Remembering Dillons Bridge National School

Brendan Farrelly remembers Dillon's Bridge National School.

Go out the Dublin Road from Navan, beyond Wards at Garlow Cross and there in the valley at its deepest point and before you commence climbing Soldier Hill you will notice it on the right hand side. A neat, rather pleasant sign erected during the year 2000 by Brendan Farrelly of Navan and formerly Garlow Cross and which reads “On the banks of the Gabhra River, in the corner of this field, stood Dillons Bridge National School, from 1860 to 1957”.

No committees were appointed nor were funds raised by groups of locals to fund this memory of Dillons Bridge N.S. It did take a good few hundred to produce but Brendan Farrelly coughed up the pounds himself to highlight part of our forgotten heritage and to pinpoint what was once a vital part of the Garlow Cross community.

It was on Brendan’s mind for quite a while and with the dawning of a new century, he felt it was time to turn dreams into action “in recognition of the year 2000 and in memory of so many nice poor boys and girls who got their education there.”

Brendan, now part and parcel of the Mellows Terrace area (just off the Dublin Road) of Navan for nearly 50 years now, attended the wee school from 1933 to ‘43 and had many happy times there. “I have very happy memories of Dillons Bridge. We had very good teachers, the children did not fight very much and no one mitched,” he adds.

The school was opened in 1860 and closed during 1957, a new age and the requirement of more modern facilities saw the pupils move just up the road to Lismullen N.S. Ironically the last teacher in Dillons Bridge, a Mr Cullen became the first in Lismullen.

No remains can be seen of Dillons Bridge today, the school when closed was levelled and irony of ironies that task fell to one Brendan Farrelly or rather, his employer a Mr Donnelly, who detailed Brendan and a local lad by the name of ‘Pasey’ Kennedy to do the necessary.

A sad enough task but Brendan Farrelly took possession of a number of the old stones and they became part of “two small walls which I built in the front of my house at Mellows Terrace.” There they remain to this day.

So what were conditions like in the old Dillons Bridge institution back in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Remember this was a time when corporal punishment and other types of abuse were rampant in schools around the country. Events at Garlow Cross proved quite the opposite. It was a happy place to receive ones early education.

Brendan Farrelly fondly remembers his first teacher, Mrs Smyth nee Malin “she taught me the serving of Mass and also the Latin which I have not forgotten. Miss Malin later got married to Brian Smyth of Skryne. They are great GAA people and a grandson of hers is none other than Liam Hayes. I was then taught by a lady called Bernadette Coyle. She came from Monaghan and after some time married Tom Mooney. I see one of his sons often walking up Flower Hill in Navan. He teaches in St. Pats and some day I might have the pleasure of speaking to him.” The person Brendan Farrelly is talking about is well known and popular Skryne secretary Ray Mooney. Another son also Tom Mooney, was a very effective Sports Editor of the Meath Chronicle back in the late ‘70s and ‘80s.

Back to the teachers at Dillons Bridge. “There were many teachers that I heard about but all have sadly passed on. However, I do believe that a Mr Murray from Dunshaughlin who taught at the school, is still hale and hearty.”

And did any famous students emerge from Dillons Bridge? “As regards famous pupils, I don’t think any got to the stock exchange or made it to the Dail,” Brendan wittingly quips but goes on to add, “more importantly most of them worked hard and done their best. I can say for certain that since my schooldays no one ever got into trouble except for stealing an odd apple.”

On the football side of things, Dillons Bridge can claim a big scalp as one Pat Reynolds, an All-Ireland medal winner in 1967 and Meath’s first All Star in 1970 received his infant education there. Pat is, of course, the father of the present day star of the same name and the oldest of the famed Reynolds clan.

“About 25 people who went to school with me are still alive and well,” Brendan goes on to say. “Only two men live under the same roof as they did back then. These are John Brady and Jimmy Kieran. Although ‘Teenie’ Allen, who later married Don O’Brien only jumped across the hedge to live. They built a house beside her fathers.”

So how big was the school and what were the conditions there over half a century past? Brendan Farrelly states “that when I started school there were two lady teachers there. One taught the infants in the small room and in the big room the principal taught from second class up. As far as I can remember there were about 60 pupils on the roll book.”

Brendan produces a wee smile when elaborating on the toilet arrangements. “There was a toilet for the boys and another for the girls. They were built over the river Gabhra. There was no chain to pull, you just waited for the tide to go out.” We will leave that one to the imagination.

Cold weather was another problem. “There were two fireplaces, one in each room. In winter the parish priest would send in some coal and when that ran out the pupils would have to bring in a bundle of sticks when going to school in the morning.”

So do people pass any remarks about the sign? “Yes, I suppose when word got around people, especially the older ones that went to school there or others who had a relative who went to Dillons Bridge, would come up to you and heap praise and say well done.”

But Brendan Farrelly is not in it for the plaudits. He is adamant “I would do it all over again, to remember the fine teachers and all the pupils who went there. I feel places like Dillons Bridge should not be forgotten. I hope that when the new road is built that it won’t be in the way of progress. I hope the sign is in nobody’s way,” Brendan Farrelly, (a big supporter of Walterstown GFC by the way) humbly concludes. Rest assured locals and other interested parties are only too glad of its presence.