A tale of Two Centuries

A History of Drumbo Primary School
Co. Down

Dr. Christopher I. Reid





 School Inspector's Visit - - -

On 31st August, 1840, an inspector by the name of Mr. Patton visited Drumbo school for the purpose of inspection as requested in April by the Rev. Montgomery. He completed a report for the application of aid towards payment of the teacher's salary and supply of books, and in so doing made the following observations and noted that:

The school is not in connection with or attached to the Meeting House;
it is sufficiently ventilated and warmed:
there are 5 desks and forms attached, with a teacher's desk and chest for books accommodating 80 pupils;
the teacher was Mr. John Bailie, aged 20 years, who had not received any instruction in the art of teaching but, who was leaving. A well qualified teacher will be appointed in a few days;
the inscription "National School" will be put conspicuously on the school house;
the General Lesson of the Board will be hung up in the schoolroom;
the books of the Board will be used in the school;
the hour from 2 to 3 on Monday to Friday will be devoted to religious instruction and also one hour on Saturday;
the expected increase in pupil numbers was 40; 25 males and 15 females;
He then concluded "the circumstances of this school are so satisfactory that I would recommend its immediate adoption by the Commissioners of the Board."

Consequently, Drumbo was connected to the National School Board on 24th September, 1840, and they granted salary to the teacher John Bailie and monies for text books for 75 pupils. The textbooks employed were issued by direction of the Board. They were, for the period well illustrated and bound; and were sold to pupils for a few pence and in certain necessitous cases given gratis. Because they were in continual use they were usually passed on from the older members of a family to the younger, and even from parent to child.

Issued from 1835 onwards by the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland with the requirement:
'that the principles of the Lesson be strictly inculcated in all schools
General Lesson

Because Drumbo had been out of the National System of Education, John Bailie, the teacher, had been appointed by the manager of the school, Mr. Calwell and his salary would have been paid by the pupils for the instruction he provided. Following the granting of aid, by the Board, they paid John Bailie �3.0.0 on 3rd June, 1841, for five months instruction up to September 1840. The Board also paid Stewart Carse �2.13.4 for four months instruction during the same period. During this period the school was closed for one month "with the permission of the committee"; no reason for the closure was given. It would appear that Bailie and Carse taught in the school until Bailie left in October 1842 and, Carse in December of the same year. Carse had been paid �8.0.0 per annum, paid half yearly. Upon Bailie's departure, Samuel Graham was appointed to the school and was paid �4.0.0 on 28th April, 1843 for instruction since his appointment in October. Records don't show how long Graham stayed in Drumbo, but in 1848 William Dorman was appointed as teacher in the school and he remained until he resigned on 3rd March, 1849. The appointment of Graham's successor appears to have been a situation fraught with difficulties, as on 16th May, 1849 the National Education Board received a resolution from Mr. Calwell, the manager of the school, on behalf of the school committee, stating that they had:

... appointed him as Patron and manager in room of Rev. A. Montgomery who has resigned."

The resignation of the Rev. A. Montgomery appears to have been prompted by the appointment of George Brydon as teacher in Drumbo on 8th May, 1849 for whatever reason.



The situation was serious enough for the Board to send out an inspector who, on 4th June, 1849, reported that:

". . . the school had been closed from 3rd March when William Dorman resigned and was re-opened on 8th May when George Brydon was appointed."

The National Education Board was requested by Mr. Calwell, the manager, to appoint Mr. James Robinson as temporary manager, from 29th September, 1851 "during my absence abroad for the winter."

In spite of the lack of other denominations in Drumbo, numbers were rising and an application from Mrs. Bessie Calwell to the Board for financial assistance for the salary of an assistant teacher on 29th June, 1861, indicated that the school "was being enlarged at present," from the initial 27 feet in length to 37 feet. The application goes on:

"There is only one room in the schoolhouse used by the three teachers employed namely - William Watson, Charles L. Horne and Hannabella Watson (alias Caughey). The application for financial aid is on behalf of Hannabella Watson, aged 18 who commenced teaching in Drumbo on 3rd June, 1861, having taught in Ballymacbrennan as an assistant and work mistress from May 1859 till 29th September, 1860. She was classed (III2) by the Inspector. There are 78 males and 54 females on roll and the average attendance for the last six months has been 44.9 males and 25.2 females."

The inspector for the Board Mr. William Molloy, who replied to the application, came to Drumbo on 22nd August, 1861 and included in his report that:

"The principal is William Watson II2 and the other teachers are Thomas Entwistle a probationary assistant, and Hannabella Watson who is of good character. There are now 94 males and 65 females on roll; the average for the last four months was 46 males and 30 females and there are 89 children present today - 57 males and 38 females."

The report concludes that:

"Owing to the number of girls in attendance a female assistant is much required. As the average attendance (76) warrants a second assistant being recognised I beg to recommend that this application be formally entertained."

In 1863, the estate owned by Mrs. Calwell on which Drumbo National School stood, was sold, and the new owner was Robert Batt of Purdysburn. Anticipating a continuation of the cordiality extended to them by the Calwells, the Church Committee did not formally lodge any claim to the school or its grounds. In so doing they put themselves at the mercy of the new landlord and his successors for all time.

However, the Church Committee was not interfered with in the management of the school until 1874 when, during a General Election campaign the manager of the school, Mr. W. J. Watson, accompanied by the Bailiff, arrived and demanded the use of the school for the purpose of holding a political meeting. A member of the Church Committee, who was present at the time, referred Mr. Watson to a rule of the National Education Board which prohibited the holding of such meetings in any school receiving financial aid from the Commissioners. Thus commenced a protracted and unfortunate period of time in the life of the school. Mr. Watson did not take too kindly to such an attitude and promptly served the principal Mr. Robert Entwistle, with a notice of dismissal. The Church Committee refused to part with his services, which he had given since his appointment on 1st August, 1870, and where forced to the necessity of dismissing Mr. Watson, as manager, and appointing another one in his place. The Church Committee were then served, by Mr. Batt, with a notice to give up possession of the school. They refused and were finally ejected from the premises. The Morning News of 18th February, 1876, gave the following account of their ejection:

`On Wednesday last the Sub-sheriff of the County, accompanied by Mr. Batt's agent, Mr. W. J. Watson, and the Bailiff, appeared at the school. The children were summarily dismissed, and the work of disembowelling the school began in true earnest. The old forms, carved with many an urchin's name, were speedily deposited on the public road. The teacher's desk was dragged after them as unceremoniously as if it had been tainted with the leprosy of dissent, and the harmonium, occasionally uttering a gruff note of remonstrance, was conveyed to the shelter of an adjoining hedge. Then followed in quick succession maps and tablets, slates and pencils, clock and ink bottles, etc. The books were flung into a capacious bag and conveyed upon the sturdy shoulders of the Bailiff to the nearest public house, and last of all, the very fire was "ejected" and its smouldering embers thrown into a gutter on the roadside. Meanwhile the simple-minded people of the village ventured out of doors, and stood watching the proceedings with feelings of awe and wonder. "Old age forget its crutch, labour its task," and all ran to behold the mighty doings of "the office," while now and then travellers passing that way stopped to make enquiry, and old men whose geographical knowledge had become deficient, were afforded the opportunity of examining the maps and tracing out the locality of the Suez Canal. At length, when the school apartments had been thoroughly gutted, and everything movable thrown out, the Bailiff paused to wipe his heated brow, and the agent, Mr. William James Watson, stood and looked around him with the air of a conqueror. Their work was done. By this time the Sub-sherriff and agent were moving away, and the onlookers expected that the Bailiff would also retire from the scene and follow them at a respectful distance. But in this they were disappointed. After a brief consultation, the two former gentlemen returned, and the Bailiff, who had imagined his toil was over, was ordered to commence afresh, and to convey the unoffending articles, now bespattered with mud and slush, back to their former resting-places in the schoolroom. When with the assistance of the teacher, who now declares himself only the servant of "the office," this work was accomplished, the interesting proceedings terminated, and the crowd of onlookers dispersed, wondering among themselves at that which had come to pass, and asking the ominous question, "what next?"

Following this eventful day Mr. Watson was left in undisputed authority as manager of the school. But because he was not a resident of the district and, consequently unable to be in a position to discharge his duties, of manager, appropriately, the Commissioners for National Education decided to appoint a local manager and suggested the Rev. W. J. Warnock as being particularly well suited for the position. However, the new owner of the estate, Mrs. Way, being an Episcopalian herself, was determined to have an Episcopalian appointed, despite the wishes of the Board and the fact that of' the 70 children on roll in the school, 65 were Presbyterian. Subsequently, the Commissioners for National Education decided to withdraw financial aid from the school and it closed down, albeit temporarily, in August 1876. With the permission of the Commissioners the school was transferred to Rokeby Hall, where accommodation was kindly given by Mr. .I. D. Dunlop, for a period of about two weeks.

What happened during those two weeks to heal the rift between the two parties hasn't been recorded but, the school was reopened by Mr. Batt on 11th September. The following is the report that Mr. Watson, the manager, submitted to the National Education Board when he made application for financial support to be given by the Commissioners:

"Drumbo "Mixed" School. Nearest post town is Lisburn, distant 3 miles west. The house is in good repair and has been for many years used as a school house. There is only one room 37 feet by 17 feet. The furniture comprises 10 desks with seats attached and 4 separate forms all in good condition.

The teaching staff consists of Robert Entwistle, principal, aged 29, whose salary was �20 per annum, Caroline Entwistle, assistant, aged 22 and Margt. Milby paid monitor, aged 16. The number of children on roll was 125 and the average daily attendance for last year was males 27.7, females 26.3. Total 54.

School hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Religious Instruction is imparted in accordance with the rules and regulations of the National Board from 10 to 10.30 each morning.

The books used for combined literacy instruction arc those published by the National Education Board and supplied by them from their depot in Dublin. Pupils pay between is-ld to 3s-6d which is regulated by the principal.

The school is open for admission of visitors at any time between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

The Patron of the school is Robert Narcissus Batt, Esq., Purdysburn, Belfast. The Manager is William James Watson, Aughavilla Lodge, Warrenpoint.

The amount of local aid independent of sums raised by the Poor Law Guardians in accordance with the late Act amounts to about �20 annually.

The house is that in which the Drumbo National School (Ref. No. 2561) was conducted, and it is now carried on by the same staff of teachers. The former school was closed by direction of Mr. Batt on 28th August, 1876, and opened as a new school on 11th September. Application was made to have the school readmitted on roll on 14th September, but no notice was taken of the application till application was again made on 11th October."

During this period Mr. Thomas Allen was appointed Principal in 1883 at the age of 28. He inherited much of the unpleasantness which had gone before, and which was to continue until 1896 when:

Owing to a dispute between the Commissioners of Nat Education & Mr Watson. Agent of the Estate about the Managership of the School the Commissioners decided to strike the school of the board. We decide to build a school which will be large enough for other Congregational meetings on our own ground on the opposite side of the road. And that the Rev,. Mr. Warnock be intrusted to draw out the plans of same.

Two members of Church Committee were delegated to visit in each townland to -solicit the members of the congregation for subscriptions towards the building of the new schoolroom and lecture hall."

Plans for the new schoolroom and lecture hall were completed by the end of May 1896 and tenders were sought immediately.

A Committee meeting on 9th July, 1896 considered four tenders for the erection of the new school. After careful deliberations it was proposed and passed that the estimate of- Mr. Robert George of York Lane, Belfast, for the amount of-�520 be accepted. However, at a meeting of Committee on 20th August, 1896 the question was posed "How and when are we going to get money for the new school?" Mr. Thomas Crawford, a Committee member, offered to lend the money at the same rate of interest charged by the bank. This offer was accepted.

The building of the new school was rapid, in that most of the building was completed before the laying of the foundation stone. The foundation stone was laid on 14th November, f896, by Miss Rowena Brown, Edenderry.


A slate and slate pencil, similar to that used in Drumbo up to 1914. A page from Vere Foster Copy Book. Foundation stone of the school erected in 1896 "This stone was laid by Miss Rowena Brown, Edenderry Nov 14th 1896"
A slate and slate pencil, similar to that used in Drumbo up to 1914. A page from Vere Foster Copy Book. Foundation stone of the school erected in 1896

The following entries commencing with a date, are quotations gleaned from Drumbo Presbyterian Church Committee minutes pertaining to the school:

15th February, 1897 - "It was agreed that half a ton of coals be got to burn in the new schoolroom to help to dry it."
3rd October, 1904 - "Mr. Thomas Allen was given liberty to get a stove for the schoolroom provided he could raise the necessary funds."
5th July, 1909 - "When it was unanimously decided to get the walls of the schoolroom coloured and the window frames painted."
13th August, 1912 - "The Commissioners of National Education allowed �2 towards heating and cleaning the schoolroom. It was decided that the teacher be allowed �1 for lighting and cleaning."
3rd September, 1917 - "Rev. Mr. Cordner reported that a stove was required in the school to enable the teacher to proceed with the cooking class. Liberty was given to supply one. Mr. Cordner suggested that the children attending the school might be asked to collect from friends so that a considerable amount of the necessary cost might be raised. Some new desks were also required - Rev. Mr. Cordner and Mr. Hunter (teacher) were given a free hand to do what was necessary. Managers expenses connected with the appointment of a Principal Teacher for Drumbo N. S. amounting to �2 was passed unanimously." Mr. William Todd was appointed Principal in 19f8 at the age of 44.
June, 1918 - "Mr. Connery was deputed along with Mr. Todd (teacher) to select the desks necessary for the schoolroom.
It was unanimously decided that the committee contribute �1 annually towards the cost of cleaning the schoolroom and also to contribute �3 annually (if funds were available) to aid teacher in paying rent for dwelling house."
September, 1919 - "It was also suggested that the pupils in the day school be asked to contribute towards the heating of school."
December. 1919 -


"A discussion arose as to how a residence for the teacher could be secured: Various suggestions were made. It was finally suggested to build a house for the sexton and make his (sexton's) house the teacher's residence."
6th June, 1920 -
"A letter was read from Mr. Todd (teacher) asking that a guard be provided for the stove in the schoolroom, also a press to hold science apparatus"
11th June, 1921 - "The condition of the lavatory in connection with the day school was discussed, finally it was agreed that Mr. Cordner was to have a talk with the teacher concerning the matter. The Committee to inspect the school grounds to see if a suitable place can be found for the erection of a house to hold coke for day school. That the pupils of the day school be asked to contribute �5 a year for coke and coal."
3rd August, 1924 -
"A special meeting of Committee was held to consider the advisability of proceeding with the renovation of the school room during the school holidays. It was unanimously decided to go on with the work."
15th February, 1926 - "Store in school to be overhauled. It was suggested that keys should be got for the organ in school and also for coke house. Application form signed for grant from Regional Committee for proportion of expenses of day school upkeep."
26th April, 1927 - "School Inspector suggested a fire screen for school in classroom and also that accommodation is not adequate."
5th March, 1928 - "After discussion it was agreed that the school premises be transferred to the Education Authorities of the Government of Northern Ireland."
12th November, 1928 - "After considerable discussion it was agreed to get a transfer form from the Ministry of Education - meet on Monday at 8.00 p.m. and try to come to a decision on the matter."
19th November, 1928 - "The school transfer form from the Ministry of Education was submitted and read over. After full discussion some members voted for the transfer of the school on a ten year lease. Some wanted absolute transfer and some were neutral."
15th April, 1929 - "The agreement for transfer of Drumbo P.E. School to County Down Education Authority was submitted and passed to be signed by the Church Trustees after approval of the congregation."
23rd March, 1931 - "The following were appointed as School Management Committee till July 1932: Rev. J. B. Wallace, Thomas J. Graham, Joseph Bingham, Robert Martin, Hugh Shortt."
5th October, 1931 - "Mr. Wallace reported that the sexton, John Patterson, had been appointed caretaker of Drumbo P.E. School at 7/6 per week for 52 weeks from 1st September, 1931."
24th February, 1932 - "The Agreement, as prepared by Mr. George Allen, solicitor, was read over. It was agreed that before getting it signed the secretary would ask Mr. Allen if the words "without extra pay" should be inserted after the sentence "give three whole days". Mr. Wallace to write Regional Committee and see if the necessary alterations required would be made in the school, or an extension of the lease for 25 years from 1940, and also enquire if an absolute transfer were made, could the school be transferred back again on eighteen months notice, if the conditions of transfer were not carried out by the Government."
4th April, 1932 - "After considerable discussion it was unanimously agreed to make an absolute transfer of the school to the Regional Committee, and call a meeting of the congregation after a morning service at the earliest date and ask their approval; explain that a clause would be inserted in the Transfer Agreement whereby the school would be transferred back to the church on eighteen months notice if the Government failed to carry out any part of the Agreement, or the premises ceased to be used as a P.E. school."
9th May, 1932 -




"Mr. Wallace reported that the absolute transfer of the school had been agreed to by the Regional Committee."
Following the retirement of Mr. Todd in 1938, Mr. Robert Morrison was appointed Principal at the age of 25. His period in Drumbo included the evacuation of families, to Drumbo, from areas of Belfast. This movement increased, quite dramatically, the pupil numbers in the school and put much pressure on what the School Inspectors of the time where calling "very inadequate accommodation."

It was this situation which Mr. Herbie Currie inherited, when he was appointed Principal in 1945, at the age of 26.

11th February, 1951 - "Giving notice that foundations had been laid for a new classroom in the school grounds, Mr. Miskelly asked if the Ministry had received official authority from the church and would this building, when erected, prolong the time until the proposed new school would be built."
19th February, 1951 - "On a matter arising out of the last minutes Mr. Wallace outlined the conditions under which the Ministry of Education were carrying
out the erection of an additional classroom. These were:

I . These extensions would have no restraining influence on the proposed new school building project.

2. When the Ministry do vacate the present school building the church would have the option of purchasing the extension if they so desired.
The present Queen's Coronation in 1953 brought celebrations to Drumbo, when the pupils held a fancy dress parade. The school also was decked out with flags and bunting.

28th June, 1954 -
"After a lengthy discussion on how best the Session and Committee could use their influence to advantage, thus possibly speeding up the present delays which seem to exist regarding the erection of the proposed new school. Members present expressed the view that a deputation should approach the Director of Education, stressing the point that daily attendances were still increasing, even to the extent that a fourth teacher was shortly to he appointed, and due to lack of accommodation would have to occupy the platform."

However it was not until 1959 that Drumbo was to get the much promised and long awaited


Line drawing of Drumbo National School which was built in 1986.

Line drawing of Drumbo National School which was built in 1986.