School and education

If anything divided opinion among the interviewees it was their experience of school. Many indicated their absolute loathing of school, while others recalled their school years as an enjoyable time. For Mary Moore, ‘They were happy days, the best days of your life.’ On the other hand, Gerry McCann admitted that he ‘detested’ school. Some confessed that they were simply not ‘studiers’ and wanted an outdoor life, working on the farm or wherever. Derek Lorimer, who attended Parkgate School, points out: ‘You were expected to do that much work when you came home from school there wasn’t much time to study.’

What Roisin McLernon liked about Carlane School was the company of the other children which she did not have a great deal of at home as there was a big age difference between her and her next sister. One thing that all of the interviewees agreed on was that there was no school uniform – ‘you were very lucky if you had a coat’ remembered Cahal Boyd – at any of the primary schools.

There was some variation between the interviewees as far as their starting age at school was concerned. Leslie Bell began Duneane school when he was only 3. Isabell Cooper was 4 when she first went to Cogry; her two sisters were already at the school and she wanted to join them. Cahal Boyd began school in 1930 when he was 5½, while Annie Hill was 6. Leith Burgess still remembers his first day at Kilbride School and his mother crying when she left him there. Matt Quinn never went to school after his family moved from Arboe to live near Toome when he was aged 11.

Most of the interviewees indicated that they walked to school. For some it was a mile or less, though many others walked 2 or 3 miles, or even further. Cahal Boyd walked about 3½ miles to Gortgill school in his bare feet – as did everyone else in the summer. Roisin McLernon and Brian McCann also recall children walking to Carlane School barefooted. Roisin herself walked 3 miles to school, ‘and didn’t think anything of it’. Brian McCann also walked 3 miles to school, but later cycled there, one of the few at his school to do so. Leith Burgess walked 2 miles to school, but there were other children who walked 4 or more miles. Looking back now on walking along the road from Toome to Randalstown, Jim McKee comments: ‘The main road was different then. You could have walked the middle of it … and there maybe wouldn’t have been anything, only a horse and cart maybe or somebody on a bike.’ Robert Chesney recalls his grandfather taking him to Staffordstown School in a pony and trap. Because of the distances involved, travelling to secondary school was nearly always by bus, though Graham Andrew remembers cycling to the High School in Ballyclare along with 8-10 others.

Few concerns were expressed about children getting wet while on their way to school. Willie Stevenson recalls walking to school ‘hail, rain or shine’ and if you got a soaking you just sat in your wet clothes all day. Brian McKenna remembers that at Lourdes Primary School in Whitehead those who walked a fair distance in the winter and were cold and wet when they arrived were allowed to sit near the fire. He recalled the children of the lighthouse-keeper arriving at school soaked through if there was a high tide and a strong wind.

Most children took a lunch with them to school. Leith Burgess remembers taking a ‘piece’ (bread and jam) to school for his midday meal. On the other hand, because Annie Hill lived just round the corner from Doagh School she was able to go home for her lunch at 12.30pm. John Milliken attended Mullaghdubh School in Islandmagee where dinners were provided; looking back on them now, he comments: ‘they were the best school dinners ever’.

In some schools the pupils were off in the fortnight before Halloween to gather potatoes. Robert McConnell recalled that the money earned from this paid for a pair of boots for the winter – ‘so that you learned the value of things’. Derek Lorimer told the story of how his grandfather was crippled with arthritis which meant that his father had to start farming at a very early age. To save the School Attendance Officer from taking action against him, he was struck off the school roll in March, when the ploughing started, and was not re-enrolled until October.

South Antrim Living Memories Project wishes to acknowledge the assistance of: