A tale of Two Centuries

A History of Drumbo Primary School
Co. Down

Dr. Christopher I. Reid




The new school
- - -

The new school, which was to take the place of the old school, was opened at a ceremony held in the school on 18th May, 1959. The ceremony began outside the school with the singing of the National Anthem, after which the Rev. J. B. Wallace, Chairman of the School Management Committee, asked Mr. William Cherry, on behalf of the building contractors, to hand the key of the building to Miss Sarah Maxwell, who then opened the main door of the building. The platform party, visitors and children then proceeded to the assembly hall where a short service was conducted by the Rev. Wallace. The building was dedicated by the Rev. M. McCreery, minister of Ballycairn Presbyterian Church, after which Miss Maxwell declared the new school open.

The school, which has four main classrooms, an assembly hall, a staff room and principal's office, was built to accommodate 150 pupils and had been used by teachers and pupils for several weeks, prior to opening.

Although the new primary school was built to accommodate 150 pupils, the reorganisation of education in the late 1950s and early 1960s forced pupils to transfer to the new intermediate schools at Knockbreda and latterly Newtownbreda, at the age of 11, and this cut severely the number of senior pupils attending Drumbo.

Throughout the intervening years education in Drumbo has not been a static commodity and they have brought change through staff changes, pupils commencing and leaving school, curriculum change through the Education Order and many others. However, through those years the pupils in Drumbo have had continuity and progression. They have had opportunities to widen their horizons and deepen interests through a number of projects in which pupils, over the years, have been well placed and their efforts commended. One such project in 1970 was the International Milk Day Project in which pupils had to look at all aspects of milk production and complete a scrapbook which included milk ingredients, charts, recipes, paintings, photographs etc. The pupils showed much initiative and originality in their work, and even had Beth Doherty elected "Dairy Queen" for the period. Drumbo Primary School was placed second out of 51 entrants, in this competition, and received a cheque for �5.

The following poem was written by a pupil in the group. Written by a girl after a close encounter with a calf, the poem has been used on a number of occasions by the BBC and published in two books:

"Slabbery Fingers"

My fingers slide down the little calf's throat,
Its tongue is rough and pink,
It sucks and slurps, And nearly pulls my fingers off.

It slabbers like a baby,
And makes my fingers sticky,
No matter how hard I pull,
It just won't let me go.

At last I am free and look at my fingers,
They are covered in little bubbles,
And they nearly make me sick,
The calf puts out its head, but I'm away.

In 1998 it was discovered, purely by accident, that the school, in some shape or form, had been operating since approximately 1796, and the Board of Governors decided to celebrate the Bicentenary in 1999, in conjunction with the dawning of the new Millennium.

At the commencement of 1999 the pupils in P7 wrote, as a development of their letter writing skills, to the President of the United States of America, outlining their hopes for the peace talks which were taking place in Stormont at the time.

The Bi-Centenary was celebrated in a number of different ways. These were as follows:

May - Tree planting ceremony.
June - Balloon release.
June - Summer Fete.
October - Folk concert.
December - Exhibition of old school photographs.
December - Thanksgiving Service.
December - Release of History Book.

During 1999 the school also appeared in cyberspace, when it launched its own web site on the Internet.
Drumbo Primary Web Site

Drumbo, as has been remarked, "is out in the sticks", which 200 years ago when our story began may well have been the case. Today, Drumbo is a very popular area from which commuters travel to their many daily pursuits. On their journey to either Lisburn or Belfast they pass road signs which point to Drumbo Primary School, in which today's pupils are being well prepared for the challenges of the new Millennium, just as those pupils in the Session House in 1796, were being prepared for the challenges of the 19th Century.

So, this story of the history of the school must end, where it began, at a beginning. That beginning is a new Millennium. In looking back let us ;give thanks to those who, over the past two centuries, have contributed to the richness of our educational heritage in this beautiful part of Co. Down. Looking forward, as we must do, let us not forget the heritage and legacy which is ours and of which, 1 hope, this book will have revived memories in some, and given a deeper insight into our past to others.



The following list has been compiled from church minutes, newspaper reports, inspector's reports and other available sources. They have been included in order that a token tribute can be accorded to these persons for the part they have played in the development of pupils in Drumbo. Whilst every endeavour has been made to provide accuracy in names and dates, inaccuracies are possible. If these occur, may one be forgiven`?


The following are the names of persons who have been appointed as Principal in Drumbo. In some cases it has only been possible to mention the year/s in which these persons appear in records rather than their service span in total. This list is complete from 1883.

Mr. James McKee 1826
Mr. John Baillie 1840/1841/1842
Mr. Samuel Graham 1842
Mr. William Dorman 1848/1849
Mr. George Brydon 1849
Mr. William Watson 1861
Mr. Robert Entwistle 1874
Mr. Thomas Allen 1883-1917
Mr. William Boles 1917-1917
Mr. William Hunter 1917-1918
Mr. William Todd 1918-1938
Mr. Robert Morrison 1938-1945
Mr. Herbert Currie 1945-1981
Mr. Maurice Wright 1981-1983
Mr. lames Kelly 1983-1997
Mrs. Ruth Daly 1997


Mr. Stewart Carse 1840/1842
Mr. Charles Horne 1861
Mrs. Hannabella Watson 1861
Mr. Thomas Entwistle 1861
Mrs. Caroline Entwistle 1874
Miss Jennie Stevenson 1901/1902
Miss Margaret Clarke 1901/1902
Miss Susan Lockhart 1903/1904/1905
Miss Ada McCartney 1905/1906
Miss Annie Dempsey 1907/1908
Miss Sarah Maxwell 1907/1944
Miss Mary Martin 1917-1932
Miss McCleverty Taylor 1944-1950
Miss Ethel McRoberts 1948-1949
Mr. Thomas Maxwell 1949-1950
Mr. John Wilson 19_50-1950
Mr. Dermot Purdy 1950-1953
Mrs. M. Bell 1950-1954
Miss Sylvia Douglas 1954-1959
Mrs. Lorna Lyster (nee Beattie) 1954-1965
Mrs. Mary Clarke 1954-1969
Miss Elizabeth Abernethy 1959-1974
Mrs. Moyra Alexander 1965-1966
Mrs. Elizabeth Vance 1966-1969
Mrs. Hester Currie 1969-1982
Mrs. Honor Stephens (nee McDowell) 1970-1973
Mrs. Sandra Hall 1973-1974
Mrs. Pauline Wilson 1974-1991
Mrs. Mabel Bell 1975-1997
Mrs. Sharon Shields (nee Hamilton) 1977-1983
Mrs. Ruth Daly 1983-1997
Mrs. Florence Reid 1991

* Transferred from Leverogue National School when it closed in 1917.


As I saw it from the blackboard


In May 1945 1 visited James Johnston, Principal of Legacurry Primary School. James, a good friend of mine for many years, told me that a school over the hill was vacant and suggested that I should apply for it. The Rev. Rankin gave me directions to the local committee members, and then added: "Don't tell them that you were with me, because if you do you'll not get the job." I didn't tell them, and 1 got the job. I commenced in Drumbo on 1st October, 1945. Although there were over seventy pupils on rolls, there was only one assistant - Miss Clevy Taylor, who later went to Africa as a missionary with the Qua Iboe Mission.

I can recall that shortly after arriving in Drumbo, I spent a Saturday on my knees trying to hammer home nails on a wellworn floor. As the school was in the church hall, the sliding partition separating the two rooms, had to be moved every weekend and on other special occasions. The coal stoves gave plenty of heat to those near them, while others near the door froze in the wintertime. In a corner at the door, sat the water-filter (minus a filter), and on a hook hung a tin mug for everyone's use!

As numbers grew and a third teacher was appointed, the platform had to be used as a `classroom'. Off the platform was a small room which was used mainly for cookery. The Modern Mistress was given a coat of black-lead every Monday morning. This was done by Mrs. Patterson, wife of the caretaker, Mr. Johnny Patterson. As the pupil-teacher ratio was lowered, a fourth teacher was appointed. A temporary classroom was erected at the foot of the playground which was in use until the new school was built.

When school meals became available from Clontonakelly kitchen, we managed to have these delivered to the school. The leaf of the dual desks was levelled by placing a book underneath, and a piece of oil cloth was spread over it to make the 'dining table'.

Toilet facilities were always a problem. When efforts failed to have flush toilets erected, the push for a new school began. We had hoped to get the site beside the telephone exchange, but had to settle for the one up the Back Road.

The finances of the Down Education Committee were low in 1959, resulting in:

1. Plans for a three-teacher school. It was only when the work was well on the way that the Committee agreed to have four classrooms. That meant that one of the staff toilets had to be replaced by the corridor which leads to the fourth room.
2. Small classrooms.
3. Changing from double-glazed to single-glazed windows.
4. . The deletion of a school radio from the plans. The following year it was installed at a much greater cost
5. The old dual desks and teachers' desks were used for the first year until new desks and chairs were supplied.

The new school was opened on 18th May, 1959 by a former Drumbo teacher, Miss S. E. Maxwell. The pupils sang the song: "We build our School on Thee, O Lord."

After reorganisation and losing the senior pupils to the Secondary School, the numbers on roll fell, but we still kept the three assistants. With the erection of more houses in the area, the numbers rose again and a fourth assistant was appointed, necessitating the erection of a temporary classroom.

One of the projects in which the senior pupils participated was a Road Safety scrapbook competition. Part of the work involved pupils observing road behaviour in Drumbo Square. Two pupils took turns for one hour from 8 a.m. till 8 p.m. to record such things as: the use of seat belts, signs given by drivers, speed down through the village (using a stop-watch, over a measured distance), and parking in the village (the local clergy proved to be the worst offenders!). We got second prize in Co. Down for this effort.

Another project which created great interest was that of a scrapbook on Milk sponsored by The Dairy Council, for which we came second in Northern Ireland. The senior pupils visited eight dairy farms in the district where they got the answers to their fifty questions which had been discussed in class. This resulted in the writing of letters of thanks for kindness shown and goodies received during the visits. Graphs and diagrams were drawn, illustrating the number of cows, size of farm, milk production, silage production, etc. Much prose and poetry was written. An outstanding poem by Fiona Davidson was broadcast from Belfast and London on school programmes, and appeared in two or three poetry books. It was entitled "Slabbery Fingers", and was written by Fiona after the experience of a young calf sucking her fingers during a visit to one of the farms. A small hand operated churn was used to produce our own butter in school. 'Milk in the Bible' was one of the topics studied and entered in the scrapbook. The milk story wouldn't be complete without a Dairy Queen. By unanimous vote, Beth Doherty was chosen and crowned. The poems about the Queen were exciting, especially those by the boys. A present parent of the school (unnamed) excelled by his masterpiece.

Shortly after the new school was opened, an after-school Good News Club was commenced. This was led by Mrs. Olive Adams, Mrs. Currie and myself. 1 am glad to say that this club still continues to operate weekly in the school.

One of the highlights was the school production in May 1977 in the church hall of the pageant `The Book that will not burn.' This was attended by a large audience, and the proceeds were received by the Rev. Charles Presho on behalf of The British and Foreign Bible Society.

Another highlight was a sponsored run in the school grounds in aid of Tear Fund. The day turned out to be very warm, and many gallons of juice were supplied by parents as runners called in at the refreshment base. The magnificent sum of over f 1,100.00 was raised by this effort. The cheque was received on behalf of Tear Fund by the Rev. Wesley Lindsay who had previously shown slides in the school of the work done by Tear Fund, of sinking wells and other work in West Africa.

As I look back on the thirty-six years from 1945 till 1981, I give thanks to God for all He meant to me during that period. My prayer is that God will richly bless all teachers, pupils and parents, both past and present.



MRS. ELLEN CRAVEN (nee Thomson) 1914-1922

We remember . .

... the boys playing football with newspaper rolled up in a ball. The girls playing skipping and hopscotch and some boys playing "three hole marbles".

... the girls doing cookery on the stove in the back room. Sometimes they let us sample the goodies - the soda bread was particularly popular."
... school work was recorded in jotters using a pencil. When we got older we were allowed to use a jotter pen which was dipped into an inkwell on the front of the desk. Mr. Todd used to say "Get those pens pointing over your right shoulder." Some children in the lower classes still did their written work on slates."

... studying arithmetic, geography, history, drawing and physical education or drill. Miss Maxwell used to play the organ when we had singing lessons. Studying English and having to read Shakespeare and learn off the Merchant of Venice. The girls also studied shorthand, but this was done out of school hours and parents had to pay for the tuition. If painting was done parents also provided money for the paints."

... the minister, the Rev. Cordner coming into school quite regularly to teach Catechisms. He wore a top hat and a coat with tails, and used to ride a bicycle around the area."

... the pupils wearing any type of clothes to school. There were no school uniforms in those days. The girls wore white pinafores and the boys wore suits and a shirt with a heavy collar. The girls wore lace up boots and the boys wore hobnail boots. These were super for skating in the frost. There was a man called McBrier who was a shoemaker, and he used to ride a motorbike and sidecar, and came round the houses to measure for the size of boots required."

... Miss Martin using the cane on pupils for not paying attention. Mr. Todd used the cane frequently also on boys, and when he didn't have one he would send the boy out to select one from the hedge. Before Mr. Todd caned a pupil he always used to whack the blackboard and then the pupil."

... Mr. Todd riding a bicycle to school every day from Belfast. He came up the Drumbo Road and the boys used to wait for him at the corner of Tullyard Road so they could wheel his bicycle up to school. While the boys were wheeling the bicycle, Mr. Todd walked along reading his newspaper."

... boys being sent to the village pump with a bucket to bring back water for washing and drinking. The bucket sat just inside the door, with an enamel mug hanging on the wall above it with which to wash or drink!"

... walking to school, but some pupils came in traps."

... two pot bellied stoves, heated by coke and coal, with fireguards enclosing them on four sides. These were great in the winter time if you were sitting near one, if not you nearly froze with the cold. Miss Maxwell would have stopped lessons and brought the pupils up to the stove to et some heat."

... the desks at which we sat had seats attached to them, and about five pupils sat at each desk. The desks had inkwells on them, and this always encouraged the boys to dip their pens and flick! Jotters and books were stacked on a platform underneath."

... Miss Martin had a favourite saying when she became exasperated she would shout out "Will you for goodness sake sit down'?"

. . . bringing homemade soda and wheaten bread and sometimes buttered bread with jam or cold fried bacon for lunch. Sometimes we ate the lunch, in class, during the morning when the teacher wasn't looking and then had nothing at lunchtime. If you wanted a drink you brought milk from home, or took water from the bucket!"

... pupils taking extended "holidays" during the time the hay was being cut and harvested and potatoes being dug. Parents encouraged their children to stay at home and help on the farm at these times."

... the dry toilets with wooden seats at the back of the school. There used to be very unpleasant smells from here and they were very cold in the winter time."

... the school being lit by paraffin lamps. These lamps hung from the ceiling with some on the walls."

... being able to buy 10 sweets for 1 penny in Jimmy Allen's pub."


Maureen Shannon (nee Davis)

I Remember



My grateful thanks are due to all who supported and encouraged me in this work:
To the Board of Governors of Drumbo Primary School for allowing the work to proceed;
To the Session and Church Committee of Drumbo Presbyterian Church, for giving permission to peruse and quote from church minute books;
To Professor Richard McMinn who wrote the Foreword;
To Mr. Herbie Currie, former principal, who wrote regarding his memories in Drumbo;
To Mrs. Ellen Craven, Miss Mamie Graham and the late Mr. Ernest Patterson, who permitted me to interview them regarding their memories of school life in Drumbo;
To my colleagues Dr. Eamon Phoenix and Mr. Michael McCurley, who proof read the script and provided helpful and constructive comments;
To all those, too numerous to mention, who provided photographs, information regarding photographs, poems and any other details.
Christopher I. Reid


I. History of Irish Education from 1800 - T. J. Duncan
2. Committee Minutes - Drumbo Presbyterian Church 3. P.R.O.N.I. - ED/1/15
ED/ 1 /20 ED/6/1/3/1
ED/7/1/613 ED/7/5/ 1 D 4. The Past Revisited - A History of Drumbo Presbyterian Church - Dr. Chris Reid.
5. The Morning News - 18th February, 1876.
6. The Northern Star - 27th June - 1st July, 1796, p.3.


There's a beautiful spot in the County of Down
Away from the din of the City and Town
Where the light-hearted traveller roving along
May be heard in a jolly mood humming a song
There the hills and the dells form a picturesque scene
And the clear silent brooks steal their passage between
Could we find a place dearer as thither we go
That would ever surpass the Townland of Drumbo.

There the birds full of life at the first call of spring
Through the woods and the hedge rows their merry notes ring
And the sun spreads its rays o'er the valley and mead
While the farmer with eager hand scatters the seed
There the peasant throughout the fair summers day
Is pitching and spreading away at the hay
To get it right saved ere the winters storms blow
Or the heavy rains sweep o'er the Land of Drumbo.

In the autumn the plants and the flowers decay
And the leaves on the tree natures call must obey
But the farmers hard labour with glory is crowned
With the wheels of the thresher revolving around
Then the peasant with crops safely gathered and stored
Can a short term of leisure in winter afford
Just to sit snug and cosy while fast falls the snow
And the stormy winds rage through the Land of Drumho.

In that land I was born. In that land I was bred
And I oft times reflect on the years that have fled
When an innocent lad peaceful hours I spent
With my toy water wheel and my sack covered Tent
Where I preached but my congregation was small
In fact there were only two hearers in all
But I was content with my near little show
In my youth when I lived in the Land of Drumbo.

There the scholars go tripping along to the school
Where discipline is strictly observed as a rule
While some of the Teachers, though doing their best
Have their patience exhausted and put to the test
There on Sunday, the voice of the choir is heard
And the Pastor to preach has his message prepared
While through their devotions the worshippers go
In that old village Church in the Land of Drumbo.

There the dead in the Churchyard of the loved and the brave
Are hidden from view in the depths of the grave
And the place that once knew them now knows them no more
Their troubles are ended their trials are o'er
And so will it be when life's journey is trod
There'll be fullness of joy in the presence of God
When back to the dust this vile body shall go
And I'm laid neath the sod in my tomb at Drumho.

Then as time hastens on may we not in our day
Be engrossed with the things which may shortly decay
For pamper or treasure those bodies that must
So easily crumble and turn to the dust
But while to the nobler things we attain
Oh may we be happy in sunshine or rain
And may health, her blessings upon them bestow
Those folks who dwell in the Townland of Drumbo.

Alex D. Johnston. (Written about 1910).