Rural School Amalgamation

Vol. 8 No. 3 - 2005

Rural school amalgamation in the Parish of Drumcree

Perplexities of interdenominationalism in the early twentieth century

by Chris Moffat

Partnership or amalgamation between schools for the benefit of the children is today's buzz word. But different schools inspire different loyalties and change can take time. It was not so different a hundred years ago - if the experience of Derrycorey and Derrycarne National schools in the parish of Drumcree is anything to go by.

Photograph of Derrycarne Primary School taken on the day that the school closed; there were 26 pupils in the school at time of closure.
Back Row: Mrs Olive Smart (Principal); Mrs Olivia Black; Martin Nicholson
Front Row: Mrs Dilworth; Duane Woods; Jason Woods; Peter Tedford; Philip Tedford
All except Mrs Olive Smart are past pupils of Derrycarne

Our children were fortunate to be at Derrycarne when Mrs Smart was the principal. One typically inspired local history project for Mrs Dunlop's P5/6/7 class was to look into the early history of the school. I was more than happy to be asked to help by taking some pupils to see the old school rolls in the Public Records Office in Belfast. More investigations were undertaken for a centenary exhibition planned for 1991. By then though, sadly, the school was already under threat.

The research, and the eventual closure of Derrycarne, brought to light some interesting correspondence dating from the turn of the century between the school managers and the National School Commissioners about a proposed amalgamation with nearby Derrycorey. A small bundle of letters and handwritten notes dating from 1888 to 1927 was passed to our family because of our connection with Portadown Methodists and our interest in the local history of the area. Transcription has revealed a long history of failed amalgamation attempts. The letters give only one side of the story, but even just one episode provides a fascinating glimpse into the trials of managing a small rural school.

Derrycorey National School

Derrycorey school was established in 1840 by local subscription and maintained initially by the Church Education Society. An application for National School aid towards a teacher's salary was made to the Commissioners of National Education in 1873. A map in the Inspector's Report concerning the application indicates that there were four schools in the parish at that time: Drumgoose and Corcrain, much closer to Drumcree Parish Church, and further out, and about a mile apart, Derrycorey and Derrycarne. Intriguingly, the Inspector judged the area to be 'one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in Ireland'.

Derrycorey School impressed the Inspector. It was reported to be in 'excellent condition, with a slated roof, £22 having been expended recently... a large, airy and well-ventilated schoolroom, 38'x 20', lighted by 7 windows, all new... with wooden floor and new fire place... The school house is well-presented, perfectly clean and provided with a bookpress and ample supply of desks and benches. The teacher is James Martin... married and about 22 years of age... the average attendance is 43 and likely to increase... The school is under the management of the Rev, Robert Hamilton, incumbent of the Rectory of Drumcree... The school runs from 10 to 3. Religious instruction at 2.30'.

The Inspector concludes that he 'strongly recommend(s) this application. About half of the children appear to have attended National Schools, chiefly at Derrykerrin (Derrycarne). This however is a very densely populated locality and there are plenty of children to supply all schools'.

Derrycarne National School

There is less published information about the precise origins of Derrycarne (initially also variously called Derrykernan and Derrykerrin) school. Evidence from school rolls in the

Public Records Office goes back to 1864 when 50 pupils were enrolled. Almost certainly the school's foundation is linked to Methodism. By the 1880s there is a proven link with the Portadown Methodist Circuit with correspondence about the unsatisfactory condition of the original school building. Moves were afoot to have a proper school built. The Rev. William Nicholas, the superintendent of the Portadown Methodist Circuit and Manager of Derrycarne, wrote to the local agent of English landlord, Lord Trevor: 'I venture to say that if you saw the place you would not like the children of his Lordships' tenants to go to it for schooling, nor would you think it a fit place to ask a teacher to live in'.

Lord Trevor eventually gave permission for a school and teacher's residence to be built on land offered by one of his tenants, Seth Robb. A loan from the National School Commissioners was secured for premises to be built and completed in 1891.

As far as we know for the next decade the school prospered; but the start of the twentieth century proved to be a frustrating time for the Manager and Patron. It was clear that there was a large number of schools in the neighbourhood - possibly more than the number of children justified. Beside Derrycarne under Methodist management, a fourth school had been established under the management of the Rector of Drumcree (C of I) at nearby Derryvane in 1900. Not far away, there was also Derrycaw school under Roman Catholic management and Upper Cloncore in the parish of Tartaraghan.

The Amalgamation Proposal

One can only speculate about the extent to which relations between Derrycorey and Derrycarne were strained by increased competition for pupils. Matters seem to have come to a head in 1906 when the National School Commissioners floated a scheme to amalgamate the two schools. Methodist Derrycarne was felt to be indisputably the better building for the merged school; but there were worries that its Methodist ethos would be submerged by the resources of a large rural Church of Ireland parish. These potential difficulties were briefly dismissed in a hand written copy of a report by the Senior Inspector of the National Schools Commission recorded in a copy on lined exercise paper in the hand of Rev W J Northridge.

(This is a copy of the Report of Oct 1906 to which I (Rev W J Northridge) refer.)

Derrycorey National School is non-vested. Very moderate in point of suitability and under Irish Church management of Rev H M Halahan, Rector of Drumcree. It gives 530 square feet of floor space...

At present on Rolls are 52 pupils, 50 I Cs and 2 R Cs

Staff : Mr James Brown... 42 years I C applied here in 1883

Miss Edith Taylor, I C. J. A. Mistress

Derrycarne N S is vested in the Commission, is in excellent repair, has a classroom; is under Methodist management, Rev Mr Northridge, Portadown. Wm. Paul Esq. (Methodist) is patron.

It gives 640 sq. feet of floor space...

At present only 33 are on the Rolls - 15 I Cs, 15 Meth + 3 Pres.*

The attendance shows a marked decline.

Staff: - Mr Wm Brice... 27 years I.C. Applied here in 1.10.05

In case of amalgamation Derrycarne is the more suitable house. The amalgamated attendance on Rolls would be as follows:- 65 Irish churches 20 non-Irish churches, mainly Methodists.

These numbers interpreted by Rule 176(d) would require an I C principal and a Methodist assistant.

Mr Brice is apparently only a nominal I C. He lives in the official residence built by a loan of £250 which it is said has been supplemented considerably from Methodist funds, and the ground rent of which has lately been purchased by the Methodist Body. The position of Junior Assistant Mistress would be unchanged by the amalgamated school - this is only my own opinion.

C Smith.

This report was subsequently the subject of a meeting, convened by Senior Inspector Smith and held in 'his presence', between Rev Halahan, Rector of Drumcree and Derrycorey School Manager, Mr Wm Paul Esq. Patron, and, Rev W Northridge, Manager of Derrycarne School, also Superintendent of Portadown Methodist Circuit. Some eighteen months later, presumably after much to-ing and fro-ing, Rev Northridge wrote to the District Inspector in Armagh, J O'Riordan, raising some reservations about the proposed amalgamation:

4th March 1908

Dear Sir,

The subject of the amalgamation of the above schools was discussed at considerable length in Oct. 1906 by the Managers (Rev Halahan) and myself and Mr Wm Paul Esq. Patron of Derrycarne in the presence of Mr C Smith, Senior Inspector and at his request.

I presume you are in possession of a copy of a report of that conference.

The position has altered since then in only 2 particulars:

  1. The Name Roll (of Derrycarne) then was 33, now (it is) 38. Thus 15 Meths; non 24
  2. The freehold(?) of the T. Residence and Garden which was held at a yearly rent has now been purchased by the Methodist Church and will be free of rent and annuity (?) the absolute property of the Methodist Body.

I regret to have to say that there are many serious difficulties in the way of a peaceful amalgamation.

There is the ill-feeling opinion in the neighbourhood caused by the efforts (in some cases successful) of the managers of Derrycorey to draw pupils from Derrycarne.

There is the difficulty of the teachers and the utter impossibility of these 2 men working harmoniously in one school.

I wish to point out that the Principal of Derrycarne is EC and I stated to the manager of Derrycorey School that if he find a suitable school for his principal teacher to be appointed as a junior teacher master I would not object to that teacher being also a EC. But that I would not consent to the removal of the present teacher of Derrycarne from the School or Residence.

This residence has been kept in excellent repair by the Methodist Body at considerable cost and it would be highly unreasonable that any but a nominee of the Methodist Manager should occupy this residence either now or in the future.

I may also add that if the Commissioners are anxious to reduce the number of schools in this district to what it was before they placed Cloncore Upper on their Roll in violation of the fundamental principle of N(ational) Education by closing Derrycorey the number of schools in this neighbourhood would be ample for all the EC children who are now so hardly pressed to attend schools on Lutheran Principles.

The Derrycarne school is vested in the C (ommission) and is in excellent repair and in charge of a teacher of most excellent character and doing excellent work in the face of much difficulty.

Yours Sincerely
Wm Northridge

It is not known whether these concerns were forwarded to the Senior Inspector or how he might have responded to them. But not long afterwards some revised proposals for a compromise amalgamation, apparently from the District Inspector, J O'Riordan, seem to have been circulated. A handwritten draft: 'Suggested grounds for compromise in the proposed amalgamation of Derrycorey with Derrycarne N. Schools' appears to suggest that the Commissioners might upgrade the amalgamated school to 'model school' status in return for greater flexibility from the Methodists. The draft in the Derrycarne papers is un-signed and on a single sheet of lined exercise paper, possibly in the hand of J O'Riordan.

Suggested grounds for compromise as to proposed amalgamation of Derrycorey with Derrycarne N. School
  1. That the amalgamated school be under the control of three Patrons viz:- the Rector (for the time being) of Drumcree, the Minister (for the time being) of the Portadown Methodist Body, and the local Senior Inspector of National Schools.
  2. That the existing Principal Teachers be provided for by appointments in model schools without detriment to their salaries (The Commissioners, of course do not guarantee this.)
  3. That the Principal Teacher of the amalgamated school be of the same religious denomination as the majority of the pupils
  4. That the adjustment of the financial arrangements between the authorities of the existing schools be left to arbitration.

By November of the same year, 1908, the revised proposals had been put before the Methodist General Education Fund in Belfast and apparently favourably received, as the following letter dated 23 Nov. 1908 to Rev Northridge from the Treasurer of the Methodist General Education Fund, Belfast, Mr G.R. Wedgwood, indicates:

23 Nov. 1908

Dear Bro. Northridge,

The case of Derrycarne School was before the Sub-Committee at its last meeting, & they decided that your suggestions were the best. If the Commissioners agree to amalgamation they must first of all safeguard our teachers & they must pay for the enlargement of our school house. The model school idea is very good.

I am glad to hear that your Portadown school is almost ready for opening. As to payment of a workmistress, I will send half-year in Jan.

Kind Regards, Sincerely Yours
G.R. Wedgwood

With this ringing endorsement from the Methodist Body's financial officers, the way seemed open for the Rev Northridge to assume a much more innovative role in the development of education in the district. The copy letter (in Rev Northridge's hand) below to the District Schools Inspector six week later is positively brimming with charitable anticipation that a resolution of inter-denominational bickering was within the Minister's grasp.

January 29th 1909

Dear Mr O'Riordan

In reply to your letter of the 18th inst. and also to your communication of 22nd October last re suggested grounds for the Amalgamation of Derrycarne and Derrycorey National Schools:

I have laid the matter before the Educational Officials of the Methodist Church and having carefully considered the whole subject, they are prepared, in the interests of Primary Education in the neighbourhood, to recommend the Methodist Conference to hand over to the Commissioners of National Education both School House and Residence on the following conditions:

  1. That the school shall be made a model school.
  2. That the interests of the present Teacher be safeguarded by either getting a suitable position in this school or elsewhere without loss to his standing or salary.
  3. That the adjustment of the financial arrangements between the Commissioners and the Methodist Body be left for Arbitration.

I wish to add that this school, vested in the Commissioners, is in excellent repair, and the official Residence is kept in good order by the Methodist Body, who recently bought out the Landlord's interest in the ground on which the residence stands, and the garden.

The premises are most suitably situated for the purposes of a Model School. An additional Classroom would be necessary to accommodate the pupils of Derrycorey School, and the premises could be easily enlarged to accommodate two or three small schools in the neighbourhood, greatly to the advantage of Education in the District.

This suggested scheme would have the hearty approval of all unprejudiced people who know the circumstances.

The Methodist Church is not willing to give up its interests to any other Denomination; but is cheerfully willing to see a good central school in Derrycarne, under the control and management of the Commissioners of National Education.

Yours faithfully,
(Presumed to be written by Rev Northridge)

Unfortunately, possibly because Rev Northridge may have been misinformed about the true situation regarding ownership of Derrycarne school or about the attitude of the Rector of Drumcree, the reply from District Inspector J O'Riordan to Rev Northridge two months later came as a bolt from the blue:

6th March 1909

Dear Mr Northridge,

With reference to your letter of 29th January last on the subject of the above named schools, I am directed to inform you that the Commissioners are unable to adopt the proposals made by you in that letter.

I am, Dear Mr Northridge,
Yours faithfully,
J O'Riordan

The amalgamation did not take place until nearly seventeen years later. The Church of Ireland and Methodists were eventually united by their common opposition to the restrictions on religious instruction and denominational rights imposed by Lord Londonderry, the first Northern Ireland Minister of Education for Northern Ireland. Their interdenominationalism triumphed when the Minister finally acceded to the inclusion of a special clause recognising these rights. The amalgamation was achieved when the agreement transferring control of the school to Armagh Education Committee was completed in November 1926.

* Note: Abbreviations for religious affiliations referred to in the correspondence have been retained as written. I C - Irish Church indicates, variously according to context, either members of all Irish Protestant Churches, or all Irish Protestant churches except Methodist, or the Church of Ireland only. E C (Established Church) is interestingly, occasionally still used to refer to the Church of Ireland. Pres. and R C translate, as today, as Presbyterian and Roman Catholic.