Dreenan School Memories

The history of Dreenan School spans over the three centuries. The first Principal of the school was a Master James Cassidy in 1812 and when the school closed in 1972 the last Principal teacher was Mrs Philomena Diamond from Ballymacpeake. Now on May 5th 2001 historic celebrations are planned to remember everyone who went to `Dreenan` and for those who wished they did.

The idea of a school reunion has been around since its doors closed for the last time. Tony Early and myself as budding journalists covered a very emotional closing reunion of Lemnaroy School for the Coleraine Chronicle. Some years later the late Brian Mulholland talked to me several times about how past pupils of Ballymacpeake school were planning a reunion. Una Gallagher and Denis Grant and many others (like the McCrystals) have kept the idea of a reunion alive and of course the hard working committee under Margaret Dillon’s capable leadership have made the dream a reality.

Growing up in Drummuck in the late nineteen forties meant that I lived and breathed Dreenan School every day of my life. Our next door neighbour was my aunt Miss Margaret Boyle who was also Principal of Dreenan for over thirty five years. Miss Teresa Mooney the Junior Assistant Mistress of the school lived two field lengths away from our house. During frosty wintry mornings as an infant or junior pupil some of my brothers and sisters would get a lift to school. In Lent this meant a very long day as Miss Boyle and Miss Mooney attended mass every morning before school. Then they did the Stations of the Cross in the Chapel each evening after school. One day by accident I knocked off a sidelight of Miss Mooney’s small Austin Minor Car but somehow my older, wiser brother Brian got the blame for it. As I got older I then took the overland route to school with other members of my family and all the McCrystals as we headed through Drummuck moss along the Hollow Lane by Kelly’s then over the moss and out by Millars.

The old school was really one room and hence a partition was built between the Infant room and the Senior room. Once a week, boys competed with each other in order to clean the offices, while the girls would sweep the floor and spray water to keep down the dust. Dry brown foggy turf were brought to school by the pupils and a fire was lit in the fireplaces at each end of the building. Several school inspectors were always concerned that proper fireguards were in place. Later on I do seem to remember a stove was in place in the Senior room. It seems that the building was always in need of repair and there were never enough of the double desks for all students. The spouting and roof leaked. In my years I do remember the large window sills, which were beautifully decorated with flower bulbs, plants, sticklebacks and tadpoles.

Pupils in my era made their own fun. Can anyone remember having hob-nailed boots and going skating, making sparks on the main road outside the school? I enjoyed the last day of the year because for once, the cumbersome double desks were moved to the sides of the room and a party was held. I seem to remember Paris buns and some games being played. Football was played at lunch time. Once the Senior pupils got to Maghera to see the film `The Song of Bernadette`.

You will date yourself as over fifty if you can remember any of the following - The school inspectors, Mr McManus, Mr Twyman or Mr Hedley, the R.E. Inspector Fr. Rooney. Did Marcus Houston the Attendance Officer have a moustache? Did you ever `mitch` and go to Maghera Fair? How about knitting a scarf or socks? Did you play marbles,conkers or Tom Tiddly the middle man? Did you ever have inkblots in your transcription book? Do you remember the Feis or making potato print design? Fr. McGlynn hearing confessions behind the blackboard easel. Anyone remember Mickey O’Neill of Gulladuff walking on his hands? Did the teacher ever ask you to ring the old school bell? I know many of you can add more exciting details and colourful stories. This will no doubt be a large part of the reunion.

Dreenan was a two teacher school from the nineteen twenties and even though the school enrolment dropped, creative ways were found to keep the school open. For example, my cousins from Dunloy the late Father’s George and Ben Carey came to live in Drummuck during the school term. Often some pupils might have been less than four years old when they were put on the school roll. From its earliest days, Dreenan school has been a cross cultural school and this speaks highly of the spirit of co-operation and tolerance in our area.

It would be appropriate to remember for a moment, the pupils from the school who have died, and in particular, those who passed away in the prime of life.

As well, there are many former pupils, living and working in different parts of the world, who cannot be with us. We will be thinking about you.

Teaching in Dreenan was a challenge to all the teachers. There is no doubt that conditions were cramped in that, there were not enough desks or resource materials. Before my time there was no porch or cloakroom, and poor lighting. Despite these handicaps, all the teachers of Dreenan have devoted themselves totally to learning. Having been a teacher myself I can appreciate that all our teachers did an amazing service to our community. On behalf of my era I salute the teachers of the past, Miss Dinnen, Miss Boyle and Miss Mooney.

Tributes must be given to teachers of the present - Mr Patsy Breen, Emily McErlean, Mrs Geraldine Laverty and Sister Sally Young for their dedicated service to all of us.

A special word of congratulations is in order for Mrs Philomena Diamond for her work as the last Principal of Dreenan, and she has for many years been most supportive of this reunion.

And last but not least. I thank all past pupils of Dreenan. Please blame my fading memory or the distance away from Lavey if I forgot anyone in my era from 1947 - 1956. To all the O’Kanes, Downeys,Costellos, Rankins, McNallys, McCloys, Grants, Hamills, McCrystals, Magees, Hazletts, Converys, Morgans, Millars, McGoldricks, Henrys, McPeakes, Boyles, Dooles and Cassidys - To me, you are, and always will be, DREENAN.


1947 - 1956