Secondary Education

Vol. 5 No. 2 - 1986

Secondary Education in Lurgan Half a Century Ago

by Emily Hunter

With old age comes the knowledge that one has lived through an Educational Revolution. At fourteen school days were over for those who could not pay for any higher education, and gifted children were denied the opportunity to develop their talents. We had so little in comparison with the modern child who has facilities for tuition in music and drama, playing fields, a cooked meal at lunch time and educational trips abroad. Our school days were more austere: there were no frills.

The three stoned house in Market Street in Lurgan where Kelly's Greengrocer's shop is now situated was part of Lurgan Technical School. The top floor was rented by the Misses Frazer whose fee paying school in their home in Church Place required larger premises. It was called The High School and it certainly was that for the windows of the two front class rooms overlooked the town. The Technical School owned premises in Union Street lately occupied by Mr R Jones' factory and The High School had the use of a Laboratory there where Mr Brosnan taught Science, Mathematics and Geography: Domestic Science classes were held in one of the kitchens and Miss Nan Donnelly was the teacher. We travelled between Market Street and Union Street as the Time Table required. There was no supervision on the way - no crocodile of children waiting for the Traffic Warden to wave them across the street.

It was a Co-Ed School and Junior. Middle and Senior Certificate Examinations were taken. Although the buildings left much to be desired scholastically the school had a high reputation. No one would have dared to question Miss Frazer's authority. We were sent to school to work and there were no problems about discipline.

Games in the park

There was a playing field -the hockey pitch in Lurgan Park and the Games Pavilion was the steps of the fountain. Books, bags, coats, shoes etc. covered the steps and nothing ever went missing. At lunch time those of us who lived too far from home were left in school to eat our lunches. On special occasions when we had three pence we crossed the street to Mrs Dewart's shop beside the Northern Bank and bought three buns.

Fire drill? We never heard of such a thing and there must have been forty or fifty children on that top floor. There never was an accident that I can remember. There were no buses so we cycled to school if we had bicycles or we walked. I had a three mile journey but it never seemed long for there were companions on the way. It was often an adventurous journey, especially when we had to pass a field where a male goat grazed. Our fear was that he might escape.

Every Thursday was Market Day. The town was busier than usual for farmers and their wives came. We passed weavers on the road with their webs across their shoulders as they walked to the factories with their hand woven linen. We saw women with baskets of eggs on their way to the grocer's. Between lessons, we looked out at the busy street and longed for lunch time. There were Red Letter Days. 1 never knew how frequently these occurred as I did not belong to a farming family but when 1 heard the cows I knew.

In ones or twos or sometimes in a herd they made their way to the town. The farmer walked behind and a couple of lads, escaped from school for the day patrolled the sides of the road and stood at gaps and lanes to keep the animals from straying. As we neared the town the fun started. Dealers often came out on side cars and in traps to meet the cattle and inspect them.

If the animals pleased, the bargaining began. To us it sounded like a stand up fight, dealer and farmer shouted at each other, insults were hurled, the dealer turned away and the farmer walked on. Then the dealer turned and the noise re-commenced. It was beyond our understanding but we waited for the climax - a spit and the smack of one hand against another - the deal was complete. The farmer drove the cows to the railway siding to wait for transport to Belfast and the dealer went on in search of other cattle.

Market stalls

We had to hurry then to be in time for school but on our way we met the Belfast women dressed in black pushing hand carts or with packs on their backs on their way to the stalls beside the pavement in Market Street. There they displayed their wares mostly second hand clothes. We never dared to stop and inspect them - children were timed then and we were afraid of the loud voiced women. Lunch time on Fair Days was an adventure. The cattle on the street were out of bounds but the pavement from the School to Church Walk provided enough entertainment.

All along the street beside the pavement carts were up ended, shafts in the air. Farmers had made little enclosures with pieces of wood or boxes and in these pink piglets were squealing and grunting. If we stopped to gaze we were chased away. This was business not an agricultural show.

There were stalls with delf [sic] on them and men throwing plates into the air, shouting their wares and attracting a crowd. A seller of patent medicines stood on a box, cases open round him and offered cures of every disease he too was well patronised.

There were men from the Monteaghs [sic] with their turf carts piled high and fowl men with terrified hens jumbled together. I could not bear to look at them.

Two men I'll never forget.

They were entertainers. One was wreathed in chains locked and bolted. His gasps and contortions held us spell bound but when he was free and the cap came round we had to move on. The other one was a different performer. He held a torch and from his mouth there came a terrific flame - a real dragon. That lunch hour was always the shortest.

When school was over and we came out the cows were gone, the stalls had disappeared and the town had returned to normal. As we walked home along the country road there were other travellers walking very irregularly in the same direction.

That too was part of the Fair Day. School had its compensations.