This article is based on memories recorded as part of a community reminiscence initiative in 1986 which are now in the archive at Newry and Mourne Museum.

I think it was on my sixth birthday that I was brought to school at the ‘Carstands’, the Christian Brothers’ School that stood on the corner of Margaret Street and the Mall.  Next door on Margaret Street was Newell’s Drapers; on the Mall was Hugh O’Hare’s turf accountant premises. 

I cannot remember the formalities that accompanied my admission, but I do vaguely remember standing, with about twenty others like me, facing a chart, set up on an easel, just under the corner window.  The group I was with was one of three or four groups, who, along with their teachers, occupied the ground floor of the Carstands buildings.  The high ceiling and the long narrow windows, far too high for anybody smaller than six feet to see out through, these made us even more aware of how small we were.

Later in the day I was acquainted with a slate and a slate pencil.  Nothing as perishable as lead pencils and jotters were entrusted to us at that early stage.  Slates were framed with wood, rounded at the corners.  They measured about 200mm by 150mm (we did not use mm to describe length; we worked in inches).  The slate pencil was about the size of a lollipop stick (but there were no lollipops then), but it was square instead of round.  Some slates were plain on each side; others one side plain and the other lined, the plain side for sums, the lined side for writing.

A reproduction slate which was used in schools in the 19th and the early 20th centuries. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
A reproduction of a slate which was used in schools in the 19th and the early 20th centuries. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

My second year was spent at Kilmorey Street School.  If I remember correctly, the furniture was a set of long desks, eight-seaters, with no backs on the seats.  Among the pupils, bare feet and snotty noses was no rarity.  Newry, then as now, had no shortage of poor families.  These poor scholars were given stew on the premises during lunchbreak.  I was lucky in that I lived on River Street,  so at lunch time I would cross the road, go round McVeigh’s Corner, onto William Street; past the barbers, past Hutchinson’s bicycle shop, the Temperance Hotel, Tommy Joe’s shoe-repair shop, Casey’s Pub on the corner, Harbour Bar, past the three grand houses at the top of River Street, the little house at an angle to the others and home.

More memories will appear in a future article. 

Newry and Mourne Museum is temporarily closed.

by Dympna Tumilty

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