My grandmother, Mary Malone-Hastings, taught in Derrymore National School. It is between Drummin and Louisburgh as you travel over the Maum.
It was a one-teacher school, just like Letterbrock, a few miles closer to Westport, where my mother taught for years. Mam had a few ‘artefacts’ from both schools, including ‘Granny’s school clock’. That clock now ticks its time with my sister Máire, another teacher, and principal in Fahy.
Among Granny’s papers were permission slips, dated 1917, from the then British authorities, allowing her to travel to work. When the Free State came into being in 1922, she set about converting Derrymore NS into an all-Irish school.
Known to her pupils as ‘The Mrs’, Granny, a native of High Street, Westport, married Michael Thady Hastings from Tawneyslinaun, Derrymore, in 1919. Grandad was a returned Yank, having worked on the streetcars in Chicago. Back home he was the proud owner of a car (and car house!) and married the local teacher. A room in their home was called ‘The Shop’, where they kept extra provisions like flour, tea, sugar and tobacco for the neighbours.
The school stories of Mam and Granny are legion. Past pupils will regale with tales about the funny days and the not-so-funny days, but always conveying the depth of attention and affection that each pupil received. Children from ‘country schools’ always did extremely well in secondary education and beyond.
The only one-teacher school in the area now is in Drummin, between Derrymore and Letterbrock. It currently has eight pupils and an SET (special educational teacher). Recently, I accepted an invitation from the Board of Management to visit. It was a lovely warm experience, and one could not help but be impressed by a sense of companionship among the pupils and the deep respect between the children and their principal, Tereasa McGuire, and SET teacher, Fiona McDonnell.
Drummin NS has huge advantages. Children effectively receive one-to-one tuition. That’s better than private education! Pupils’ individual gifts can be strengthened while any weakness can be easily supported.
Compare that to large classes where gifted students can be denied further development while weaker students often lack the necessary supports; those in the middle ground can be forever condemned to remain there.
Drummin NS pupils benefit from interacting with pupils of all ages, meeting with other small schools (forming a special social and educational ‘partnership’ with Kinaffe NS, Swinford), and getting involved in activities that elude larger schools. Each child is given responsibility for daily tasks, and everybody takes a turn.
After-school services are available on three days until seniors leave at 2.30pm. Activities include Leave No Trace, Green Flag Schools, zumba, swimming, library, bowling, Wild West, Education First, nature walks (especially at short ‘weather’ notice), ukulele lessons and baking (pupils even get to stir and lick the spoon!). All have access to computer tablets.
True, there is no football team, but that does not mean there is no football. Drummin native Liam Hastings featured on the last All-Ireland winning Mayo teams of 1950 and 51!
The future of country schools depends largely on local people. We often hear the mantra ‘Use it or lose it’. When these schools offer such a rounded, adjusted and holistic approach to education, one wonders if our haste in closing them based on low numbers at a given time will be bemoaned by future generations.
The September roll dictates how many teachers a school is allowed. Strange how a closed rural school will never reopen, even if, a couple of years later, the number of children in the area increases.
Our countryside is dotted with closed schools, forcing people to drive for longer periods, mainly to urban and larger schools. The ‘small is beautiful’ approach, applied so successfully to economics by author EF Schumacher, could also apply to rural schools. The subtitle of his ‘Small is Beautiful’ book is ‘A Study of Economics As If People Mattered’.
Everyone from the greater Westport area is welcome to the Drummin NS Open Enrolment Day on Ash Wednesday, February 26. From what I saw on my visit, it won’t be an hour wasted but rather an hour soundly invested. Small rural ‘country’ schools matter. Drummin NS provides education as if people mattered.