My Recollection of Dreenan Primary School

I have a lot of fond memories of my days at Dreenan Primary School from September, 1967 until it closed in June 1972. In the latter years a typical day would have begun with my daddy leaving me to Rankin’s lane in his cherished blue Morris Oxford and more often than not he had a treat for me of a couple of toffees bought at Mick McKenna’s on the weekly shopping trip.

When we got into school there were a few chores to be sorted before lessons started, the ashes to be lifted and the fire set, the floor brushed and up until the last couple of years a bucket of water to be fetched from Rankin’s pump. I remember one year when we came back after the summer holidays, a sink had been installed in the porch with mains water and the toilets had been upgraded from a hole in a plank of wood with a tin bucket, to chemical toilets! - boy had we moved up into the 20th century! Just imagine on a cold winters day having to spend a penny - this meant going out the front of the school and for the girls having to run around to the back of the school through the blue steel gate into the toilet block with a choice of two luxurious toilets - one with a door and one without, no fancy flushing chains or china sinks, just bare walls and a drain which was useful if there was a queue! Another chore for the lucky P7 boys was emptying these famous tin buckets.

There never was electricity in the wee school and the long dark days in December were lit only by the flames of the coal fire dancing on the walls and those lucky enough to be sitting in the front row had bright rosy cheeks.

When the chores were complete we got settled in usually in classes no bigger than three or four and the drilling of prayers and tables commenced. Mrs. McErlane or Miss as we called her put us through our paces with tales of "Janet and John" and "The Five and a Half Club" readers. At lunchtime she boiled the teapot on the fire and sucked the white milk from the Dandelion stalks we had brought her in, while we drank milk from the tiny bottles and ate our lunch which was usually jam sandwiches or fresh baked bread and butter.

When it rained we couldn’t go out at break times, there were no video’s or TV for us, instead out came the peg boards and coloured pegs in the little fray bentos pie tins or the `triangular wooden puzzles, or in the big room (Mrs. Diamond’s room) we played ‘Guess where" from the three huge maps of the World, Europe and the British Isles which hung on the back wall. The playground seemed massive when we were small and the little ones usually played skipping, London Bridge and the usual games at the back while the big ones played chain tig at the front. Every lunchtime seemed pretty much the same except one - "the day they went to the moss".


The day they went to the moss

That was the day that Jim (boxer) McErlean decided with the help of others to go on a nature walk out across George Millar’s field to the moss, the only problem was they lost lease of time and didn’t get back until about ten to three to a very very very cross Mrs. Diamond. To this day I can remember the silence in our room (Mrs. McErlane’s) and the clutch of fear over us all as we listened to the consequences next door - let’s just say there were no cold hands going home that evening. Having spoken to a couple of the culprits for an update the story goes like this….

Jim and his acquaintances namely, Anne & Geraldine Henry, Roisin & Michael O’Neill,

Margaret & Colette Diamond, Gerard O’Neill, Pat Joe Hughes and possibly others headed off on Safari across George’s field, after going a bit and deciding this was perhaps not a good idea Colette decided to return escorted by Michael and Gerard O’Neill and escaped any sentencing. However Jim with the rest of the gang on tow carried on perhaps with the intention of doing a round trip of Carnaman ( or going to Jim’s for tea possibly). However things didn’t exactly go to plan and the mucky gang finally made it back to school at almost home time to be met by Mrs. Diamond who made them take off their grubby shoes and stand in a row of little wet dirty feet to the serenade and to this day some of them can remember the welcome speech but I will save embarrassment and decline to print it! Well the rest of the tale you can just imagine…. Except for a double twist in the tail for a certain budding bank official who lost his good Sunday tie… I hate to think what Maggie M did to him when she got him home just across the field from his former judge and jury.

Christmas was a special time when the teacher relaxed from her formal mood for an hour and we had our Christmas party, but before you got any sweets with Miss you first had to eat your pan bread spread with Nestles cream milk "yeuk’ - I can remember one year sticking mine to the underside of my desk ( I wonder is it still there) and pretending I had eaten it!

Another annual treat was the day we got to polish the desks, Miss would bring in the tin of Violet smelling furniture polish and we each brought a duster and set to work polishing for all we were worth - little amused the innocent!

To this day I remember every detail of that little classroom, the cream tongued and grooved partition which had little black squares hung on cup hooks and each one of them had pink circles on them up to the number ten, the alphabet and God only knows how many generations learned to count on them. The bale of paper which sat on the table between the window and the blackboard which was cut into squares for drawing on or if anyone sniffled and had no handkie to Miss’s dislike she promptly cut a square and you can imagine the rest.The big blackboard which sat on an easel could be moved up and down with pegs and those two built in cupboards behind the blackboard which were always a mystery to me as we never got to see what was inside them - and of course the cane which sat beside the fireplace or sometimes hung on the peg of the blackboard as a constant reminder of the consequences if we stepped out of line.

In Mrs. Diamond’s room what sticks out in my mind most is the day we got to start doing joined writing. Each one of us got a fountain pen and ink in the little inkwells at the front of the desk and set to copy the strips of letters into our lined books, each letter had to be formed perfectly just like the strips. When my own son started to do joined writing last year I was astonished at the way in which everything has changed so much - sure sign I’m getting old!

The dentist and photographer were another annual event which broke the sometimes monotonous routine, the dentist arriving with his little caravan which was parked in the middle of the playground for two or three days until everyone had got a touch of his drill - it still sends shivers up my spine to think about it.

I can remember once when the photographer came I wouldn’t smile because all my teeth had fallen out - God help Margaret Dillon if she produces that photograph!

The day Dreenan School closed was a very sad one. I can remember Mrs. Diamond going through the cupboards and giving out all the old books that were not required in the new school and we filled our bags with them dreaming of the games of play school we were going to have all summer. The only problem was we all had to walk home and were over laden, the strap on my schoolbag broke as I passed Moore’s and I had to carry it under my arm and fell away behind the others. I met Arthur O’Neill who took off his tie and tied it around my schoolbag to make a new strap and scolded about the others having left me behind .

As I have written this story, I have mentioned four people who have passed away; God rest them and all those who have passed on since leaving Dreenan School and may they be looking down on us as we celebrate this reunion.

As remembered by

Martina McLernon (nee O’Neill, Dreenan)