Some images of the weekend

We’ve previously added some photographs of the history of the Gilson Endowed School here and there were many many more to be seen in the exhibition which was held all over the weekend.  We’ve also now got lots of photos from the weekend itself.

Ann Meldon Hugh speaking at the unveiling ceremony

The two bishops unveiling the statue

Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

What a great weekend!

Well the Laurence Gilson Bicentennial Commemoration weekend is now over.  The committee were delighted at the turnout at all the different events over the three days and especially at the huge turnout for the unveiling of the statuary outside the Old Gilson School on Sunday 1st May.  Everyone who has seen this scuplture has agreed that it is a really fitting tribute to Laurence Gilson and will be a lasting memorial to his generosity.  For anyone who hasn’t had the chance to come to Oldcastle yet and see the statuary, here is a picture of it before all the weekend’s festivities began:

The man is presenting the two young children with a key which symbolises the opening up of education to the children of the area.    The piece is worked in bronze and stands on a simple plinth. 

Although the formal unveiling by Most Rev Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath and Most Rev Richard Clarke, Bishop of Meath and Kildare, did not take place until the late afternoon of Sunday 1st May, the statuary actually arrived on the previous Thursday.  A number of the committee were there to see it arrive.   Although I have seen numerous statues of all shapes, sizes and designs in various towns and cities, I’d never really given any thought to the process of putting them in place.  After watching this piece arrive and be placed I can only say that its a huge and quite complex operation!

Gently does it .....

Once the statue was in place people were calling in to see it as they passed by. 

Oldcastle was truly blessed with fantastic weather for the May Bank Holiday weekend  – and indeed had been all week leading up to the event.  This just added to the sense of celebration that was pervading the town.  We have loads of pictures of the weekend which I’m going to add to this website along with more accounts of everything that happened.  Hope you all enjoy them!

Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

Lots going on in Oldcastle!!

There’s going to be lots of things happeninng in Oldcastle for the Laurence Gilson commemoration over the May Bank Holiday weekend. You can read more about it all here

Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

Here’s what’s going on….

Here’s the programme of events for the weekend – lots to see and do and listen to.  Come and join us in Oldcastle this May Bank Holiday weekend!

Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment

Memories of the Gilson Endowed School

Many children in and around Oldcastle attended the Gilson Endowed School over its decades of existence. In the later years of the school, some moved on to complete their scondary education in Oldcastle’s post-primary school. That school celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009 and in a book published to commemorate that occasion, one former pupil, Dolores McHugh, recounted her memories of the Gilson Endowed School in this piece which will bring back many memories to those who were also pupils there:

The Gilson School was provided under a trust set up by Laurence Gilson, a native of Boolies, who after only a few years working in London was able to fund this substantial project. Pending the construction of the impressive building on Church Street, the school was established in temporary accommodation in the Market House, in 1822. The Gilson School building occupies a commanding position at the entrance to the town not far from the equally impressive St. Bridget’s RC Church. Built in the Palladian style in 1826, it was designed by CR Cockerell, who remodelled Kinturk House at Castlepollard in 1821 and who also carried out work on Loughcrew House around the same time.
As a pupil attending the Gilson school (1962 to 1969), I remember being struck by the scale of the rooms and the extent of the building. In one classroom at the Girls’ school, as well as the door we use, another door stood forgotten in a corner, until a teacher from a different school emerged through it. In another classroom there were two timber steps at the side of the room up to another seldom used door, to the teachers’ living quarters. There was no corridor in the Girls’ school and the senior room was the means of access to the other two rooms.
The school grounds led from one school to another, but since we weren’t allowed beyond our patch the connectedness of these places remained a mystery. I knew two parts of the school, the Infants’ School and the Girls’ School, but there was also the Boys’ School, the Secondary School and a central block, two storeys over a semi-basement, which was made up of a number of teachers’ living quarters. Together these made up the Gilson Endowed School. The grounds were enclosed at the back by a high perimeter stone wall beyond which there was rough disused ground, once part of the school farm, glimpsed in a rare occasion when the door in the wall was left open.
There was a slight rise in the ground from the street to the school building, set about 10m back. The playground or school yard began at the gate and at this lower end of the yard was a single storey tin roofed building which was the toilet block with half door cubicles within.  Beside the school ground stood a terrace of buildings and a few doors along were Miss Geoghegan’s and the Flanagan’s corner shops, popular with the pupils.
Once a year, we made a pilgrimage from the Girls School to the Gilson Secondary School. Compacted into a smaller room for the final few weeks of the school year, we found the previous lesson still chalked on the blackboard in Latin or Greek, the students were now using our classroom for exams. We didn’t get much of an overview of our new surroundings; before the school day began and after each break we lined up in a corner of the school yard, and were marched to our room.
None of my year made the transition to the Gilson Secondary School, During the summer of 1969 we finished primary school, the post primary schools amalgamated and those of us who continued our education in Oldcastle took our places where the Vocational School had established itself some years earlier, in a fine modern building.
The school seemed a special place to me as a pupil and indeed it was. The trust set up by Laurence Gilson had as its purpose the provision of elementary education for he children of the poor. In the early nineteenth century there was no system of education in Ireland. Hedge schools, and private schools, both for paying students were nearly all that existed and these were operated without regulation or inspection. In 1821 70% of pupils, out of a total of nearly eleven thousand attending schools in Meath, were paying pupils. The Gilson School offered free education to all local children.
As a chancery scheme, under the control of the Chancery Courts in London there was inspection, a general curriculum and even some approved teaching material; and the scheme itself was subject to review and it was updated a number of times in response to changes in educational theory and practice in the UK. Educational practice reflected the values of society so, in the early years of the school, pupils were educated as befitted their station in life, there was little social mobility and schools reflected these attitudes. Later the encouragement of pupils to achieve their potential became part of the thinking. While some resistance continued to the provision of a secondary for the less well-off, many primary schools around the country, including the Gilson School, tried to provide second-level education through add-ons such as additional course and a seventh year. This gave pupils opportunities for a better career or to continue on to university. Practical subjects were always important and the school farm facilitated the dissemination of the new farming ideas throughout the community, particularly after the famine.
In 1930 a co-educational secondary school was established at the Gilson Endowed School. It was an aspiration of the new state to provide second level education to all children. In time there was so much demand from pupils to continue their education that in 1959 another second level school was developed: Blessed Oliver Vocational School. In 1969 with the emergence of the Blessed Oliver Post Primary School, the Gilson Secondary School ceased to exist. In 1976 it was decided that the three primary schools would amalgamate and the new co-educational school was built on the grounds of the old building in 1977.
The building itself remains and is a protected structure. Looking back now I realise that it muchg have had some shortcomings as a school. Sounds travelled through the glass and timber partitions between the rooms. There were only three classrooms each in he Boys’ and Girls’ schools and therefore two classes per room. It must have been nearly impossible to heat those huge rooms. On very bad mornings we were made form a semi-circle round a pot belied stove that stood near one end of the large room. Although the entire stove glowed red it only seemed to heat the area immediately around it. But I don’t remember feeling the cold. My memories are of spaciousness, the lofty rooms, timber panelling, the dais on which stood the teachers table, gigantic windows which stretched up towards even higher ceilings which had ropes to open upper sections, the smell of Jeyes fluid in the toilets, the white inkwells and dip pens, the wooden desks for two pupils. The exotic monkey puzzle tree in the private grounds in front of the teachers’ house. It was a lovely place to attend school, thanks to Laurence Gilson’s great act of charity.

Posted in 2011 | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Oldcastle prepares to celebrate Laurence Gilson

May Bank Holiday weekend will see the town of Oldcastle and surrounding areas celebrating and commemorating the generosity of an Oldcastle man, Laurence Gilson, who died in 1810.   Gilson bequeathed a considerable sum of money to found a school in his native town which he instructed would be free of charge and would be open to Catholic and Protestant pupils alike. A permanent tribute to Gilson is to be unveiled on Sunday May 1st, in the form of a bronze statue, which has been commissioned by the Gilson Trust from sculptor Ann Meldon Hugh. 
Along with this lasting memorial, there will be a  weekend of events to commemorate Gilson’s generosity and to celebrate the history of the Gilson Endowed School.    Events start on Friday 29 April with an ecumenical service in St. Bride’s Church, in The Square, Oldcastle at 7pm.  At  8pm Myles Dungan of RTE will launch and introduce the weekend in the Gilson National School.  This will be followed by a talk on ‘Laurence Gilson & Endowed Schools’ by Christopher McCormack.  The evening will be rounded off with a concert by local schoolchildren.
On Saturday 30 April there will be a guided tour of the Loughcrew Cairns by Malachy Hand, a complementary shuttle bus will be available from the Gilson School at 2pm.  There will also be a historical tour of the town of Oldcastle by local tourism company Beyond the Blarney, which will start at 4pm from the Gilson School.  At 7pm there will be a commemorative Mass in St. Brigid’s Church, Church St, and at 8pm there will be a talk on ‘The Architecture of the Gilson School and other buildings in the area’ by Liam Tuite, followed by a talk on ‘Laurence Gilson’s family tree’ given by Joe Mooney.
Sunday May 1 will see something for everyone, the tours of the Loughcrew Cairns and the town of Oldcastle will be available at 2pm and 4pm respectively.  A vintage tractor run will take place afternoon and there will be a novelty football match in the Gilson Park at 2.30 pm . There will be family entertainment in the grounds of the Old School from 3.30 pm with music, face painting, bouncy castle and more. 
The main event of the weekend will be at 5pm on Sunday evening when the statue will be unveiled by the Bishop of Meath, Dr. Michael Smith and the Bishop of Meath and Kildare, Dr. Richard Clarke.  This joint unveiling will most fittingly commemorate Laurence Gilson’s wish that Catholic and Protestant children be admitted equally to the school.
The weekend of celebration and commemoration will end with light refreshments, music and dancing and plenty of chance to relive past memories!  As part of the weekend of celebration, the organising committee would especially like to hear from any past pupils of the Gilson Endowed School who would like to share their memories of their time at the school and if anyone has any photographs or memorabilia that they would be prepared to lend for an exhibition on the school’s history for that weekend, the committee would be very grateful.  These will of course be kept and returned safely.  For more information you can email the committee at, or contact Sue Russell on 087 293 4672 or Tracey Holsgrove on 086 194 6429

Posted in 2011 | Leave a comment