The Lay Schools
In addition to the schools by religious orders, there were several private lay schools in the town, some of which survived until the second half of the century. In this connection the following advertisement which appeared in The Tuam Herald, on 20th May 1837, is worthy of note:- "Classical, English, French, Mercantile, Mathematics and Writing Academy.
Messrs. J. E. O'Cavanagh and J. McNamara beg leave to inform the gentry of Tuam and its vicinity that they will open this academy on Monday the 22nd inst.
Aware that exaggerated professions and boasted advantages are seldom if ever realised, they only say in the confidence of many years experience and habitual unremitting assiduity, they confidently calculate on meriting and retaining Public support.
Terms Per Quarter Entire Course 15/- Entrance Money 10/- Classics 12/6 " " 10/- English Course 7/6 " " 5/-
Pigot's Directory of 1824 refers to two Academies, that of Charles O'Callaghan at the Mall and Beech Sandford's at Dublin Road.
Slater's Directory of 1846 mentions an Infant School at the Mall which was run by one Mary Copley. The same Directory refers to Patrick O'Carroll's school at Bishop Street.
Slater's Directory of 1856 lists a school at Chapel Lane, the master of which was one David MacMahon. In the interval between the burning of Prospect and the opening of the Christian Brother's new school at Dublin Road, many of the local boys attended this establishment. According to a relative of mine who had been a pupil there, the school was held in the kitchen of a thatched house in Chapel Lane. The boys sat around on stools or on the floor whilst McMahon presided from a chair beside the fire. His peculiar form of doodling was to make wooden tops whilst he taught and which he presented to the scholars from time to time.
In July 1838, another Master named McAllister published the following advertisement in The Tuam Herald:-
Classical and Mathematical Academy
Respectively apprises the Gentlemen of Tuam and its vicinity that he has under the patronage of several respectable individuals opened this Academy on the 26th of April, 1836, in a Commodious and Splendid apartment, adjacent to the Mall, where he continues to teach a select class of boys, the course of Greek and Latin Classics requisite for admission in any University. In this Seminary will be also taught English, Grammar, History, Writing, Arithmetic, Geometry, Mensuration, Bookkeeping, Algebra, Geography, Use of Globes etc.
Mr McAllister to avid the imputation of egotism, presumes only to say that he hopes he will be his diligence and unremitting attention afford general satisfaction, and expeditiously qualify young gentlemen for their prior classes.
TERMS PER QUARTER Entire Course 15/- Entrance Money 10/- Classics 12/6 " " 10/- English Course 8/- " " 5/- Hours of attendance will be from 10 o'clock am to 4pm
Of the lay schools, that run by the Misses Julia and Biddy Gannon at Circular Road was the most successful. Miss Julia Gannon was born in 1803 and Miss Biddy was born in 1805. Their father carried on a chandlery at Vicar Street but the business declined and eventually the two girls decided to seek a living by opening a private school at Circular Road. Fortunately there are some ex-pupils of this school still living and it is possible to give an accurate description of it. The premises consisted of a thatched cottage with a low wall in front, which stood on the Vicar Street side of the Post Office. The Misses Gannon lived in this house and usually a few resident pupils were boarded in a dormitory in the loft. The actual school was situated in the yard at the rear and this consisted of a one roomed slated building with a porch attached.
It was, of course, a girl's school but boys up to the age of seven were also accepted. During the whole period of the school's existence the same books were used for the various subjects taught. Even the subject of political geography was treated in this conservative fashion. Thompson's Geography had been chosen as a suitable text book when the school was opened and it was still in use when the establishment closed in the Eighties. The fact that, in the meantime, many States had vanished from the political scene, mattered not at all; they still survived between the covers of Thompson's and their sovereignty continued to be recognised in Circular Road. The teaching staff consisted of the Misses Gannon, themselves, and one of the senior pupils from the Christian Brothers' School who came in at two o'clock each day to teach arithmetic. This boy received a small salary and was referred to as 'the figurist'. The last gentleman to hold the post was Mr. James Gallagher who afterwards became Secretary to Messrs. Dwyer & Co. of Cork.
The most important annual event in the life of the School was the May Day Festival. A King and Queen were selected for the occasion and on the great day, the whole school - and most of the town's people proceeded to the King's house. The king was put into a small phaeton drawn by "Peacock", the Misses Gannon's donkey and the procession then proceeded to the Queens House. Her majesty having been collected and ensconced in the phaeton beside the King, they were drawn in state through the town. Miss Julia leading and sometimes appealing to Peacock to behave himself. Upon arrival at the school their Majesties were enthroned on a dais and the festivities began. Having feasted, all the pupils were treated to presents which hung upon a May bush which stood in the centre of the room. This school flourished for many years and it was only upon the death of Miss Julia Gannon in the Eighties that it closed down. There is now no trace of the building.
The Misses Gannon were sisters of William Gannon (known locally as 'Minor Gannon) who was a prominent member of the Tuam Town Commissioners for many years. They lived in difficult times but they appear to have been ladies who were well able to take care of themselves and their pupils, judging by the following extract from The Tuam Herald of the 14th April 1849. Having referred to various robberies in the town the report continues: "A few nights since, one of those fellows attempted an entrance into the residence of Miss Gannon on the Circular Road through a window but speedily decamped - her sister having, with great presence of mind, snapped a pistol at him".
Teaching does not appear to have a very lucrative profession in the last century, as would appear from the following advertisement.
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