This article follows on from last week and 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.

After spending my second year at Kilmorey Street School, I had to go back to the Carstands again on the ground floor for my third year.  At the time, my aunt was a waitress on the ground floor of the Shelbourne in Hill Street.  This was a very fortunate thing for me.  It meant that I did not have to run home to River Street during my thirty-minute lunch break or carry a ‘piece’ to school.  I merely walked across to the Shelbourne where my aunt had a seat reserved for me, the chair tilted against the table lest any other customer might try to occupy my special seat near the fire.  My lunch consisted of a cup of tea and a heated piece of ‘slim’ liberally covered with butter, melted during the heating.

The following year, I was in fourth book on the middle floor of the building.  I was placed in one of the front row desks, two-seaters.  My desk-mate of that year became one of our local doctors.  Our teacher had a small storeroom for copies, textbooks, ink in gallon jars, rulers and other commodities.  Sometimes I had the privilege of entering this special place to bring out books for handing round the class.  It was in this room, that at the proper time, jampots were stored with a few peas, pink blotting paper and sawdust inside.  Sometime later we saw them again and were amazed and delighted to see little plants climbing up from the peas and the roots heading down.  This was our introduction to the world of science.

A large storage jar for ink from which the smaller desk-size ink wells were filled. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
A large storage jar for ink from which the smaller desk-size ink wells were filled. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Next year and I was on the top floor of the Carstands.  Although our teacher never discussed the theory of it with us, he was very keen on involving the whole family in education for he gave us plenty of homework.  And he was intent on making us use our memories fully so he questioned us every morning on what we had learned the night before,  We were required to commit to memory a portion of the wide selection of subjects: tables, poetry, prayers, catechism, spellings, geography – both Irish and European and occasionally some other matter.  Every wrong answer was recorded with a chalk mark on the desk, retribution followed in proportion to the chalk marks before you.

There on the top floor of the Carstands school my experience of Public Elementary school ended.  I became one of the chosen few picked for higher education.  Because I passed an examination, I got a scholarship from the Down County Education Committee.  This meant that my school fees were paid for me.  Thereafter, paying my tuition fees to the Christian Brothers for my place in the Abbey cost the rate payers of County Down the sum of four whole pounds a year.  Did the ratepayer get a good return for their investment in me?  I don’t think I will try and answer that question just now.

Newry and Mourne Museum is temporarily closed.

by Dympna Tumilty

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