The Poet Patrick Kavanagh once said “The man that knows his own half acre knows the world”. The older we become the more nostalgic we become. The summers were warmer, the grass was greener, life was simpler. We need to be careful not to look back with rose tinted glasses; it wasn’t always as wonderful and romantic as is often portrayed in novels like “To School through the Fields” and others. I can remember walking to school through wet fields on freezing cold mornings, with the promise of 3 slaps with án Bhata if I was five minutes late.
My earliest memories of Ballinlaw are cycling my Raleigh bike down the hill to The Ferry Pub with two shillings in my pocket to get 10 Carrols for the Master. Mrs Malone (Aggie) came out from the kitchen to the bar, she knew who I was of course, she also seemed to know what my mission was, “You’re here for fags for Mr Power” she said. She took the money and gave me the change but held on to the cigarettes until she was finished getting all the local news. Eventually she gave me the cigarettes and I set out on my journey up the steep hill back to the school. Outside the pub, the river Barrow carrying her sister the Nore flowed down to meet their third sister the Suir and continue to flow southward through Waterford Harbour to finally meet the great Atlantic Ocean. This area was known as “Comar Trí na Uisce” (meeting of three waters). This is also where for hundreds of years a ferry boat crossed to Loughtown on Great Island Co Wexford. In ancient times this was referred to as The old Camnoc Ferry, in modern times it was known as Ballinlaw Ferry. The area also offers a breadth taking view of Sliabh Coillte to the West and the Black Stairs to the North West with Mount Leinster protruding like the Jewel in the crown.
The local fishermen had tied their Prong’s which lay there sleeping in the mud waiting for the incoming tide to wake them. I started to cycle back up the road only to get off and walk after 80 or 90 Yards in defeat. Little did I know than I would one day be living at that exact spot. I eventually got back to school with the Cigarettes, I was probably aged 10 or 11 at the time, we had just moved to the new school in Ringville. The new school was the fourth to be built in Ballinlaw. The first school was a hedge school said to be situated down the Castle lane at the river, this dated back to penal times. This was followed in 1832 by a school built from lime and stone with a thatched roof situated half ways between the river and the house at the top of the Castle lane known then and now as The Rookery. This school was built by Thomas Devereaux of Ringville House. There was no free education then, pupils paid from one shilling and a penny to three shilling depending on one’s means. Children from the local area as well as children from across the river attended the school. The next school was built and funded by Thomas Devereaux’s niece Lady Letitia Esmond. In its day it was a very modern structure which featured two huge classrooms and living quarters for two teachers and their families. There was a fireplace in each classroom used to ensure the teacher was warm and to boil water in a big black cast iron kettle to make the Cocoa at lunchtime. The fuel for the fire was mostly sticks gathered by the pupils from the knock at the back of the school.
When I started school there in 1959 very little had changed. There was no running water which meant students from 6th class had to go to the well, over Danny Whelan’s lane which is quiet a distance. The Co Council provided a hand pump at the top of the hill above the school sometime in the 40s or 50s but unfortunately it never worked. After pumping for 5 minutes a rust coloured liquid sometimes came gurgling out in spurts and then stopped, making some obscene noises in the process. The sanitation in the school was absolutely appalling. There were 4 dry toilets available with no hand washing facilities. The smell of Jeyes Fluid wafted throughout the school. The toilet paper provided however was never more than a week old, you knew by the story or the date printed on newspaper. Sometimes when you ran out of newspaper magazines were used, The Irelands Own was a favourite, we all loved reading about “Kitty the Hare” written by local man Vincent O Donovan Power.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. One of the more positive sides to being educated in the 60s was the freedom we enjoyed. Once you were finished eating your lunch you played football across the road in Knoxe’s field, or you played in the old quarry or up the Knock. If you fell hurt yourself there was you were bandaged up and told to be more careful next time. There was never and mention of suing or litigation in those days.
This all changed in June 1966 when we said goodbye to the old school and moved to our new centrally heated school 200 meters away at the top of Ballinlaw hill. Not only did it have central heating but it had Flush Toilets. We were even made slippers at all times inside classrooms. For me best of all was the big windows showing the most incredible view of the River, Sliabh Coillte and across into Campile and Great Island. I can still remember daydreaming while watching the fishermen rowing over and back the river casting their nets for Salmon.
I had no regrets leaving Ringville School but as fate would have it in 1981 I ended up living 50 mts from the new school on the top of Ballinlaw hill. My children followed the tradition of school through the fields, they were very fortunate though as they had only one field to cross to jump the school wall. In 2003 we moved again to the place where I got off my bike on my journey back to the Master with his Cigarettes all those years ago.
Submitted by Paul Grant for Heritage Week 2020