sod of turf rolled from the fire and the old school burned
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 ODonovan 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 didnt 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. Patricks 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
OFarrell, 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
oclock in the afternoon. Mr.OLeary, 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 OFarrell 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 ODonovan had transferred to nearby Kilnadur,
which was a noted place of learning, but Togher continued
to do its bit and, according to Jack Crowley: Youd
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
Neaskin, about three miles away, was the furthest walk for
scholars in an era where bare footed garsúns regularly
heard Canon OLeary, 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 wasnt 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. OMahony
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 hadnt the homework
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 OFarrell learned the basics
of sport, where he competed at the top, taking on such legendary
figures as Dinny Murphy, Bandon; Paddy OSullivan,
Baltimore, an numerous others in the late forties when the
massive sum of fifty pounds would make up the stake in the
From the Piggeries to Timmy Hurleys 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 ODonovan, 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 OLeary, 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 ORourke, 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