As part of the Penal Laws which were enforced in 1695, the native Irish was forbidden to educate or receive education. Daniel Boyd a Scottish Presbyterian took up residence in Carrickfinn in the last years of the seventeenth century. There was always good will between the new families and their neighbours. It is possible that Carrickfinn being on the far North West Coast of Ireland would not be harshly affected and together with their new neighbours, they may have had some sort of educational system. When these laws were relaxed toward the end of the eighteenth century the people were too poor to build a schoolhouse so the teachers held classes in a barn or bothóg (a sod built house). When the weather was good, the teacher held their classes in the open air, usually in a sheltered place beside a hedge. These schools were called “Hedge Schools”. The lessons were given by travelling teachers and their usual payment was 2d per week from each scholar but quite often they were paid in kind.

In 1782 Templecrone Parish Vestry gave £15 to build three schools. One of these schools was built in Carnboy and is still in use as a barn.

The building that housed the 1782 school in Carnboy was located to the right of this image

In 1835 Thomas Boyd was recorded as being the master at this school. He received £5 10s 9d from the Robertson Fund, a gratuity of £2 from the Parish and payments of 2s per quarter from each child. He taught reading, writing and arithmetic and had 34 pupils in 1835. With the population of Carnboy only 24 in 1841, a large proportion of the pupils were neighbouring Catholics and children of the local coastguards. The teachers in the neighbouring Ranafast and Belcruit Hedge Schools were then paid between one and two schillings per quarter by each child. Since these Schools had an average of twenty pupils, the teacher’s pay averaged £1 10s per quarter. Belcruit Hedge School was only opened during the winter.

There is a ruin of long thatched building in Carrickfinn which according to local history, housed a school. This building is known as Coyles.

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Coyle’s Schoolhouse Carrickfinn

Daniel Coyle is recorded as a tenant on this property until 1823. From 1822 a detachment of around thirty officers of the newly formed Coastguard Service were stationed on this property. Jack O’Donnell born in Meenaleck around 1830 became a hedge school teacher in Carrickfinn sometime in the 1850s. He may have taught at Coyle’s or at another site. Jack received his education from the Landlord Mr Stewart of Horn Head where his mother was a servant. Jack was later to become a licensee of two taverns in Meenaleck where he held a monthly fair. This village was then known as Jackstown. In 1968 musician Leo Brennan bought one of these taverns and started a singing lounge. His family are now known worldwide as Clannad and Enya.

There were several societies during this period using the Gaelic Bible as a vehicle to educate Catholic children and hopefully convert them to Protestantism. They also educated the local Protestant children. One of these societies was the Island and Coast Society. In April 1840 the acting curate of Templecrone Parish wrote a letter to the Island and Coast Society thanking them for the appointment of a Mr. Foley to the Guidore School based in Carrickfinn. It was called Guidore because it was located on the property of the Guidore Coastguard Station. The letter stated the conditions the new teacher was being afforded and that he would stay at a “decent respectable Protestant widow who lived half ways between Guidore and Rutland”, possibly in Mullaghderg or Kincasslagh.

Cathal Ó Cearbhalláin taught in Carrickfinn from the 1840s but he may have used the old watch house. Master Ó Cearbhalláin or O Carolan a Catholic and a native Gaelic speaker was employed by the Society. O’Carolan was at the seminary with Fr. Dan O’Donnell who was Parish Priest in Kincasslagh until his death in 1879. O’ Carolan dropped out and went to teaching ended up in Carrickfin, but he was recognized by Fr. Dan. Charles Boyle born 1819 in Belcruit next to Sally Ned’s pub was a pupil of Charles O’Carolan.   Cathal was married to Ann McDonnell the only daughter of the then famous poet and schoolteacher Aodh Mac Domhnaill. Aodh was born in Co. Meath in 1802. A descendent of Mac Domhnaill chieftains of Co. Antrim, Aodh was one of the earliest Catholic born schoolteachers employed by a proselytising Society. He was at first employed as a schoolteacher by the London Hibernian Society and was later an inspector with the Presbyterian Home Mission in the Glens of Antrim. After a row between himself and Fr. Luke Walsh a Parish Priest in North Antrim, he lost his position. Robert MacAdam a respected antiquarian and Gaeilge language revivalist employed Aodh as a collector of folklore and as his chief assistant in compiling printed versions of some of Ireland’s ancient manuscripts. In 1856 Aodh came to live with his daughter in Kincasslagh. He taught in Carrickfinn and was also an inspector for the Island and Coast Society. In 1863 while in Carrickfinn he wrote a manuscript, This manusript is now kept in Maynooth College. On a visit back to see his relations, he fell ill, and died in the workhouse in Cootehill, Co. Cavan in March 1867. His former employer Robert MacAdam paid for his funeral to Myrath Cemetery. His daughter Ann and her husband Cathal were sequentially buried in the same plot.

While the greater numbers of pupils at this school were Catholic who received an education in their native tongue, it must be emphasized that Gaelic was the daily language of most members of the local Church of Ireland community. One of these pupils, James Boyd from Carnboy educated there in 1853 spoke very little English. It is possible that Cathal O Cearbhalláin continued to teach up until the death of his wife and daughter in 1877. While we have no record of his birth, his wife was born before her mother died in 1836. In 1850 the Society gave a grant of £50 for the erection of a dual purpose building. The former coastguard watch house was renovated and was used as a church and school. Cork native Rev. Thomas Wolfe, a superintendent with the Society became the first Rector of the Church of Ireland community in Carrickfinn during the spring of 1858. Rev Wolfe resided with the Alcorn family in the former Coastguard Station. He succumbed to the fever on December 22nd that same year.  He was just thirty five years old and was buried near the ancient Cross of Columcille (this high cross fell forty years earlier) on Christmas Eve at Myrath cemetery near Falcarragh, a distance of some twenty miles.


In 1868 the dual purpose building became a Church of Ireland Chapel of Ease.

St Andrew’s Church

With the aid of the Col. Robertson Fund a new schoolhouse was opened in 1868.

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The remains of the Robertson Schoolhouse 100 years after its opening (O’Donnell Collection)

Richard Given a native of Ardara became the teacher at this schoolhouse in the 1882. My grandfather Jimmy Duffy born in 1876 was a pupil. The pupils were now given Bible instruction in English, the language of the Established Church. When my grandfather was old enough to make his confirmation, he and his Catholic classmates were taught catechism by an elderly neighbour Nablá Ní Bhaoill born around 1830, herself was a former pupil of the Island and Coast Society. Many Carrickfinn natives received a good education from the Hedge, Robertson and Society Schools. Duncan Boyle born in 1822 became a captain of ocean going sailing ships plying their trade between Canada and England.

Duncan BOYLE

Charles and Patrick Boyle worked in the engineering section of Scotland’s Rail Network. James P Sinnott born in Carrickfinn in 1848 became a Monsignor in America, his brother Joseph who owned the Moore and Sinnott distillery, once the  largest rye distillery in America and Charles Boyle born 1819 in Belcruit who was a pupil of Charles O’Carolan. Boyle worked as a railway engineer in the new frontier in the US.

My grandfather Jimmy Duffy was the captain of one of the first motor fishing boats on this coast from 1914. Together with his crew most of whom were former pupils of Richard Given’s navigated the coasts of Ireland and Britain using primitive equipment such as compass, sextant and charts. It was essential that they had knowledge of English and Mathematics to succeed.  This school was funded by the Erasmus Smith Fund from 1902 until its closure in 1937. It was the penultimate school Erasmus Smith in Donegal to close down. The schools’ emphasis was teaching English, Greek, Latin and Hebrew. In an examination carried out by the fund in 1935, Richard Given was still teaching and giving high results at the advanced age of 81 years.  Annie Alcorn (Tammy) from Carrickfinn was a monitor sometime during Master Given’s career.

The National Education System finally came to Carrickfinn in 1898. This system which began in 1831 was based on the Robertson model. The building which housed the school was recorded in the Ordnance Survey of 1835 and was inhabited by Edward Sweeney at the time of the Griffiths Valuation of 1858. The first teacher was Mrs Bridget Diver, known locally as Biddy Durín. Biddy nee Durning was born in Bunbeg in the neighbouring Parish of Gweedore and upon her marriage to John Diver (Tharlaigh Mhicí), she taught in the National School in his native Gola Island. John died early in life as did their two young daughters. Broken hearted, Biddy left for a new life in Canada. When she arrived she quickly found that life there didn’t suit her, so she returned home to Bunbeg. She got a post in the new national school which opened on May 5thth 1898. She rowed her currach across the narrow but hazardous estuary that separates Carrickfinn and Gweedore.  When the days were short and inclement she stayed in Carrickfinn where she is recorded in the 1901 census in the Duffy household. She was a well qualified teacher and many children came from surrounding areas to avail of her tuition. Biddy taught only in the medium of English. One of her sayings was “who owns these rags” while holding a pupil’s coat up with a stick. There were eleven boys and seven girls recorded on the first roll call on this historic day. The oldest pupil was Patrick Doherty (Padraig Airt) a fourteen year from the neighbouring island of Inishinny while five years old John Boyle (Michael) of Carrickfinn was the youngest. Maggie Forker who died in 2007 aged 103 years was the last surviving pupil of Biddy Durnín’s era.

There are no records for the rate of the teacher’s pay but it would be less than the £17 13s 8d per quarter, the principal of the two teacher Annagry National School received.

On July 19th 1904 an indenture was signed by Victor George Henry Francis Marquis of Conyngham of Slane Castle, Connell Gallagher Tenant and the Most Rev Patrick O’Donnell Bishop of Raphoe. The contract was start of a process which would see Carrickfinn Island getting the first purpose built National School. The school was built on a site given by Connell Gallagher, a tenant of local Conyngham Estate and was supervised by Rev James Walker, Parish Priest of Lower Templecrone in which Carrickfinn Island was a part. The cost of the building was £228 stg, a grant £152 stg was given by Westminster to the Commissioners of Public Works while the remainder was raised within the Parish. This was a very progressive year for the parish with contracts being signed for the erection of a new National School in Annagry and Annagry Carpet Factory, the later by the Congested Districts Board. Hughie McCole from the Hills built the new school and it was opened on March 28th 1906.

School painting original
Sketch by Kim Sharkey

During World War 1, the teachers received a war bonus of £4 4s per annum because of rising inflation.

When Mrs Diver retired in 1915, a young teacher who had just graduated temporarily filled the position. His name was Jimmy Greene from Ranafast who later was to become the most famous Gaelic novelist of the twentieth century under the penname Máire or Seamus Ó Grianna. Jimmy Fheilimidh as he was locally known travelled to school by currach. When the sea was rough he’d stay in the home of Lanty Gallagher, a serving gunner in the Royal Navy. Lanty who joined the Navy in the 1890s was home on leave during Jimmy’s teaching term in Carrickfinn. Lanty, a past pupil of Richard Given ended his naval career in 1919 having seen action as a gunner aboard the flagship HMS Lion during the Battle of Jutland.

Many of the pupils recorded on the Carrickfinn Island N. S rolls were attending while at service at neighbouring families. They came from Gweedore, Ranafast, Braade, Drumnacart, Innishinny Island as well as some from other parts of Ireland and Scotland while they visited relatives.

At the old school house, slates and chalk were used to write on, but with inkwells being part of the desks in the new school, the pupils started to use copy books. There were many poems taught at this school over the years with some being later recited by past pupils, poems such as “Casabianca” by Felicia Hemans and “Wee Hughie” by Elizabeth Shane. Elizabeth Shane was the pen name of Gertrude Hind, a regular visitor to Carrickfinn in the 1920s.

In 1926 it became compulsory for every child under the age of 14 to attend National School every day. Mothers who in the past kept the most robust members of the family off school while their husbands were either at the harvest in Scotland or were at sea now faced the full rigours of the law. It was compulsory that every pupil would have with them two sods of turf from home to keep the school fire going, failure to do so resulted in the offender getting a couple of slaps with a willow cane or “sally” rod. With the establishment of the Irish Free State there were some changes to the educational system. It was customary to send the children to herd cattle after school. This was done, so that the unfenced areas could be grazed without destroying their own or the neighbour’s crops. It was common for these children not to have their homework done which resulted in more slaps. The pupils got a pandy (a tin can made by a travelling tinker) of cocoa and a slice of loaf bread and butter. Two of the older children in the school were sent to the Dunleavy’s shop in Calhame, a five mile round trip to get the bread. On the way back hunger pangs would overcome them, so they would carefully open the heel of the loaf and eat the inside. When they would land back with the provisions, an inquisition would begin which would result in……even more slaps!

The Irish language was promoted in Co. Donegal by Crann Eithne, an organisation set up by the Bishop of Raphoe in 1909. The participating teachers availed of a bilingual grant in the region of 17s per year. In 1927 Gaelic became the teaching medium of the education system.

The principal of the Carrickfinn Robertson School, Richard Given died on February 2nd 1937 at the advanced age of 84 years, This marked the end of Protestant education in Carrickfinn. Without a teacher it was decided to close the school and to amalgamate with the National School. Before the end of the school year of 1937, eight pupils from the local Church of Ireland community attended Carrickfinn Island National School for the first time. They were sisters, Maggie and Lily Boyd (Mary Jane), Susan Boyd (Johnny Richard Óg) of Carnboy, May Boyd (Christy) Carrickfinn. Also changing school were two sets of brothers George and John Boyd (Johnny Richard Óg) and Joe and John Boyd (Mary Jane), all of Carnboy. May Boyd later McElhinney now reside in Dunfanaghy and is the last surviving pupil of Master Given.


The school’s religious instruction was now controlled by the Catholic Church; the Protestant pupils would be let out to the playground while the less fortunate Catholic children had to suffer on.

Pupils at Carrickfinn N.S in the 1960s (Murray Boyd)

It was decided by the Diocese of Raphoe and the Department of Education that the smaller schools in the Parish of Annagry should close and amalgamate with the larger school in the village close to the Parish Church. On July 1st 1968 ten girls and five boys attended Annagry National School for the first time.

The school fell into disrepair after its closing. It was later renovated and is now a holiday cottage.

Carrickfinn Schoolhouse today

Frances Boyle
Frances Boyle from Arranmore Island , teacher at Carrickfinn Island N.S in 1952 (copyright Maria Doherty)

Air Aodh Mac Domhnaill 

Gen ach bhfuil úr chórn le na luir a choimead go buan

No cloch na sgeala do choimhnach dhuin gach huair

Achd teas shuil na ndeor, sé shaibhleas se é

A ainm ulmhaitheas ó dhath uain na cré

Caranacht na ndeor mar bhuil sé na luidhe

Le gaoil spiridibh silteadh beith ro chaoimh

Ní thuitfuidh na tuilte gan tairbhe no mithórbhuil uabh

Achd foilseaidh dhuin an ait a bhfaisfaidh snuadh na huadh

Sud an ait a gcafaidh an tsamar a snuadh ghlas le sgeimh

Agus aibid úr an earaidh beith go bun do réir

Sud an ait a mbeith an dearg rós ag fáilte gnuis an lae

Agus drucht oidhche silt de dhealgibh gear

Ansin ní fhasan luibh neimhnach go lá an luan

No ni bheith athair neimhe a bhfogas do na leabhadh ro shuan

Dheandaid faire ar huairibh air a luir le brón

Agus banfaid an fomhnan frithe dhe na huadh gach nóin

Ansa t-sean Cill Mhoira shuamneas a chean go crom

Agus codlain go luidhchan ameasg na marbh go trom

(Written by his son-in-law Cathal after Aodh death.)

Aodh Mac Domhnaill wrote two manuscripts, one in Belfast in 1858 and another more than likely in Carrickfinn in 1863 (this one was owned by the late Cardinal Ó Fiaich).

Additional information of teachers.

*Sean McColgan got a post in Dublin in September 1926.

*Annie Breslin transferred to Knockastollar N.S in April 1927.

*Norah Boyle came from Inishirrer N.S. and spent 5 years in Carrickfinn

*Kitty Bonner was in Carrickfinn when Master Given died in 1937.

* Ms McGarvey Boyle said she taught here from 1953/54 to 1957..Annie Carr from Gortahork taught there before her and she thinks Máire McGinley replaced her.

*The were two teachers called Frances Boyle, one from Arranmore and the other know as Nuala  Boyle from Meendernasloe, one of them appeared in the Annagry notes (Derry People) March 1952.

©Jimmy Duffy November 2015