Derrycarne School

Vol. 5 No. 3 - 1987

Memories of an old pupil of Derrycarne School

by Harold Jackson

I was born on 23rd July, 1908. In 1911, I was enrolled in Derry-carne School and remained there till about 1920. In my time it was always a one-teacher school and a very good one too. Miss Warnock was the teacher for 99% of my time there but I remember Mr Woods too.

When I started school there were six of my family attending and we walked one and a half miles through moss and lanes in all kinds of weather. There were no school dinners or free milk in those days but in very severe weather we were allowed to make cocoa or bring a bottle of milk.

A modified form of Cricket, called Ketty, was played enthusiastically by both boys and girls and sometimes the older children persuaded the teacher to join in - in the hope that lunch time would be extended. Skipping was a girls' game while stones in the hat was played by the boys. Both sexes played with hoops in the appropriate season but we had no money to buy footballs. So unless some farmer killed a pig and gave us the bladder we had to be content with a small roll of paper tied with string. To return to the game of Ketty - we got as much real pleasure as anyone at Lord's today - we even played after school and risked a thrashing to finish a game. It was simple and cheap to procure two stones, a small board called a bat and a Ketty a 6 inch cylinder of stick about 1 diameter and sharpened at both ends. I can remember a girl called Winnie Matchett sitting on her knees with head bowed. "What are you doing?" the teacher asked. "I'm praying to Frank Clayton to make me a Ketty" was her blushing reply.

Heating by turf fire

There was no central heating but one turf-fire in the grate was considered adequate. Families were invited to give money to buy turf but some supplied a few bagfulls of turf instead. On wet cold days we arranged a rectangle of seats round the fire and we all pushed like little pups for a look at the fire. Miss Warnock was fond of Nasturtiums and on good days we all helped her to dig flower-beds behind the front wall. These Nasturtiums thrived in the good soil and fond memories of their beauty still give me a thrill. Another flower called Wild Arum grew abundantly in Herron's Lane. We got a great thrill from collecting the "pencils" and using them as crayons.

We never got money to buy sweets but when an exercise book was finished we went to Mrs Taylor's Shop at Reid's Corner and exchanged it for a few sweets. Mrs Taylor used the pages to make "pokes" to wrap up small items of groceries. If we had money we could have got 24 sticks of rock for the present 5 penny piece or 12 snowtop pastries for the same money.

We had great neighbours in Derrycarne - the best being the Nicholson family - all five generations of them. There was old Tom who wore a large beard. He was the only man I saw cooking eggs in the hot ashes. He simply placed the raw eggs in the hot turf-ash and covered them with Gree-shagh (hot cinders or embers of a turf fire) for about 5 minutes. He then hoked them out with the tongs, peeled them and ate them. They were lovely because I often got the top of one on a piece of well-buttered soda bread.

Milk deliveries

His son was called Billy and his grandson was the famous Tom Nicholson who married Ena Hyde. This Tom carried on a dairy herd and delivered milk to Portadown twice every day. This Tom carried a good supply of Transfers in his pocket and was generous to anyone who helped to milk the cows or wash the milk-cart at lunch time. The transfers were like postage stamps only when you licked the pictures and placed them face down on a clear space in your book the print was transferred to your book. The teacher did not like them but we thought they were wonderful. A son of Tom is called Tommy and he is very musical. He has settled in the Banbridge area. There is another generation still at school - Billy's two sons. "Licking" the transfers reminds me of the Slates we used in those far-off days. We wrote on them with a special pencil and when the slate was filled we licked it clean and began again!

Tom Nicholson's mother-in-law Mrs Hyde was a very great friend to the School. She supplied dainty meals when the Inspector called but her outstanding act was on 11th November, 1918. She heard the Factory Horns in Portadown announcing the Armistice.

She came running into school, banged the door against an easel and knocked the Black-board over the desk where I was sitting. Fortunately I ducked under the desk and lived to tell this tale. Mrs Hyde then ordered us all out and after a few breath-less yells we went home to tell the neighbours. With no TV, Radio or Telephones it was amazing how news spread and quite quickly too!

Saddest news

The saddest piece of news I helped to spread was early in July 1916. Every one couldn't read in those days and we often were invited to read letters for people on the way to school. Two ladies were waiting at the Island Hill with official letters. They had opened them and I had the sad task of telling them that each had lost an only son at the Battle of the Somme. Alas, many more died on that fateful morning and scarcely a child in School could refrain from crying about some young man who had paid the supreme sacrifice.

Brighter moments

But there were brighter moments. In the hay season we got rides on the hay-shifters. When we over-loaded the horse the farmer would pull the lever and empty us all off on the road.

What excitement we all shared when the first steam thrashing machine came to the neighbourhood to thrash oats for all the local farmers. One day it passed the school, I was so excited I jumped up on the seat to look out of the window - I was rewarded with two good smacks on the seat of my trousers.

Nevertheless we had very happy days in Derrycarne. I learned many of Thomas Moore's lovely poems as I sat and listened to the older children singing and reciting. For example:

The Harp that once through Tara's Halls
The soul of music shed
Now hangs as mute on Tara's Walls
As if that soul were fled.


Let Erin remember the days of old
Ere her faithless sons betray her
When Malachi wore the Collar of Gold
Which he won from the proud invader.

We had many races. Usually about once a week we ran to Broughas Road, the Spring Well path and home by the Wood Lane. Another shorter race was round the walls of the school playgrounds. Or even up to Reid's Corner and back again.

Granny Chambers lived across the road and we often went there for a drink of water or to get a sore knee bandaged.

The happiest days of my life

Among my contemporaries were Bob and Johnny Johnston, Acheson Sturgeon, James and George Haffey, Sam and Albert Hanvey, Stewart Doyle and others. What a privilege it is to go to a small school and get an opportunity to absorb the atmosphere of learning from the older classes. I am glad I had such a privilege to spend the happiest days of my life in Derrycarne.

"I live for those who love me,
For those I know are true,
For the Heaven that smiles above me
And waits my spirit too.

For all human ties that bind me,
For the task by God assigned me
For the bright hopes left behind me
And the good that I can do."

May you all enjoy life and happiness in that great little school called Derrycarne.