A sod of turf rolled from the fire and the old school burned down

On the invitation of Fr Vincent Kelly, recently departed from Dunmanway parish, I travelled to the townland of Togher, pronounced 'Toe-her', to find the art of conversation alive and well in this beautiful scenic area, just north of Dunmanway town.

Here, I was enraptured by the almost total recall of a few men who attended the old school in the district when “Shanks mare” was the only mode of transport, where a few sods of turf kept the school heated and eventually led to the building being destroyed by fire.

Now Togher has a modern school, one of the foremost IT primary schools in the country, but when Jack Crowley, Jer Farrell and Timmy O’Donovan were scholars all that was on offer was some slate and chalk, a few inkwells in well initialled desks and thumb worn books that had been passed down from generation to generation.

That old school, burned down in 1936, having been built around the time of the famine in 1848, holds numerous memories for people of Togher and surrounding townlands.

Being a well brought up individual, I didn’t ask Jack Crowley his age, but suffice to say he has been drawing the pension for well over a decade and still he can recite, word for word, the poem, the poem “Valparaiso”. I struggled with the opening verse, taught to me but Mr. Bob Patterson, who was the common denominator as he taught in St. Patrick’s Boys’ School, in Dunmanway, after leaving Togher. He was but one of many to teach in the school where Mrs. Nyhan set the ball rolling, according to Jerry O’Farrell, a noted bowl player in his day.

Then along came Master McCarthy, and his daughter Dolly, who in the early days put the scholars through their paces in the two classrooms. Irish, English and Maths were the subjects taught between nine thirty in the morning and three o’clock in the afternoon. Mr.O’Leary, Mr.Foley, Mr. Moynihan, who had two terms teaching in the school, and Mr Patterson were other teachers, as well as nuns, priests and christian brothers, one of who played illegally with Dublin senior footballers, passed through their hands in a school where a massive total of seventy pupils attended at its peak.

In the late twenties and early thirties, the bikes were scarce with some of the teachers having the luxury of the two-wheeled transport around roads little better that mountain tracks. On April 4, 1936 the old school was burned, “ declared Jerry O’Farrell with conviction and, with Tim O’ Donovan having now joined our ranks, the three wise men gleefully recalled the few weeks afterwards when there was no school to attend.

“The teachers had a habit of putting down a big fire late in the evening and one of the sods of turf must have rolled out on the timber floor and burned down the school,” the trio agreed - which was a recipe for disaster. Soon after, Tim O’Donovan had transferred to nearby Kilnadur, which was a noted place of learning, but Togher continued to do its bit and, according to Jack Crowley: “You’d get homework alright and maybe too much of it sometimes.

“And do you know, that time, a lot of teachers were husband and wife,” he continued. “That was a bad thing, because if you did anything bad with the husband, you had the wife on your back!”

Most of the pupils left at around fourteen years of age with many going back to farming in an area where Togher served the townlands of, Gortanure, Keelaraheen, Neaskin, Cooranig, Droumdeega, Kinrath, Moneyreague with a few scholars coming down from Coolmountain as well.

Many of these names would be of Irish origin and, according to Jack, Tim and Jerry, Togher means “causeway or pathway through a bog”.

The general area was called “Gleann na Croinn” or valley of the trees with history declaring that once upon a time the whole area from Coolsnachtig to Derrylahan, Cousane Gap to Johnstown, could be traversed without ever touching the ground such was the abundance of trees in the valley.

Neaskin, about three miles away, was the furthest walk for scholars in an era where bare footed garsúns regularly heard Canon O’Leary, with his back against a partition door, asking questions from the old catechism. He must have made a good job of it, as none of my informants could remember Bishop Coholan refusing the sacrament to anyone from the school, although it wasn’t uncommon for that man of the cloth to turn away the odd one.

“The very day they were confirmed below in town, the new class started back in Togher School,” declared Jack, with Jerry chipping in and recognising Fr. O’Mahony as the best examiner of the whole lot, but “savage cross”. Much to the delight of Fr. Kelly, the lads declared the priests of today to be much more approachable and “not so aloof.” The teachers were a hardy breed also and some severe doses of “Slapping” lay in wait for the pupil that hadn’t the homework done.

Mr. Jerry Moynihan, from around the Ballingeary area, was the first teacher to introduce football to the school and he himself was a noted Cork senior player of the time. The lads played in the churchyard and also threw the bowl on their way home.

It was here that Jerry O’Farrell learned the basics of sport, where he competed at the top, taking on such legendary figures as Dinny Murphy, Bandon; Paddy O’Sullivan, Baltimore, an numerous others in the late forties when the massive sum of fifty pounds would make up the stake in the big finals.

From the Piggeries to Timmy Hurley’s on a Derrinasáfa road no better than a boreen, the bowlers covered in about twenty bowls and, if that feat was achieved, then spoils of victory were usually garnered. John O’Donovan, the butcher in Dunmanway, was one of the road showers, and biggest backers, when Jerry was in his prime and after the scores, the pictures in town or the crossroads platform dancing in the area were regular haunts.

For a few years after the burning down of the school, the bottom part of the Togher Church was put into commission, by kind permission of Canon O’Leary, until the new school was built, by Cahalane bros, Dunmanway, in 1939. Mr Bob Patterson was the first principal in the new school where Nan Hurley, nee O’Rourke, was later to make a name for herself and become one of the best known and loved teachers in the area.

Written by Dery Farr
Courtesy of the Southern Star