Past pupils gather for special reunion – 74 years after school closed down!

School reunions are ten a penny these days – but few establishments manage one nearly three quarters of a century after the final bell sounded and the last pupil dashed out the door. Carrowbrowne National School, just across the county border off the Headford Road closed in 1940, amalgamating with the newly built Castlegar School.

The only known copy of a photograph of the pupils in 1938 emerged as part of an innovative project to document the past pupils of all schools across Galway city and county.

Brendan Smith of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics in NUI Galway is the manager of BEO, a schools-based digital archive project – the largest heritage programme involving schools since the 1930s Folklore Commission.

“Participating schools organise informal local community nights where local residents and former pupils enjoy a chat over a cup of tea and cake,” explained Brendan.

“The former classmates bring 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 project aims to get all schools of Galway city and county involved and identify all schools – past and present – on a shared website and associated digital map, with images of the school and locality in days gone by.

So far the project has secured photos from 120 schools. It is envisaged there will be a further 80 included in the archive by the end of the year.

One such event was held last summer in Castlegar National School as part of The Gathering 2013. Margaret Mulgannon who now lives in Mervue arrived with a photograph of herself as a young girl with fellow pupils taken in front of Carrowbrowne school in 1938.

“The school is now a greenfield site; it’s well and truly obliterated from the physical landscape but we’re trying to hold onto it in the spiritual sense. No other known image exists of an establishment that closed two years later when it amalgamated into the new school in Castlegar,” reflected Brendan.

By the end of the event, local residents had helped identify the majority of the fifty-five pupils and two teachers in the photograph.  Margaret believes around ten people could still be alive from the image.

The interest generated by the photo was so strong that Margaret (née O’Brien) decided to organise a reunion of former pupils and their families with the help of Brendan, the Galway Education Centre and the Heritage Office of Galway County Council.

The Mayor of County Galway Liam Carroll will officially welcome people to the reunion where old photographs and 1930s/1940s school memorabilia will be on display.

See full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune.