The story of Nora Duggan’s arrival in Askeaton from Louisburg, Co Mayo
It was a dark, drizzly gloomy day in Sept 1946, in keeping with my depressed spirits-when I first arrived in Askeaton. The bus halted outside the bus stop in East square-there I deposited my luggage whilst I went to enquire the location of the secondary school. ”Turn left at Mc Donnells’ pub and you will see the library on your right about 50 yards from the corner, there the secondary school is carried on” said a man with a fine broad west Limerick accent. Offering thanks, I mentally asked myself, how a library could be used to house a secondary school? With a heavy heart I retraced my steps from east to west square, turned at the corner and there in block letters was the name Carnegie library. The main door stood ajar and from a room on the left I heard the unmistakable voice of a teacher, admonishing a student for not knowing his poetry. In answer to my timid knock, the door was opened by an unusually tall pale faced boy. This was one of many shocks I got that fateful day!!. Nobody had told me it was a co-ed school and the very thought of having to teach boys was anathema to me and something with which I thought I could not possible cope. I had spent the first 2 years of the teaching career teaching in a girl’s convent school.
“May I speak with the principal of the girl’s school”, I said. “There is only one secondary school, he said and this is it. The principal is not here today but her sister Mrs Kennedy is taking the classes”. “May I speak with Mrs Kennedy, I asked. “Certainly, said he, retreating and leaving the door ajar. I peeped inside and saw one long room, at the top of which was a very good looking woman. She came to the door and said “you must be the new assistant”, Miss Duggan. Won’t you come in?”. Then I got my second shock. The principal and myself would be teaching in the same room!!!, with not even a curtain dividing us. I was introduced to the thirty odd students who were seated at long wooden desks, given my timetable and since it was now two o’ clock, Mrs Kennedy told me that I could go to my ‘digs’ two and a half miles outside the village. The daughter of the house was a pupil and would accompany me there. “Thank you”, I said, leaving and noting mentally that I would not be returning!!
“Where is the post office”, I asked of Una Mc Mahon, the pupil in whose house I was due to stay. “We will pass it on the way”, she said “but as today is Wednesday, it will be closed for the half day. This was the last straw!!. When leaving Ballyhaunis, where I had spent 2 of the happiest years of my life, Sr De Ricci, the principal told me that she would not advertise my post for a fortnight and that I would be very welcome to return should I not like Askeaton. I was ready to send the telegram telling them I would be returning the next day. The fact that the post office was closed on that fateful day and many other things that happened that afternoon and evening was responsible for me spending the remainder of my teaching career in Askeaton and being involved in seeing that school, started by Mrs O Mahony in the library, grow from 30 pupils to 230 at the time of my retirement as principal in 1985 and manager of the school in 1994.
With a heavy heart, I proceeded to Kilbeha, where my digs were situated. I could not speak to Una because the tears were choking me and I knew that if I uttered a word, the flood gates would open, so I cycled, what seemed like interminable distance along country roads and turned in a large gate and along a tree lined avenue at the end of which was a rather unusually designed house. Little did I know that the same house would play such an important part in my subsequent life story. Washing the tiled floor of the hall was a very kindly-faced middle aged lady with greying hair. She welcomed me to the house, showed me to my room and told me to come to the dining room for a cup of tea when I was ready. Having closed the bedroom door, the tears which had been so bravely held back until then, coursed down my cheeks and I cried incessantly for at least an hour. There was a knock at the door and I was told that a meal was ready. With swollen eyes and tear stained face I went to the dining room where Mrs Mc Mahon, seeing how distressed I was, tried to cheer me up by saying that every teacher who came to Askeaton got to like the place after a while and that some of them “got married into the place”. “I will be the exception”, I said, “I intend going back tomorrow”. I had no idea that I would have to teach boys, nor that I would have to cycle so far to and from school etc etc”. Miss Hickey who is teaching in the primary school in Ballysteen will be home soon-she will be a companion for you and she may succeed in making you change your mind”. Shortly afterward Miss H arrived and did her utmost to cheer me. She asked me to accompany her to the house of the PP in Cappagh and Rathkeale from whom she had to get her papers as she was getting married on the 3rd of the following month and would be leaving to live in Shannon. The fact that she would be leaving so soon did nothing to revive my confidence. However, I cycled with her the seven miles to Rathkeale and back and my heart was somewhat lighter by the time I returned. I was introduced to the other paying guests at Kilbeha. Michael H,? Christy Fahy and the other members of the Mc Mahon family, Mary, Gretta, Josie, Seamus and David. By 10pm I had been persuaded to stay on until the week end the then make up my mind. I did as I was advised and the result was that I remained and almost eighty years later I am still here having got married in the interim in 1950, my late husband having bought Kilbeha House where I had spent my first night and in which we subsequently reared 5 children.
Why, you may ask did I leave Ballyhaunis when I was so happy there? When I graduated from UCG in 1942 positions were very scarce. From August 1941 to June 1942 I got a position in an orphanage at Lenaboy, Taylor’s hill, Galway, teaching classes from babies to 6th standard. In return I got board and lodging free and 50p a week pocket money. This to me was marvellous because my parents made huge sacrifices to send me to university, so the fact that I could fend for myself in my final year, eased the burden on them and gave me wonderful experiences in teaching.
When I was in Galway in Oct 1942 for conferring, a message was sent to me asking me if I would go to Loughrea on the following day to act as the substitute for Mary Minnola who had to have an appendicostomy done. I was thrilled and was there from October to Christmas. During the Christmas holidays, I was asked if I would be interested in a position in Ballyhaunis. I jumped at the offer and went there in January 1943. This was a secondary top and was under the National school’s department, which meant that my registration as a secondary teacher could not be achieved there. I spent from 1943 to Sept 1945 teaching there. I loved the work, loved the town, the digs, the people (it was there I met my future husband, Denis).
Unfortunately, from the point of view of registration it was useless, so, when the advert appeared for the position in Askeaton, I replied and was accepted without interview. Then I had to spend 3 years there before getting an incremental salary. I was paid £11 per month with a 5 shilling per term increase. I had to live on that until I was registered as a secondary teacher in 1949. I think it was during my second year teaching in Askeaton, that Miss Jones said she was not interested in continuing as principal and asked would I be interested. I was not even remotely interested and asked a number of my acquaintances but nobody was interested. Denis, my future husband, was very much on the scene at that time and after some discussion, advised me to take the plunge. He loaned me the £300 which was the figure for ‘good will’ with furniture etc which I repaid out of the first capitation grant I got as principal. Numbers increased steadily and I employed more teachers.
We rented the top storey of the library, whilst at the same time looking around for a suitable building of my own. In 1958, the old Protestant school, closed for over 30 years and in a very bad state, came on the market. I bought it for £170, the building and a patch of ground at the rear. I subsequently bought the patch in front from Mick Sheehy. The new NS was being built at the time and they did some repairs to it and used it for a time. I then got the plumbing done, electricity installed, floors and roof repaired and I moved from the library in Sept 1963.
Note: We were unable to find Askeaton on any map before I made my journey from Mayo. In the train I got into conversation with a gentleman who was racking his brain to figure where he had heard about Askeaton. It suddenly dawned and he explained to me “that’s where they shot their parish priest recently!!!!!, Not a very promising introduction to my new post!!!
Newspaper article from Jan 1946: Murder of parish priest