In 1863, Bawnmore was a busy place. The people worked hard on the land trying to produce enough food for their family. Memories of the Great Potato Famine of 1842 were fresh and empty houses told the tragic story of families who were wiped out during famine and of those who emigrated in the following years. Families remained dependent on the potato crop and its failure could mean a long hard winter and in many cases death and disease.
Most families in the area were tenants to landlords and had to try desperately to raise the money for rent. Farmers attended markets in Galway, Headford, Athenry and Tuam to sell their produce – eggs, butter, potatoes, turnips and also livestock. When farmers were bringing livestock to the market in Galway they usually set out at 2.00 am in order to get a good place – anywhere from the top of Shop Street to Bohermore. Crops and vegetables were usually sold near the American Hotel.
The main landlords of the area were the Kirwans of Bawnmore House, the Lamberts of Gortadooey, Mullacuttra and Waterdale, William Burke of Knockdoemore and the Blakes who also owned some of the Waterdale area. Though evictions were common in rural Ireland and they were not unheard of in the Bawnmore area, Richard Kirwan had a name of being fair and was not a cruel man. It is with him that the story of our school begins.
It was he who established the school in 1863 to educate the children of his tenants.
This provided a great opportunity for the children of the area as prior to this education came in the form of a Hedge School in the Liscaninane area. The hedge school would have been weather dependent and children would have been unused to receiving formal, regular schooling.
On the 5th of February 1863 the school was opened on the Corrandulla Road about 100 metres from today’s school. There were 81 children – over half of whom were drawn from Kirwan’s estate. There were two separate schools originally – one for the boys and one for the girls. Mr. Heavey was the boy’s master while his wife Mrs. Bridget Heavey taught the girls. While there was a limited amount of textbooks, rote learning was integral so children did not need books. Though Irish would have been the main spoken language of the area, the schooling took place through English.
The census of 1911 shows that 176 pupils were attending the school, which was now one building for boys and girls.
The lives of country people had not changed as much as you might imagine in the years from 1860 – 1910. Families still lived in small houses and most people remained poor. There was a growing unrest with the political situation at the time and people in the area despaired at the loss of language and culture. Conradh na Gaeilge – an organisation established in 1893 to preserve the Irish Language – was strong in the area. The Gaelic Athletic Association - established to promote our native games - was also strong in this area and both Turloughmore Hurling club and Annaghdown clubs were founded in the 1880s.
Nationalism was also stirring and County Galway was one of the few places outside Dublin to have an active part in the 1916 Rising. When news of the Dublin Rising reached Galway on Easter Monday evening local volunteers began to mobilise. The leader of the local men was Claregalway hurling team captain Tom Ruane. Many of the local IRA men met at a meeting in Carnmore Cross. They decided that they would rest up for the night, before marching to Moyode to join more Volunteers. When a group of policemen travelled by Carnmore Cross and came across the Volunteers, shots were fired and Constable Whelan became the first fatality of 1916 in Galway. The Rising in Galway was as shortlived as the Dublin Rising and it was not long before the police and army came in search of the rebels. Some of them – including Tom Ruane – went on the run. He was eventually arrested and sent to an internment camp in Frongoch, Wales.
By the early 1900s, Martin Kirwan had died and a Lieutenant Kirwan was appointed manager of the estate and Bawnmore School. The school was classified as being in an Irish speaking district in the early 1900s. A project compiled in the school in the 30s gives a great insight into life and education at this time. Bhí go leor Gaeilge sa cheantar agus sa scoil.
The most recent 50 years – since 1963 – have seen many changes in the life of this community and also in the life of the school. The old school was falling into disrepair in the 60s and while the Department of Education were in favour of closing it and sending children on buses to nearby Lackagh School, parents strongly resisted. The persistence and determination of the people of this community was made clear to the Department by Mrs. Mannion the Principal, and eventually people power won out! As the original site was unsuitable, Fr. Lynch was trying to find a new one and eventually a deal was done with Willie Tarpey.
The old school was later bought by Peter Walsh and is now the home of Sean and Collette Walsh. Our new school has continued to grow and evolve into the warm, welcoming place it is today. There are 6 mainstream classrooms, 3 Learning Support rooms and a hall. Our newest extension was formally opened in June 2011.
Culturally Bawnmore, Galway and indeed Ireland have seen some huge changes in the last 50 years. Though most towns in Ireland had been connected to electricity lines in the 30s, rural Ireland had to wait until the 50s and 60s before electricity was available.
The Showband era was strong in Galway and bands such as The Swingtime Aces and The Capitol Showband from Athenry kept the people of this area dancing and singing in big dancehalls like Seapoint in Salthill. ‘The Westmeath Bachelor’ Joe Dolan was a regular at Galway dancehalls such as The Ranchhouse in Cummer during the 70s and 80s. Beatles Mania had taken over much of the world – including Ireland – during this time. The Carpenters – an American family band – had many top ten hits in the 60s and 70s including ‘Top of the World’.
On a sporting front, the Galway Senior Hurling team’s victory in 1980 against Limerick, as well as neighbouring club Castlegar’s victory in the All Ireland Club Final in the same year, was said to be due to the Papal visit of 12 months previous banishing a curse on Galway hurling! This heralded a golden period for Galway Hurling. We would gladly welcome Pope Francis to Galway later this year if we thought it would help our hurlers retain the All-Ireland title in 2018 or for our footballers to bring home the Sam Maguire!
In 1999 a new curriculum saw Drama and Science being recognised for the first time as Primary School Subjects. The new Language Curriculum is currently being rolled out and it highlights the importance of children developing their oral language skills as well as learning to read and write. Information Technology has also played a huge part in education in recent years and we are lucky enough in Bawnmore to have interactive whiteboards in all of the classrooms and a class set of laptops and iPads. At Bawnmore, technology is integrated into the children's learning daily.