Vol. 9 No. 3 - 2011
The 'village' of Moyallon was built around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries by the Richardson family who occupied Moyallon House. It consisted of about a dozen small, quaint terrace houses together with a school and orphanage. The original school was closed in the mid 1930s and after use as a Sunday School. Youth Club and Table Tennis Club it was solid and converted into a private dwelling. The orphanage closed in the mid-50s and is now also a private house. The school I attended was sited 100m along the road towards Portadown and benefited from having quite extensive school grounds and convenient access to a nearby wooded glen through which flowed Harvey's River on its way to the Bann. In the early 1990s it was replaced by the present school
Although I attended Moyallon Primary School 1949-55 most of my memories are of my two years in the 'Master's’ class. The 'Master' was Harold Jackson who originated from the Birches area and claimed a family connection with the redoubtable General 'Stonewall' Jackson. Indeed, so often did he mention this that he acquired the same nickname!
In Mr Jackson's educational scheme the three Rs occupied only a small part of the school day. He assumed that these basic necessities had been quite adequately covered in our preceding years and with this drudgery safely removed the way was clear to make education really interesting.
Perhaps the best way to get the flavour of life in Moyallon Primary is to describe a typical day and a typical year.
School started at 9.00am. After roll call the pupils from all three classrooms squeezed into the infant classroom for morning assembly as the musical accompaniment (the school piano) was kept here. After the usual reading, hymn and prayer and occasionally an important announcement we all trooped back to our daily reading and spelling test. In 1954 all the pupils (11-14) were reading Oliver Twist and each day we underlined words from our reading for next morning's spelling test. We hadn't a clue about the meaning of many of these words. One such word was 'atrocious'. When I eventually discovered its meaning, it seemed somehow appropriate to this exercise. It was expected that at least some of our spellings would be incorporated into the weekly essay (or composition as it was called then). Poetry was next. Mr Jackson had a great liking for the jingoistic ,'King and Country' type of verse and to our tender ears some of the expressions from `Gunga Din' were not what we learned in Sunday School!, Incidentally I cannot recall much in the way of differentiated teaching - everyone in the four classes seemed to be doing much the same work at the same time!
Breaktime was sounded by a senior boy ringing a large handbell. If our conduct was deemed satisfactory we were allowed out to climb trees, chase each other around the playground and generally get rid of all the energy we had accumulated surplus to reading and writing requirements If, however someone had displeased the Master we drank our 1/3 pint bottles of milk in the classroom while plotting an unmentionable fate for the wrongdoer!
History and Geography occupied the period between break and dinnertime. I don't know if there were guidelines laid down for the content of these subjects for the history always seemed to veer towards Mr. Jackson's exploits as a youngster in the peat bogs and those as a sergeant in the Home Guard. Geography seemed to be similarly parochial — it never departed from the shores of RN. Ih-eland! BUT both contained localities, incidents and people we knew and at least we could relate to these subjects. If time permitted we would learn to calculate compound interest and work out square roots from first principles. Arithmetic was the only branch of mathematics taught, so when I graduated to Portadown College and our fresh-faced maths teacher Ivan Gracey asked who had done algebra and geometry and 27 out of 28 hands went up I remained in mathematical limbo-land for the next four years!
School meals had just been introduced to the area and about half of the 100 or so pupils took them. The meals were delivered from the Craigavon Primary School in Gifford and part of the girls' cloakroom had been converted into a serving area. The tables were set out along the length of the corridor and each table was served by a senior boy and girl. Some of these were excellent. They looked after the younger diners and made sure no one left the table hungry. Others were less conscientious. The server at my table had a prodigious appetite and showed strong bias towards his own plate. Since ancillary staff hadn't been invented and the teachers needed time for their dinners, supervision was non-existent. But the problem was solved when my cousin mentioned this distribution problem to his elder brother!!
Dinner hour really did last an hour then, so there was plenty of time to explore the wilderness along Harvey's river, play football, race bikes around our home made grass circuit, play hide and seek or if feeling less energetic watch a scrap. These were usually short-lived and harmless unless family bonds led to an escalation, in which case a few well-delivered blows from Mr. Jackson settled the outcome! Unusually for that era Mr. Jackson didn't believe in using the cane - his fists, feet and, for the girls, his stubble were more than adequate deterrents. He also believed that the punishment should fit the crime, so smokers were 'encouraged' to finish the packet there and then and washing out the mouth with Lifebuoy soap seemed an ideal remedy for bad language!
'Formal' education finished at dinnertime. Afternoons were devoted to more practical pursuits, some more enjoyable than others. The least attractive was looking after the vegetable 'plots' while the girls did needlework and knitting. Planting vegetables was a wearisome and fruitless (no pun intended) pursuit because if the carrots, potatoes, onions and cabbages grew to any size they were pinched. Looking after Mr. Jackson's prize-winning dahlias was marginally better, if only that we could appreciate the fruits of our labours in the colourful beds along the front of the school. Better still were the reading sessions in the 'bower'. On sunny afternoons we made our way upstream along Harvey's River to sit in a natural amphitheatre in the bank which was overhung with greenery. Opposite was a shoal in the river and here Mr. Jackson would sit in his chair (transported on site by two 'big' boys) and read 'Anne of Green Gables'.
This was one of the few occasions in my school life I would have described as idyllic (if I had known that word). This event was usually coupled with a nature walk along the glen, which often ended prematurely when someone fell, or was pushed, into the river. But the most exciting activity was the weekly bicycle tour. Every dry Wednesday afternoon in the summer term a long crocodile of cyclists led by Mr. J would leave school bound for a local place of interest. I remember visiting Blacker's Mill, Gifford Mill, peat bogs where Peatlands Park is now, Scarva railway station, various hilltop raths (forts), Fruitfield jam factory and Gilpin's farm. And there must have been more. Sometimes we didn't arrive home until after teatime but I can't recall this creating any problems.
In the early ‘50s tape recorders were a recent innovation and the most affordable were Grundig models. However Mr Jackson would not knowingly buy anything German so at much greater expense he purchased a British-made Ferrograph. He recorded literally everything from singing and reciting in school to election speeches and even activities in the local Orange Hall on the 12th night.
On wet afternoons he would play some of these to us. I remember listening to Harry Chambers the Bard of Ballydougan reciting his poems, Capt. Orr delivering an election address and old Len Wilson singing 'Mother McCree'. Once he recorded the school choir singing 'The road to the Isles'. Mrs Bell, the conductor, remarked after the first verse 'there are some who are singing and some who are not'. An easily recognisable male voice could be heard in the background repeating this as 'There is some whore singing and some whore not'. I assumed from the resultant punishment that this must have been a very bad word! There must have been hundreds of reels of tape containing long-forgotten voices and I often wonder what became of them.
The Primary school year started in Mid-August. It was still summer so many of the outdoor activities from the previous June were continued but the main occupation occurred after school. The countryside was scoured for jampots. Only those which had a MF (Ministry of Food) stamp on the bottom were acceptable. These were washed, packed into cardboard boxes and sold to the aforementioned Fruitfield Preserves near Richhill. The money received went towards hiring a bus for the annual 'Jampot' tour, which took place towards the end of September. Only Mr. Jackson's classes took part. This was an educational trip par excellence. There didn't seem to be anywhere in Northern Ireland he couldn't get access to. In my last year the tour visited Aldergrove Airport to look around a Shackleton bomber converted for weather forecasting duties, Newforge Meats where the complimentary sausage rolls didn't seem quite so appetising after having seen their manufacture, the Liverpool Ferry, Woolworth's cafeteria where I experienced the trauma of self-service for the first time, Gallagher's Tobacco Factory and finally Ulster Creameries where we over-indulged on ice-cream lollies.
September was the month of apple picking and potato gathering and traditionally we had a week's holiday even though most of the school had no longer a connection with either.
Probably the biggest event of the year was the Hallowe’en celebration. The whole school was divided into teams of about 8, each under the charge of a senior boy and girl. A few days before the big day Mr. Jackson would allocate areas where each group would build their fire. The male team members collected wood while the girls prepared the ingredients for Irish stew. This was cooked in pots hung over the fire in home-made trivets and usually tasted fine, if a little smoky. Can you imagine the sight of up to a dozen large open fires with children as young as 4 years of age sitting around them? Risk assessment factor would be off the scale and H & S inspectors would probably need urgent medical attention. The stew was followed by apple tart and custard and washed down with lots of fizzy drinks. In the afternoon we donned our 'false faces' and fancy dress and played traditional Hallowe’en games such as 'ducking for apples' and 'apple on a string' and had a fiercely competitive conkers competition. Fireworks were banned except for sparklers but there were always a few minor explosions from the more remote parts of the grounds!
Although there was a large lawn in front of the school it was deemed 'too good' for football. At the back was a scrub area, part of which was used as a cycle race track. Mr. Jackson suggested that if the whole area was cleared and flattened we could use it for football. After a fortnight of strenuous after-school activity we had a playable if rather 'compact' pitch. A match was arranged with a comparable school, Milltown Primary near Lenaderg. They couldn't cope with our long ball technique and we won 3-0. Later in the return match, home advantage in the shape of a long, sloping pitch produced a 3-1 reversal. Other local schools refused to play on our pitch so the football season was extremely short that year.
Christmas was not a big occasion at Moyallon. There were no parties, carol services or indeed any of the activities common in modern schools. The decorations were limited to yards of paper chains made by the infant classes and the festivities consisted of a visit by Mr. Stephens Richardson dressed as Santa who distributed oranges to all.
January was a very busy month. The annual school concert was held in mid-February and rehearsals were held first in school and later in the Reading Room behind Moyallon House which was the venue for the 'Big Night'. The complete programme was compiled and written by Mr Jackson and consisted of songs, poems and sketches, often with a marriage theme, i.e. women trying to get a man and men trying to avoid getting a woman at least on a permanent basis! Dessie Moneypenny was the star of the show.
These months were the coldest of the year and it was usual to have considerable amounts of frost and snow. If frost was forecast Mr. Jackson would throw a bucket of water across the playground and the following day the resulting ice slide gave lots of fun and excitement as well as bumps and bruises.
Snowy days were even better. The field across the road sloped steeply down to Harvey's River. After flattening and hardening the snow with a sheet of corrugated iron the sleighs fairly hurtled down towards, and eventually into, the river. A long line of wet clothing hung over the radiators bore testament to those who were 'successful'. Of course lessons were suspended during snowy weather - after all you didn't have snow every day!
On warm evenings during May and June, swimming - or more accurately splashing - groups would meet on the banks of the Cusher with Mr Jackson and a few other adult enthusiasts . Access was a big problem. You had the choice of jumping straight into the cold water from the bank or 'getting your duck over' more gradually by entering via a very muddy low place where the cattle drank. At any rate this was the only way out so muddy feet had to be cleaned on the grass. Nearly all my class-mates learnt to swim in the Cusher. Later swimming was transferred to the newly opened swimming pool in Gifford.
Sports Day in late June was, I suppose much like any other school with the usual races, jumps and team games. The only probable exceptions were the bicycle races (slow and fast). Moyallon produced only one athlete of note from my era — the late Leslie Jones, who became an accomplished cross-country runner and was decorated for services to the AAA.
My last adventure at Moyallon Primary School was a weekend camp held somewhere near where Peatlands Park now stands. Overnight sleep-overs in school had been a regular feature for years for both sexes. These were held around Hallowe’en on a Friday night and stories of ghostly goings-on were all the talk for days after. But this was a 'men only' venture and it took a lot of persuasion before my mother consented to me going. Thus my introduction to living out of doors involved being transported to the site in the back of a cattle truck just vacated by its normal passengers, drinking very hot, strong tea from a huge enamel mug sitting around a blazing turf campfire, eating bacon butties for breakfast, lying awake all night trying not to hear Mr. Jackson snoring and getting rides on the turf wagons along the bog railway. We returned home the following afternoon in the same cattle truck. After the 'I told you so' lecture from my mother and a hot bath I was glad to get to bed!
Psychologists tell us that our memories retain happy experiences while shutting out less pleasant ones. My time at Moyallon Primary school must have contained the usual bad times of punishments, bullying, fights and accidents but they seem to have disappeared into oblivion, obliterated by the events of the unique education I received there.
Back Row: Brian Hyndes, Reggie Cranston, George Pollock, Cecil Kinnear, John Dunlop, Albert Stewart, John Forsythe, Dennis McMaster, Tom McCauley, Mr Jackson
Middle Row: Tom Bailey, Terence Baxter, Malcolm Black, Muriel Burns, Irene Mc Avoy, Jean Usher, Elizabeth Fulton, Jean McCauley, Evelyn McCullough, Mildred Mayes, Billy Kirkwood, John McAvoy, Alasdair Jackson.
Front Row: Winifred Hampton, Rita Fulton, Helen Benson, Ethel Preston, Heather Anderson, Georgie Kennedy, Ann Mayes, Anella Nixon, Elizabeth Uprichard, Heather Weir.