Hall school for boys remembered
In 1831, Irish official education entered a new phase as
regards primary instruction with the establishment of the
national system. The new plans were based on the lines laid
down by a Select Committee of the British House of Commons
in 1828. There were four national schools in the parish
of Castletownbere, Brandy Hall, Cahergarriff, Millcove and
Rossmacowen, plus two convent schools.
Brandy Hall was the only boys school, all the others were
mixed except the convent for girls only, and boys from five
to eight. The Brandy Hall school was situated at Brandy
Hall Bridge where the handball alley now stands. The reason
why the schoolhouse was built there was because when public
schools were first allowed in Ireland, Lord Bantry obstinately
refused a site for a school building in Castletownbere,
or elsewhere in his domain.
Fortunately, a Mr. OLeary owned a large piece of ground
extending to Brandy Hall Bridge and it was at this place
the national school was built, and there it stood until
recent years.In its last years it was used as a Scout Hall
by the local troop of Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland, and
also as a Youth Club.
People outside Castletownbere must have been intrigued to
know that there was a school called Brandy Hall. A strange
name indeed for a school. Was there a bar there or something?
Locals would point out the nearby sea inlet, a veritable
smugglers creek. One can well imagine the stealthy
approach of a boat in the dark of night with its contraband
The school itself made no pretensions to architecture, just
a solid building of stone. Inside the entrance was a porch
and stairs. Behind the stairs was a corridor. An empty room
was called a Science Room. One never noticed any budding
The only use we remember in that room was when we filled
clay pipes with crushed coal, placed the bowel on the heat
and then lit the gas coming from the stem. At the end of
the corridor was the junior classroom. In addition to the
benches, it had an unusual wooden structure reaching up
to the ceiling, It was called The Gallery There
must have been a big influx of juniors in former times.
In the arithmetic books there were long and cross tots.
You added up and you added across. It all had to come together
at the bottom right hand corner.
There were two lads in the school in our time who had an
extraordinary facility for adding. It was a joy to see them
at the black board making light of long columns of figures.
When the Inspector came, there was a hustle and bustle in
the school. He was looking at exercise books and butting
in occasionally with a question. He asked: If you
want to find the distance from here to Adrigole, what kind
of measure would you use?
The better of these two lads shouted out: Square measures.
The broad smile on the Inspectors face told it all.
It wasnt fair, was it? No chance to show your ability
to add up. When it came to geography, the question was:
What is the biggest inland sea in the world?
Again impetuosity: The Sea of Azov. Well there
must be plenty of water in the Sea of Azov, but not enough
for the Inspector. Get an atlas and decide for yourself.
So the Inspector was two up.
When it came to English, the question was: What is
the opposite to extinct? A bright lad replied: Extant.
So honour was restored, at least partially. Behind the blackboard
downstairs was a large cupboard containing a variety of
school equipment, including, of all things, a couple of
pairs of boxing gloves. Where these came from no one knew
or cared. They belonged to pre-history. When stupidity was
rock bottom in the school and the Master could take no more,
there was only one therapy, boxing.
There was a big well-built lad in the school. Easygoing
he was, with a perpetual knowing smile. A defensive boxer,
the Brown Bomber. In the other corner was a much smaller
lad. He prided himself on physical fitness and he was serious
about it. An all-action boxer for sure. The Bomber was the
perfect foil for this lad. The big lad poked out a provocative
left and then blocked away to draw the opposition.
The flurry of punches that ensued from the smaller lad brought
roars of approval from the onlookers.
Weight differences did not enter into this contest at all.
This was light years ahead of weight restrictions. Many
a man would give all the world championships for just ten
minutes of the same again.
Courtesy of the Southern Star