A school that was part of us all

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
orrie Mountain lies in County Leitrim in the west of Ireland. It is a wild area lent a stunning beauty by a proliferation of loughs giving blue relief to the greens and browns of what is, essentially, bog country.

By and large, this is one part of Ireland where the Celtic Tiger failed to roar. Only half a dozen families remain here but my affection for it, as the homeplace of my own family, knows no bounds.

I walked the top road in September and, on a side lane, found the remains of Moneenatieve National School, the two-roomed primary school that served the mountain from 1917 until the early 1970s. The school is in an exposed and distant location, and took pupils from both sides of the mountain.

Deserted for more than 30 years, the roof is in a bad way, some of the windows are smashed and the outside toilets have been trampled by sheep and cattle.

Given its isolation, the interior is remarkably intact. A twin desk, complete with names scratched into the lids, sits in one room; the institutional green and cream paint still seems fresh; there are marks on the walls where maps and charts were hung.

It's the full-length windows that grab you. They are filled with the landscape. From the senior classroom, the mountain sweeps upwards and away towards the clouds; the juniors' room has a view that tumbles away across hedges, fields and farmland to the lough far below.

It would be impossible to separate this building from the land it served.

On the retiral of the teacher who had taught in the school for nearly 40 years, hundreds attended a reunion to hail the woman who had educated generations of children from this mountain.

My son struggles with the concept of tiny children struggling up the mountain road to this place, and at tales of turf and coal briquettes brought by each pupil to light the fires that heated each classroom.

On our way back down the road, we call in on Mary McHugh, 86-years-old, still living in the cottage in which she was born, and with a mind sharp as a tack. She details the members of my family who lived on this mountain in the 19th century.

Transport links now leave us less than six hours away from Edinburgh, but it feels a lot farther. Continuing down the lane, the square shape of Moneenatieve National School is still discernible; my son is still thoughtful.

"What sort of a school was that?" he asks. Shielding my eyes against sunshine, wind and sentiment, there's only one possible answer.

"It was a community school," I say.

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