School History

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School History


Education in Glendalough

As far back as 500 AD, Ireland, and its monks and monasteries, were at the centre of learning in Europe, earning Ireland the title Land of Saints and Scholars.  As Christianity took hold, our monastic schools became centres of excellence for people from all over Europe. The venerable historian Bede stated that sizeable contingents of English students trained as missionaries in Ireland.

The history of education in the Glendalough, ‘Valley of the Two Lakes’, dates from the arrival of Saint Kevin in the latter part of the 6th century and the subsequent founding of his monastery in the valley.  According to legend he took up residence in what had been a Bronze Age tomb on the southern side of the Upper Lake and for the next seven years lived as a hermit as news of his austere lifestyle spread.  Overtime a monastic city grew up around the site Saint Kevin had chosen developing overtime to rival Clonmacnoise as Ireland’s premier monastic city and centre of learning.

So great was the reputation of St. Kevin, that St. Mochuorog, a Briton, also fixed his residence here; and a school was soon established, which concentrated a great portion of the learning of the times and produced some of the most eminent men of that period. ‘Topographical Dictionary of Ireland’ Samuel Lewis 1837


The monastery retained its preeminent status in Irish ecclesiastical and educational life for the course of six centuries surviving numerous raids, famines and natural disasters.  The most famous abbot of the abbey from this latter period is Lorcán Ua Tuathail, also known as Saint Laurence O’Toole (1128 – 14 November 1180) who rose to become abbot of the monastery at the young age of 26.  He later went on to become Archbishop of Dublin.  Eventually, however, with the arrival of the Anglo-Norman’s in the late 11th century, the religious and commercial focus switched north to Dublin and the monastery slipped into an inexorable decline.  Over the ensuing centuries little is known of education in the valley.






In the modern era the most notable record is to be found in a book called ‘Topographical Dictionary of Ireland’ by Samuel Lewis published in 1837 which states that a school was built in Glendalough in 1832 at the cost of £140. The school was located in ‘Brocca’ and was under The National School System which began in Ireland 1831.   The school was built with donations from the poor of the area plus £1/10/- from Henry Grattan and £1 each from Laurence Byrne, Cronybyrne and Richard Purdy of the Mining Company of Ireland.   The school had an inauspicious start as is evidenced from and early report which stated that:

House is entirely but only one side thatched, the other entirely open for want of funds.  The walls are neither plastered or dashed, no doors.  No desks nor seats could be procured yet. Ed 1/95/6 National Archives of Ireland.

James and Mary Ellis are listed as the first teachers of the school.  Elementary books with Catholic and Protestant Catechisms were supplied by the parents. The hours were 9am-4pm, six days a week. Attendance was 40 boys and 40 girls in the winter and 30 boys and 20 girls in the summer.





Other schools in the area around this time were to be found at Annacarter, Ballinastoe, Carrigower, Glasnamullen, Lough Dan, Roundwood, Glendalough and Moneystown.  .  An application to build a school house was made by Captain Clemes, Mining Company of Ireland (MCI) in April 1864; the plot at Derrybawn was made available by the MCI who would contribute one-third of the building costs. The number of probable students, miners’ children, was 142.  It was built as a school in 1870 by the mining company for the children of miners. When the mines closed so did the Miners’ School.  Photographic evidence from the 1920’s shows an old school building located where Fr. Rodgers now lives.

The present school is called Scoil Chaoimhín Naofa, St. Kevin’s School, in honour of the esteemed Saint Kevin. The original school building was built in 1934 and consisted of two rooms.  Todays these rooms are our staff room and office.  The school remained like this until recent times when the first extension was built in 1995.  In 2006 another extension was built and today another new extension is in the nascent stages of development.


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