The BEO Project: A School Reunion- 74 years after closure!

A School Reunion- 74 years after closure!
A unique historical community gathering took place last night (Saturday January 18th) when former pupils of Carrowbrowne National School attended a reunion in Cloonacauneen Castle. Unusual for two reasons: the school closed down in 1940 and the year celebrated will be 1938!
The event was officiated by Mayor of Galway county, Councillor Liam Carroll with local councillors Frank Fahy and Tom Costello representing Galway City Council. There was a display of memorabilia of a 1930s/1940s classroom such as desks, blackboard, books, writing implements, bell, maps, Tilley lamps and an abacus which were supplied by the communications museum located at the Insight Centre in NUI Galway.

Margaret Mulgannon (née O’Brien) of Mervue organised the reunion supported by myself. For in my capacity as Outreach Officer at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics in NUI Galway I manage BEO (Irish for 'alive') , an exciting digital archive schools-based project that represents the largest heritage programme involving schools since the 1930s Folklore Commission. 
Participating schools in BEO host informal local community nights where local residents and former pupils enjoy a chat over a cup of tea and cake with former classmates as well as bringing along photos and films that the pupils digitise, clean up and post onto a unique heritage repository website ( Podcast interviews are also recorded of the older people’s memories of times long ago. 

The images and recordings collected provide a fascinating insight into an Ireland that is no longer with us- a time of small family farms, communal harvests, strong community spirit, peat fuel, market towns, town factories based on locally source raw materials, Gaelic sports, emigration, deep religious observance and the power and decline of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy. 
The oldest person so far interviewed is 93 year old Maisie Sherlock, who was tracked down as a result of a 1928 photograph of Tiaquin national school. Maisie was one of the pupils in the photograph. She was born in 1921 the year before the Irish state was founded; attended Tiaquin school when it first opened on April 6th 1926; spent most of World War Two as a nurse in London where she was officially commended for her bravery when her hospital was bombed, and witnessed the closure of the school in 1977. In fact her life is the history of modern Ireland. 

Over the last six months, circa 20 schools have organised such reunions with many more to follow over the next year. 2013 was a great opportunity to give impetus to the project as it was the Year of the Gathering providing a lot of goodwill and interest towards facilitating local heritage events involving schools. 
Already photographs from 120 Galway schools are on the BEO Photo gallery website, with thousands of images and dozens of films and podcasts on life in rural Ireland to be uploaded over the next year. The website has had nearly 600,000 hits already which will dramatically increase in the coming months.

The project’s aim is to have all schools of Galway city and county involved and to have all schools past and present identified on a shared website and associated digital map with images of the school and locality in days gone by.  At present, there are circa three hundred schools in Galway city and county, with an estimated two hundred more that have closed down over the last eighty years due to population decline, amalgamation and changes in government policy.
BEO is a partnership proje
ct involving the Insight Centre NUI Galway, Galway County Council, Galway Education Centre,  Galway Retired Teachers’ Association, the Galway Board of the GAA and Ballinasloe Active Retired Association.
At one reunion event held last summer in Castlegar National School as part of The Gathering 2013, Margaret arrived with a photograph of herself as a young girl with fellow pupils taken in front of Carrowbrowne school in 1938. No other known image existed of an establishment that closed two years later when it amalgamated into the new school in Castlegar.  By the end of the event, local people had helped identify the majority of the fifty five pupils and two teachers in the photograph. The interest generated by the image was so strong that Margaret decided to organise a reunion of former pupils and their families with the help of Brendan.

No comments: