignatius was moved to the senior class in the Lancs, where he began advanced classes preparing boys for Civil Service examinations. His biographer continues:

In the eighties of the last century (i.e. 1880s) Brother Ignatius was the principal teacher at the Lancasterian School, Great George (now Washington) Street ...He had a large number of young men studying for the Civil Service. Year after year they won coveted appointments, even in the Indian Civil Service. Many of the students were second and third sons of the farmers from Munster counties. Their fathers gave them two years to pass, or else go to America. As these examinations then required neither Latin nor Science the sixth standard, of the National Schools Programme, made a splendid foundation on which to work.[17]

In 1890, the Lancs suffered a serious loss. The principal, Brother Joseph O’Callaghan, left the Lancs to take up an appointment as first superior of a new foundation in Cobh (then known as Queenstown). Two years earlier, the school had suffered an equally significant loss when Brother lgnatius Connolly was transferred to the recently established Presentation College, Cork. Moreover, several of the senior students at the Lancs are reported to have followed Ignatius to ‘Pres’, where they became the nucleus of a highly motivated academic cohort that laid the foundations for subsequent academic achievements in ‘Pres’. Brother Connolly went on to become Principal of ‘Pres’ in 1892, a position he retained until his retirement in 1931.

Inspector’s Ranking of Schools                                                                    

After 1900, school inspectors used a system of six grades to rate the success of a primary school. These grades were: excellent; very good; good; fair; middling and bad. In an attempt to establish uniformity of standards among inspectors, seven criteria for inspection were agreed as follows:

An excellent school is one in which (a) the whole programme is taught in a highly creditable manner; (2) in which the best methods of teaching are in use; (3) the educational equipment ample; (4) the tone and discipline of high order; (5) order and tidiness exemplary; (6) the school records neat, correct and complete; (7) house and premises of a good class and in good order.[18]

The senior inspectors then went on to give definitions for highly efficient and efficient teachers:

A higly efficient teacher should show special aptitude in developing the intelligence of his pupils; in cultivating habits of order, neatness, attention and industry, and in maintaining a firm but pleasant discipline. His preparation for work should be thorough, and his pupils should attain a highly creditable proficiency.[19]

Though the rating of ‘Highly Efficient’ carried considerable prestige among the teaching fraternity, it is notable that the only difference between the definition of a ‘Highly Efficient’ and an ‘Efficient’ teacher was that the italics (see above) were omitted in the definition of the latter.

Br De Sales Mehigan, Principal

In 1894, Brother De Sales Mehigan (1863-1947) became superior (and Novice Master) of Mount St Joseph, which had then become the formation and training house of the Presentation Brothers in Cork. He was also given overall responsibility for the Lancs, since all the teachers there, being at various stages of their religious and professional training, were his responsibility. To help him, he was given two assistants, Brothers Cyril Hunt and Anthony Nealon, the latter assuming day to day responsibility for the Lancs. De Sales was a man of intelligence, education and culture, who held many different posts of responsibility in the Presentation schools, both in Ireland and England. De Sales remained as nominal Principal of the Lancs until January, 1905, when he was transferred to England. Brother Declan O’Sullivan then became Principal of the ‘Lancs’ and remained in this post until the school transferred to the Mardyke and was renamed St Joseph’s School, Mardyke.
During this period the Lancs was used as a training school for young Presentation Brothers. Like all such training schools, the young Brothers were supervised in their teaching and were made to provide detailed syllabi and teaching notes. One of the young teachers in this period was Brother Albertus Reen, who wrote as follows:

Each man was provided with a DAILY SYLLABUS, a WEEKLY SYLLABUS and a MONTHLY SYLLABUS. The daily had to do with short notes of what one proposed doing in any given subject each day. The weekly went deeper for it contained a full lay-out of each subject for a week and the monthly for a month. Like the devil, who prowleth in the dark, His Majesty’s Inspector of Schools was likely to pop in and Britannia quaked if you hadn’t your syllabuses right on your desk for inspection. To this very day a certain creepy feeling seizes me when I recall those gentlemen, HM Inspectors. School door opens and he appears like the ghost of Hamlet, bulky red book in hand, glowering at everything! Brother Declan, ever on his watchtower, ‘radioed’ through the grapevine that HE was in and nobody dared ask who HE was for there was only one HE.[20]

Teacher Training Qualification

The monitorial system was formally introduced by the British Government in 1846 and it continued in Ireland until 1925. From the point of view of teacher training, it was very successful with intelligent and ambitious students. One needs only to review the career of people like Sir Patrick Keenan to see how quickly the better students could advance. Beginning as a pupil teacher at thirteen, Keenan advanced through certificated teacher to Principal, to lecturer in the Marlborough Street Training School in Dublin, to inspector, chief inspector and finally Resident Commissioner of the National Board of Education. Another example was John Moran from Gurteen, Dromcollogher, Co. Limerick, born about 1830. John, who also started as a pupil teacher advanced through certification and principalship, to become a school inspector and HMI Chief Inspector. Moreover, his scholarly studies obtained for him a Fellowship of the Royal Irish Society and an honorary LLD from Trinity College, Dublin.

Suitable students (both boys and girls) were eligible for selection as pupil teachers (commonly called monitors) from the age of thirteen. If everything went well they were expected to have completed the Queens Scholarship, the official examination for determining entry to Teacher Training College, by the eighteen. This examination gave the same scholastic status to its holder as the post- 1922 Junior Assistant Master (JAM) accreditation. Success in the Queen’s Scholarship was determined by the outcome of a two-strand evaluation process. The first was the annual examination in school by the School inspector mentioned above. In addition to teaching methods, this examination included reading, writing, arithmetic (including mensuration), geography and religious knowledge. The second strand of the process was the actual examination for the Queen’s Scholarship. This also included English, geography, mathematics, general science and religious knowledge.

I have a copy of the syllabus for Pupil Teacher Examinations (Year 1to Year 5) for the year 1875 before me as I write. The preliminary instructions could with advantage be used at the top of College undergraduate papers today. They included the following directions:

  1. At the head of your Paper write:
    a) Your Christian name and Surname in full, and your age last birthday;
    b) The name of the School and the locality in which you are a Pupil Teacher;
    c) The year of your apprenticeship.
  2. The answers must not extend beyond one sheet, or four pages of foolscap. Any writing beyond that will not be looked at.
  3. Of the questions given, you can only answer six.
  4. Write the Question you are Answering at the head of each Answer.
  5. Leave on the left-hand side of each page a margin of this breadth (…….)
    N.B. Accurate Answers will rank higher than those, which, though longer, are diffuse and inexact.[21]

Certification of Teachers

There were different levels of pass in the King’s Scholarship examination, the ordinary level permitting a person to be ‘certificated’ as a teacher. Passing at the highest level enabled the candidate not only to gain entry to a Teachers’ College, where his fees would be paid, but also entitled him to a bursary of £25, together with a pocket money allowance while attending the Training College. At the highest level, therefore, it was undoubtedly a scholarship system beneficial to aspiring teachers. The King’s Scholarship system was operational in Ireland until the Leaving Certificate took its place for entry to teacher training in 1924.

Though only 34% of teachers in National schools had received formal training by 1868, this figure had risen to 50% in 1900. This did not mean that individual teachers were not using the procedures existing within the National Board system to secure a partial qualification without attending a Teacher Training College. This study and training on the job was well organised and compulsory within the Presentation Brothers, though few of them attended a Teacher Training College before 1900.  Apart from the purely academic content of the syllabus, there was a searching pedagogical examination conducted by Inspectors of Schools. Brother Albertus Reen describes the pedagogical requirements for teachers at the Lancs around the year 1910:

The candidate had to have 30 lessons written up in strictly standard form: Object, Apparatus, Method, Conclusion, and, on the opposite page, Illustration. When his ability to teach a class was being examined by HM Inspector, the examiner chose one lesson from the book and the candidate another: the marks obtained were superadded to those of the final examination held every Easter… Sullivan’s School Method, much in vogue once, used to have bon mot headings for each chapter, such as ‘Teachers are born, not made’, ‘A noisy Master makes a noisy school’.[22]

Preparatory School
In 1892 what was known as the Preparatory Grade examination was introduced for pupil teachers. This led to the establishment of the Preparatory School at Mount St Joseph, with the purpose of providing an appropriate education for young men who, it was hoped, would later enter the Presentation Brothers and go on to be teachers. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, there were up to a dozen young men in this Preparatory school, housed in the old ‘Sanctuary’ in Mount St Joseph. Among its graduates who entered the Presentation Brothers were Brothers Albinus O’Donnell, Thaddeus O’Donnell, Columba O’Donnell, Aengus McAuliffe, Ailbe O’Connor and many others. These students prepared first for the le Preparatory Grade (until it was abolished in 1913) and then went on to prepare for the Queen’s Scholarship. Most of the above-mentioned went on to Teacher Training College.

In 1883 state aid was first granted to the denominational Teacher Training Colleges. This induced several teaching Religious Congregations to set up Catholic Training Colleges, such as the Christian Brothers (Marino), Mercy Sisters (Limerick, Dingle, Carysfort), Dominican Sisters (Sion Hill), Ursulines (Lough Gill, Co. Sligo), De La Salle Brothers (Waterford). The Presentation Brothers also established a Teacher Training College at Mount St Joseph in 1904, but they soon found that the small number of candidates from their own Congregation did not justify the financial outlay required. The first Principal was Brother Stanislaus Kenneally, who was succeeded by Brother De Sales Mehigan. The staff included some teachers from ‘Pres’ (such as Mr Malone), who, during this period, acted as tutors for students doing the BA degree with the Royal University. It will be recalled that, during its existence (1882-1908), before the National University was established in 1908, the Royal University acted as a degree granting institution only.[23]

It should be noted that some of the older Brothers never got the opportunity to attend Teacher Training College. Certification by means of the King’s Scholarship was, however, recognised as meeting the minimum training requirements, even for the post of Principal. And, as noted above, some of the greatest scholars and teachers among the older Presentation Brothers, including Paul Townsend, Vincent O’Connor, Ignatius Connolly (Principal of ‘Pres’ 1892-1931), Peter Curtin and Patrick Shine, first Principal of ‘Pres’, never attended Teacher Training College. [24]

O’Faolain’s picture of the ‘Lancs’

 No discussion of the history of the Lancs would be complete without a consideration of what Sean O’Faolain had to say about it. O’Faolain, then living in No.4, Mardyke Place (formerly on the site now occupied by UCC’s Granary Theatre), was enrolled in the Lancs at the age of five on 6 March, 1905. The great writer was then known as John (Jack) Whelan and one of his teachers was the young Brother Albertus Reen (1889-1990). Later the Whelan family moved to Half Moon Street, but Sean’s address in the Lancs Roll Book on the day he was enrolled was No. 4 Mardyke Place, Cork. When reading what O’Faolain had to say about the Lancs, it must always be borne in mind that one of his greatest talents as a writer was his ability to spot and write at length on the weaknesses of people and institutions. This is not to say that he was not able to capture the essence of a situation, but, rather, that his preoccupation with the sordid sometimes led him to overlook more sterling qualities. His biographer, Harmon, says that Sean’s portraits of his youth were ‘fictionalised to give the impression of truth’.[25] He could also be cruel and embarrassing. Thus, he spied out crudities in his own mother’s behaviour and wrote embarrassingly about them. [26]

O’Faolain’s experience of the ‘Lancs’ was, on the whole, happy. He could only recall two objectionable teachers in the course of his six or seven years. The Lancs, he wrote, reminded him of Lowood School in Jane Eyre

because, in spite of the cold, the dirt, the smells, the poverty and the vermin, we managed to create inside this crumbling old building a lovely, happy, faery world. And when I say ‘we’ I mean the Brothers and ourselves, because the Brothers were brothers to us, and I think we sincerely loved them. After all, they were not much more than boys as themselves, country lads with buttermilk complexions, hats so much too big for their heads that if Providence had not supplied them with his ears to keep them up they would have extinguished their faces; ...They had nothing at all of the keep-the-boy-in-his-place attitude that I became familiar with later on in my secondary school.[27]

O’Faolain is also emphatic about the sound elementary education provided in the Lancs. He wrote:

Do not, however, begin to imagine that we learned nothing useful in our old tumbledown Lancs. They ground the three r’s into us, unforgettably -  reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. They gave us a solid basis for whatever we might later wish to build. Before we finished, or as we used to say were ‘out of books’, we had learned fractions, proportion, compound interest, the nature of stocks and shares, of bills of exchange, of discount. We were introduced to the rudiments of physics and chemistry - very simply but none the less impressively (even if the painters’ blowlamp did burst the retort); the nature of oxygen, why a teapot handle has an inset of non-conducting material, that metal expands when heated, the lever, the law of Archimedes and so on. Above all (even if it was done by Sloppy Dan with the black strap) a thorough knowledge of parsing, grammar and analysis.[28]

Actual Lancs Building                                                                                  

A former teacher at the Lancs, Joseph A Conroy, describes the buildings as he observed them in 1879: These schools were one-storey buildings, divided into large rooms by glass partitions, so that a Brother in one room could see into all the rooms. The ceilings were very high, with an abundance of air and light, all well adapted for school purposes. The schools were well furnished, and the national government supplied the cost of maps, pictures etc., making it a comparatively easy matter to equip a school.... No religious pictures, or anything sectarian were allowed and very reasonably so - because the schools were un-denominational, and it would never do to offend either a Hebrew or a Presbyterian if they cared to attend the schools. However, if such pictures were the work of any of the pupils they were not objected to...[29]

Brother Albertus Reen, who taught there 1905-1909, describes the Lancs building as follows:

The old building, a capacious unit excellently lighted, with two low wooden buildings on either side, each capable of holding one class. The main structure had two very large rooms with at least three classes in each - the day of separate rooms for each grade had not yet arrived... The low side buildings of which I speak were neatly described by the Cork boys as ‘sheds’ - ‘The ball is up on the shed, sir!”[30]

O’Faolain also describes the physical set-up in the ‘Lancs’.

The school was composed mainly of two enormous rooms. The bigger of these two rooms, to my childish eyes as big as a cathedral, was, like the nave of a church, lighted by clerestories high up on either side, that is, long lines of glass, that is, bits and patches of glass, and under these clerestories the various classes would ‘toe the line’ about horseshoes chalked on the floor. The centre of this main hall was occupied by lines of desks, like benches in a chapel. Every second boy did literally toe the line: he was barefooted, with the mud of the streets dying between his frozen toes, zoomorphic tracery on his shins from sitting in the ashes of his laneway home.[31]

Though to O’Faolain (in hindsight, sixty years later), the Lancs building and equipment seemed to be primitive and shoddy, it undoubtedly did not so appear to all who passed through it. Conroy, writing about the building in the first decade of the twentieth century, considered the building, furniture and equipment to be the equal of any other school at the time, and this on either side of the Atlantic, since he was writing from Philadelphia. He wrote, ‘I can still see that the Brothers’ schools thirty years ago were in equipment equal to any I have ever met or heard of since’.[32]

Move to St Joseph’s School
As time moved, on it became evident that the Lancs would need to move to a new building in a new location. Fortunately, sometime previous to this, the Presentation Brothers had managed to purchase land across the road from the old ‘Pres’ building (part of this land is now the site of the present ‘Pres’). The western section of this strip of land was chosen as the site of a new school, subsequently called St Joseph’s National School, Mardyke. The new building was completed in 1913 and, on one historic day in the month of September, the Lancs moved into its new home.

The late Mr John J. Kearney (1906-1982, father of Mrs Margaret Murphy, former executive secretary at the Presentation Generalate, Mount St Joseph), used to recall the day the ‘translation’ occurred. The operation was a model of organisation and order. Every pupil in the school, in addition to his own books, helped transport some object of furniture or equipment, the older boys, carrying the desks, and tables, the younger ones transporting smaller items of equipment. The pupils walked in orderly fashion up the Western Road, then into the Mardyke and deposited the items as directed in the new school. Next day the classes operated smoothly in their new surroundings and the old Lancs was no more. Subsequently, this building was reconstructed and became part of the Lee Boot Factory and is now incorporated into the present Square Deal furniture store. The late Brother Albertus Reen, however, was emphatic that the five-foot high facade at the bottom of the existing building is part of the original Lancs structure.[33]

The move to St Joseph’s Mardyke was also noted by O’Faolain:

(The Lancs) has been replaced, a little out of town, by a fine modern school, all tiles and hardwood floors, and it is beside fields, and below it there are trees through which one sees the flowing river with cows chewing the cud in other fields beyond. In our old place there were just a few ragged trees growing out of gravel, and not one blade of grass.[34]

Appendix: List of Principals, Lancasterian School
1827-1848: Michael A Riordan
1848-1870: Paul Townsend
1870-1874: Austin Shanahan
1874-1889: Joseph O’Callaghan
1889-1891: Ignatius Connolly

1894-Jan 05: De Sales Mehigan
Jan 05-1913: Declan O’Sullivan (closure & transfer to St Joseph’s, Mardyke)


[1] This article first appeared in Presentation Studies, No. 16, June 2006,  1-14.

[2] Queenan, Brother Austin, 1945, ‘The Presentation Brothers: Educational Aims and Achievements, Part I, Chapter One.’ Timthire na Toirbirte. Cork: Presentation Brothers, 35.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Carleton, William, 1830, reprinted 1979, Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry.
2 Vols. Dublin: Curry; Reprinted, New York: Garland, 1979, 231.

[5] Feheney, JM (ed.), 1996, ‘Edmund Rice and the Presentation Brothers’. A Time of Grace- School Memories. Edmund Rice and the Presentation Tradition of Education. Dublin: Veritas, 20.

[6] Allen, DH, 1993, The Presentation Brothers, Vol.1: Under the Authority of the Bishops, 1802-1889. Cork: Presentation Brothers, 73.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Feheney , JM, 2013, Presentation Brothers. Concise Biographies. Cork: Iverus Publications, passim.

[9] Coolahan, John, 2004, Irish Education. History and Structure. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration, 20

[10] Allen, op.cit., 145)

[11] Mehigan, Br De Sales (ed.), Presentation Record, 1916-21. Cork: Presentation Brothers, No. 16, 2.

[12] Ibid., No. 16, Oct., 1919.

[13] O’Connor, Br Luke (ed.), 1998, ‘Letters of Brother Augustine Ryan’, Presentation Brothers Archives, Mount St Joseph, Cork, 29).

[14] Cork Examiner 1887, cutting in Presentation Brothers Archives, Mount St Joseph, Cork.

[15] Conroy, Joseph A, 1905, ‘With the Monks’, reproduced in Presentation Studies,
No.6, July, 1989. Originally published in Baltimore, USA, 1905, 36.

[16] Anonymous, 1945, ‘Brother Eugene Ignatius Connolly LLD, Timtire na Toirbirte, 1945, 90)

[17] Ibid.

[18] Coolahan, op. cit., 67.

[19] Ibid., 68.

[20] Reen, P Albertus, 1982, ‘Reflections of a Nonagenarian’. Presentation Studies, September, 1982, No. 2,

[21] ‘Examination of Pupil Teachers’, 1875, Diocese of Beverley, England.

[22] Reen, op.cit.

[23] Feheney, JM, 2009, ‘A Novitiate and Training School at Mount St Joseph: Notes from the Annals’. Presentation Studies, No. 19, 2009, 40-51.

[24] Feheney , 2013, op. cit., passim.

[25] Harmon, Maurice, 1994, Sean O’Faolain, A Life. London: Constable, 22.

[26] Ibid., 37.

[27] Ibid., 39.

[28] Ibid., 42.

[29] Conroy, op. cit., 32.

[30] Reen, op.cit.

[31] O’Faolain, op. cit., 36.

[32] Conroy, op. cit., 32).

[33] Reen, op.cit.

[34] O’Faolain, op. cit., 44