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Drumahoe Primary School, Drumahoe, Londonderry


Let us look back and pay tribute to the schools of the past which served the community and which are often fondly remembered by some of the older residents of the neighbourhood and indeed by many others who have left Drumahoe to live elsewhere but who never forget their roots.

We acknowledge the excellent work done by these schools in times of financial deprivation when children had to pay to be educated and also when the country was ravaged by two World Wars and by terrorist unrest.

The earliest institutions of learning in the 18th and 19th centuries were Parish schools, run by the churches in the area.

A school must have been in existence in 1824, as old records show that the teacher was Isabella Mills (aged 33) and that she was paid £26 per year and a house, and that there were 26 children on rolls, 4 males and 21 females. This school was probably held in Glendermott Presbyterian Church Hall.

Faughan Bridge School (1829-1934)

The first school for Drumahoe was built in 1829 and was known as Faughan Bridge Female School – now the Scott Goligher Memorial Orange Hall The following is an extract from an application to the Commissioners of Education – 20th June 1840 – for aid towards the payment of the teacher’s salary and supply of books :

The name of the school is Faughan Bridge Female School. It is situated in the townland of Drumahoe – Parish of Glendermott – Barony of Tirkeeran – County of Londonderry – post town – Londonderry. It was founded in 1829 – built by private subscription and a building grant of £30 from the Kildare Place Society.

The school house is 35 feet by 15 feet – 10 feet high in the side wall – built of stone and lime – slate roof – two apartments – one for the teacher and one for the schoolroom – being 18 feet by 15 feet – both in an unfinished state – having temporary forms for desks. It is held by lease – rent free.

The name of the teacher is Isabella Mills – aged 49
The school is under the management and superintendence of Rev William Monteith, Minister of 1st Glendermott Presbyterian Church and Rev Henry Carson, Minister of 2nd Glendermott Presbyterian Church. Correspondent – Rev Henry Carson.

The times for the reading of Holy Scripture and for Catechism instruction are so arranged as not to interfere with or impede the Scientific or Secular business of the school, and no child whose parents object is required to be present or take part in those exercises.

The school opens in the summer at 10 o’clock a.m. and continues until 5 p.m. In the winter it opens at ten and continues until three. In both summer and winter it is held six days of the week. The school is open all days of the week to the public of all denominations who may inspect the Registers, witness the mode of teaching and see that regulations of the school are faithfully observed, but no persons except the Superintendents interfere in the management of the school.

The books used – in addition to the Scriptures and the doctrinal catechisms are those sanctioned by the Kildare Place Society. Average attendance of children – Females 60 – Males 30. There is a register and Daily Report Book faithfully kept in the school. Children pay from 1/- (one shilling) for a quarter to 5/-. Many were not able to pay. The aid requested – is a grant of money to finish and furnish the schoolroom – in addition to a sum which is required towards payment of Teacher. Signed on behalf of the School – Henry Carson

There is no record of any principals who succeeded Isabella Mills. However, Miss Hunter was in charge in the early 1900’s and remained in post until about 1925. She had an assistant called Miss McMullan. Miss Hunter was noted for her strict discipline. She was succeeded by Miss Semple who taught for four or five years before dying young. She was replaced for a short time by a locum called Mr Thompson, who came from Ture in Donegal. He was said to be fond of taking lessons outdoors – such as dancing lessons on Fincairn Road and doing practical mathematics such as finding the area of plots of ground.

Mr Hugh Tombe was then appointed as Principal until the new school opened. At that time classes were also held in Glendermott Presbyterian Church Lecture Hall and some of the pupils of that time remember being marched over to the new school when it opened.

The old Faughan Bridge School eventually became a dwelling house and is now an Orange Hall.

Drumahoe Primary School (1934-1999)

Drumahoe Public Elementary School (as it was known then) was officially opened on Thursday 1st March 1934 by Miss Irwin of Glenfern, Ballyarton. The new school building was described as follows:

Situated about two miles from Londonderry and overlooking the picturesque valley of the Faughan, has been built to supersede Faughan Bridge School.

The new school is ideally placed in a two acre site, well elevated above the road. In purchasing the site, the Regional Education Committee were fortunate in obtaining one which lent itself to good architectural treatment. The site faces south, is well drained, yet has an abundant supply of water available – a gravity water supply being provided by tapping a spring on the higher ground.

The school has a pleasing appearance, the classrooms and main entrance facing the road. It comprises two classrooms and a special subjects room for day and evening classes, ample cloakroom for boys and girls, cleaner’s store, boys’ and girls playsheds, garden store and the usual sanitary conveniences.

In designing the building, the architects made use, as far as possible, of local materials. Gravel from the River Faughan made excellent concrete. County Derry freestone was used for the dressings and base course and County Derry bricks were generally used in the structure.

The classrooms are designed on the latest lines, providing ample air and light. Steel windows of the most modern pattern are used. Mural blackboards and built-in presses have been provided where possible.

The special subjects room is designed for domestic economy classes, and a specially selected range with hot water system has been provided.

Wash-hand basins and jet drinking fountains are provided in the boys’ and girls’ cloakrooms.

The school is heated by central heating, thereby ensuring an even temperature throughout.

A concrete wall with iron railings on top, borders the road. Entrance gates at each end gives access to an easily-graded drive approaching the school. The grounds are ample enough to provide a school garden as well as playgrounds. All paths surrounding the school are covered with tar-macadam.

The school was designed by the Department of Works and Public Buildings, Ministry of Finance, Belfast. The clerk of works was Mr George Trotter, B.Sc. The general contractors were Messrs Henry Lavery & Son, Cambridge Street, Belfast. The flat roofs were covered by Messrs Vulcanite Ltd., Belfast.

In order to ensure the safety of the children when approaching the school, the County Council widened the road and provided a footpath immediately opposite the school, and this has been carried out under the supervision of Mr J A Moore, B.E., M.I.C.E.I., County Surveyor.

This building was adequate to meet the needs of Drumahoe until the Second World War, when local families were asked to give homes to boys and girls from the bombed areas of Belfast. They were known as evacuees and many stories are told of their exploits in Drumahoe. They added a new dimension to the life of the school and the neighbourhood and quite a number of them kept close contact with their adopted families long after the war was over. The evacuees swelled the numbers to such an extent that the old Lismacarrol schoolhouse was used to accommodate a class. However, after the war this was no longer required.

Then when housing estates, like Faughan Crescent and Milltown Crescent were built, the numbers increased again and an extension was opened in 1952. It was designed primarily for the Infant Department and was used to hold morning assemblies. When school meals were introduced, a room was built which had a kitchen and a dining-area which was also used as a classroom.

Because of yet increasing enrolment due to continued housing development in the area, a second extension was started in January 1966 and completed in December 1967. It comprised a new meals kitchen, an Assembly Hall, Staff-Room, Principal’s Office, extra toilets, three additional flat-roofed classrooms and a playground. A field adjacent to the school measuring about 3.5 acres, was purchased from Mr D Henderson. This field was greatly enjoyed by the pupils and was later used to site three temporary classrooms which were procured from Coleraine Secondary School, to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding population in Drumahoe and Tullyally.

As a result of political unrest in some areas of the city of Londonderry and district, Stevenson?s Park was built in Tullyally and therefore, a new school, Fort James (now re-named Ashlea) was built to serve the needs of those who had to move there. A catchment area was then established by the Western Board and this prevented Drumahoe from accepting any pupil resident on the Tullyally side of the Londonderry / Belfast Road – unless that pupil had older brothers or sisters already enrolled in the school. The numbers were considerably reduced but remained around 230, which still necessitated retaining the three temporary classrooms and requiring a staff of Principal and nine teachers until it closed in November 1999.

The old school was sold by public auction on Friday 26th November 1999. The purchaser, Taggart Homes paid £1.2 million for the building and approximately 5.5 acres of land.

The Staff of Drumahoe Primary School 1934 – 1999:

The first Principal was Mr Hugh Tombe who originated from the Ballymena area. Mr Tombe’s assistant was Miss F McMullan. The new school had an enrolment of 86 – the youngest pupil and the first name on the new roll book was that of Noel Henderson who later became a famous rugby international. The oldest pupil was 16 and a half years, although children usually left at 14, until 1959 when Faughan Valley School opened.

In April 1936, Miss M Patterson was appointed as assistant teacher to replace Miss McMullan. She spent her entire teaching career in the school, became Vice-Principal and retired in June 1975.

Other appointments were : Miss Kinkaid in August 1936. Miss Jamieson replaced Miss Kinkaid in August 1941. Miss M.E. Struthers, who later became Mrs Burns, replaced Miss Jamieson in August 1942. Mrs Burns retired in 1980 having served the school for 38 years.

Mr Tombe retired in 1963 and was succeeded by Mr Edgar Anderson who had been teaching in Clooney Primary School.

After Miss Patterson retired, Mr Mervyn Colhoun was appointed Vice-Principal. He had been Principal of Gortnessy Primary School which closed on 11th April 1968.
Mr Colhoun acted as Principal from Mr Anderson’s death in February 1978 until his retirement in June 1978.

The third Principal, Mr Ryan Donaghey took up post in August 1978. Mr Donaghey had been Vice-Principal of Clooney Primary School and had served for six months in the newly-opened Lisnagelvin Primary School which had replaced Clooney P.S. Shortly after his appointment Mrs F E Johnston became Vice-Principal until her retirement in 1983. She was succeeded by Mr R Dallas who died in September 1992.

Mr Dallas was replaced by Mr Terry McMaster, who came from Bangor, Co. Down.

Mr Donaghey retired in June 1995 and was succeeded by Mr Nigel Dougherty who was Vice-Principal of Ebrington P.S. Mr Dougherty stayed a year before returning to Ebrington P.S. as Principal in 1996.

Mr T R McMaster was appointed as Principal in 1996 and retired in August 2021.  He was replaced by Mrs E Walker in November of that year. She continues in the role to this date.

Mrs D Fleming was appointed Vice-Principal in September 1996 and was replaced by Mrs L Hegarty in 2004.

There was always a friendly welcoming atmosphere which was often remarked upon by visitors to Drumahoe Primary School. The working relationship between the teaching and ancillary staff was also always harmonious.

The school was always fortunate to have the very best caretakers, cleaners and kitchen staff. They were people who were conscientious and who took an interest in the children, the teachers and the parents. This also helped to build relationships and provide a family atmosphere which is so beneficial in any school.

Some of the cleaners / caretakers who gave great service to the school over the years were :
Mr W Donaghy, Mrs D Donaghy, Mr W Shields, Mr W Parkhill, Mr J Gardiner, Miss E Laird, Mr H Riddles, Mr W Melarkey, Mr J Moore, and Mr R Gardiner who is the present caretaker.

The cooks-in-charge were : Mrs M Starrett, Mrs V Finlay, Mrs M Boyd and
Mrs L Wilson.

Incidentally, before the onset of school dinners, two of the teachers at that time, Miss Patterson and Mrs Burns made soup on the large stove in the special subjects room – surely typical of the caring attitude which was characterised by Drumahoe Primary School staff throughout the years.

In more recent years, the school was permitted to appoint a secretary to help the Principal cope with the ever-increasing administration associated with school meals, record-keeping etc. Drumahoe was fortunate to have had two very capable secretaries. Firstly Mrs Kathleen Stirling was appointed, and then, Mrs Valerie McClelland took up the post in October 1989 before retiring in June 2011. Mrs Heather Glenn now continues in what has become a very key role in the modern primary school system. We all would be lost without her! 

Brief Details of other Schools in the area:

Ardmore National / Public Elementary School – 1880 – 1957
Lismacarrol National / Public Elementary School – 1887 – 1913

This is an attempt to trace the history of education and to honour the memory of those who have enriched the lives of many Drumahoe people past and present. We are grateful to Almighty God for their devotion and dedication and our prayers are that those who will be entrusted with the same task for future generations here will continue to provide not only the education required to equip children for modern life but also that the same Christian virtues of the past will help to develop the ethos of the new Drumahoe Primary School.

R R Donaghey – May 2000