Brandy 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. O’Leary 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 smuggler’s creek. One can well imagine the stealthy approach of a boat in the dark of night with its contraband cargo.

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 scientists around.

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 Inspector’s face told it all. It wasn’t 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