The Commons village in the parish of Ballingarry has a long history with mining and music. This tradition continues to this day and is set to grow in the future with the refurbishment of the Old School in The Commons village.
The Old School building has undergone a huge transformation in the past year. It was built in the mid 1800s for the boys and girls of the area whose fathers worked at the nearby mines. The two story building housed boys classrooms downstairs and girls classrooms upstairs. The school was heated by the local anthracite and had outside toilets.
The Old School closed in the 1970s when a new school was built to accommodate the growing population of The Commons area. Over the years the Old School was used by various clubs and musicians including the ICA and Macra to hold their meetings. Back in the 1970s the local Macra group held a number of successful festivals every August. They had sports events, music and dance and even a beauty contest. However, these societies eventually ceased or moved to a different premises and the building feel into disrepair.
In the 1990s Slieveardagh Rural Development purchased the building and some funding was raised at the time to try to refurbish the building but sadly a full refurb did not happen and the building was ravaged by weather and dereliction. But it was a strong, well built structure that stood proud in the Commons and so in 2010 Slieveardagh Rural Development once again tried to have the building refurbished. They held a number of public meetings in The Commons to discuss the potential use of the building as a community centre. All ideas were recorded by Sr Patricia Wall, Chairperson of Slieveardagh Rural Development Ltd, who was the driving force behind the refurbishment and Maura Barrett, their Heritage Development Manager.
After a successful funding application to South Tipperary Development Company under the Booley House (music) Grant and funds from the The Commons Committee and the Slieveardagh Rural Development Group lotto the refurbishment project was able to proceed. Local builders under the guidance of local Architect, and past pupil of the school, Dan Finnegan got the project finished. As the building is listed, all of the heritage features of the Old School have been preserved. The building is now open for all to see what work has gone into its transformation.
With its bright interior and a very warm welcome, it is a building that will draw people back to it time and time again.
There have been a number of events at the Old School since it opened its doors in October. The first was an open weekend for people to come and see the refurbishment. It was also an opportunity for the community to make suggestions as to what the building could be used for. From that weekend a number of classes and meetings are being held on a regular basis in the Old School including a book club, guitar lessons, Irish dancing and a cards night. A very successful Christmas fair was recently held at the Old School with plenty of mince pies and Christmas fayer on offer.
One of the major events that has taken place since the building reopened is the mining get-together. Former miners from Callan, Clonmel, Fethard, Killenaule, Gortnahoe as well as the local area had a trip down memory lane watching the film “The Mines” by Wally Mackey. It was a great opportunity for the miners and their families to get together and reminisce about the old days - good and bad. It is hoped to have another mining get together in Spring and the organisers ask that the miners and their families bring their old photos. They plan on having a photographic history of the mines that can be on display in the Old School. Any photos brought to the school will be scanned and returned immediately to owners as the organisers know just how precious these images are.
For the organisers, it is a way to honour these great miners who gave so much of their lives to the area. They are a vital part of the history of the area and it is important that this history is accounted for future generations. “The Mines” DVD that was shown on the night of the miners get-together is currently on sale with all proceeds going to the Old School for maintenance and running costs. There is also a separate film about village life in The Commons from 1973 available.
Next Summer, The Old School celebrates 135 years in existence. Plans are already underway for a “Where Are They Now” school reunion.
Unfortunately, the funding is not in place for the organisers to contact past pupils or their families to allow them to build up their records. Therefore, they have set up an email address: email@example.com in order to make contact. This will also enable people to check the progress of the research and the what is going on at the Old School. The committee would ask anybody who attended the school to please get in touch by email or by letter as they are planning a fantastic weekend of celebration for the Old School reunion. Any pictures pertaining to school life in the Old School would be appreciated and would help us remember the good days in the Old School in The Commons.
Traditional music and dance is also a big feature in the Old School. It was known as a Booley House in the past. These days with traditional dance and music lessons being held in the building it can once again be referred to as a Booley House. The younger members of families from the locality are displaying the talents of generations though dance classes by Michael Cooney. He is teaching Irish dancing to children of his former students.
A Youth Club is currently at development stage in the Old School. There are currently two leaders which means that numbers are limited. As a result, the club is only available to youths from The Commons village. The Youth Leaders are asking those interested in joining to give leave their names with them and they will be in touch in the future with information on registration and fees. Registered Youth Clubs have very strict regulations and these need to be adhered to at all times in order to maintain the safety and security of all involved.
There is state-of-the-art technology in the centre including big screen, TV and sound system. There is also a computer room and it is planned to hold basic computer classes here early this year.
The people involved in the running of the Old School want the community to take ownership of the building and enjoy all that it has to offer. It is available for get togethers, clan gatherings and meetings in the homely, yet spacious room downstairs. They want people to make contact with them about mining so that they can build up history of the mines to educate future generations and they want past pupils to get in touch to help build up old school records. Music sessions are to start in the new year and anybody who can play an instrument is asked to come along and join in to help revive the tradition of the Booley House. There is something going on nearly every night at the Old School. Monday night in the new year will see Michael Cooney teaching step dancing to adults. On Tuesday it is the book club, Wednesday and Friday the Youth Club meets. On Thursday morning the building is open to all passers-by from 11am to 1pm to drop in for a cup of tea and a chat. On Friday there are music lessons (5-7pm), Irish dancing (5-6.30pm) and card games such as 25 and 31 (8-11).
To get in contact with the Old School, The Commons, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by post: Old School Committee, The Commons, Thurles, Co Tipperary or call in on a Thursday morning between 11am and 1pm for a cup of tea, a chat and a trip down memory lane.