Memories Of Dreenan School

During the Christmas holidays of 1957 an advertisement appeared in the Irish News requiring a principal for Dreenan Primary School. I knew that Dreenan was in Lavey Parish, just a few miles from home in Desertmartin. I had been teaching in Coleraine for two years and was staying in digs so it appealed to me to move nearer home and save some money. Besides I knew John Fay who was a selector on the Derry team and many of the Lavey players that I played against in club matches and with on the Derry team.

I rang John Fay one night and he told me to come down and we would go to see the parish priest Father McGlinn. He told me to send in my application and he would be sending all the letters to the bishop Dr. Farren. Luckily I got the job but sad to say Father McGlinn died shortly afterwards. John Fay said my appointment killed the man.

My time as principal of Dreenan began in January 1958. Education was not reorganized at that time and the children stayed at primary school until they were 14. However the 11+ was already established and I remember my first success in that exam was a pupil who seemed to have stayed down the road from Gulladuff. John Grant was his name, and this gave me a lift right away.

As I was now in the money I remember coming to Dreenan on my first day in a small Ford car. I had been warned not to bring the car near the school. It would be smashed, the windows would be broken, the tyres would be cut and it would be best to leave it at some local farm house. This never happened. I drove into the yard and parked up at the back of the school and the car was never marked. And that’s the way it stayed until I left in 1963.

You could not be playing for Derry and you could not be Principal of a school in Lavey without thinking of Gaelic Football. And that’s the way it was in Dreenan. We had no trouble forming a school team and trained and played games in a field kindly provided by Frank McCloy. The idea of playing football seemed to give the school a whole new meaning and discipline in and out of school was excellent. On one occasion during a match in McCloy’s field one of the pupils Charlie Cousley began to get over robust, after a few warnings I eventually had to put Charlie off. Not feeling very pleased, on his way back up the lane, Charlie lit the whins in protest. When Lavey won the All Ireland Club Championship Hugh A recalled that it wasn’t the first bonfire in Lavey, that Charlie Cousley had already lit one.

My memories of Dreenan are all pleasant ones. The children were bright, skilful and artistic. The older boys and girls seemed to help me run the school and of course my assistant Emily McErlean and later Mrs Diamond ran the Infant Department excellently. When the inspectors came the pupils always rose to the occasion and as a result we always got a glowing report. I remember one inspection when a Mr Hedley came and very thoroughly put us over all the subjects he could think of in the curriculum. When it came to Emily McErlean’s turn luckily it rained when she was invited to take a Physical Education lesson. There were no gymnasia at that time, all was outside. So we all sat in and had a cup of tea. And what do you think? One of the senior boys responsible for putting out the equipment came in and said `please sir its faired` The inspector said `Good`!! And out they went. Poor Emily didn’t seemed pleased with that boy.

At that time Dreenan School had been modernized. There were two nice modern fireplaces, the walls were nicely painted and the desks were new. The school had atmosphere and the pupils and ourselves were happy. Fr, McCullough, the curate, called in regularly to see us and talk to the children especially when the religious examiner was

coming. He especially liked to be out in deep snow when he thought nobody else could get around in their cars. One time he talked me into taking a part in a play to be put on in Mayogall Hall. I strenuously resisted but he would not take no for an answer. I could have gone out hundreds of times on to Croke Park but out on a stage I was terrified. I remember a man on that cast called Eddie McGill and he could have walked on and off the stage all night, a born actor. That particular play ran in Mayogall Hall for a number of nights, with a full house every night. The last night, a Sunday night, presented me with a problem. I had been selected to play for Ulster against Munster in Tralee and Fr. McCullough said I couldn’t play as I was taking part in his play. He kept me in suspense until the very last when he relented and said I could go. Another time in 1960 when Ulster were playing Leinster in Croke Park I could not go to school Thursday or Friday because of heavy snow fall. Glenshane in fact was blocked. Hugh A McGurk being the man he was called for me on Saturday and we went to Dublin via Belfast. Croke Park was as green as leeks, but the north was still snowbound. The match being broadcast Seamus Young, God be good to him, remarked that some people in Dreenan were wondering how I could get to Dublin and couldn’t get to school.

The school was an important focal point for the people of Dreenan. The local people were very much aware of the activities of the school. Founded in 1845 the school was once privately owned. Children, both Catholic and Protestant attended classes and even adults attended with the children. There was a fine tradition of the national language and children carried off major prizes at the South Derry Feis. This success was due to the efforts of a Principal Miss M Boyle and her assistant Miss T Mooney. Two of Dreenan’s priests are Rev. Fr. Henry, England and Rev. Fr. O’Neill USA. Nuns and teachers are also included among the past pupils. And of course no local history would be complete without the mention of Cassie Murray, a native Irish speaker, now living in Portstewart.

The goodwill of the people of Dreenan was reflected in the children of the school and I was pleased to return this generosity as best I could. Fr. Maguire was P.P. during my five years in Dreenan and by a strange coincidence he had baptized me whilst he was a curate in Desertmartin. I wish to thank all those children I taught whilst I was Principal, all the parents who supported me, Ange Convery and the Rankins who treated me like a king, made sure I got a turkey for Christmas and above all Emily and Mrs P Diamond who taught with me so happily.

PATSY BREEN 1958 - 1963