Seeking memories as Cork school gets set to close

Sunday’s Well Girls National School closes its doors this month. EMILY MURPHY, a teacher at the school, and her sister MARCELLA O’SULLIVAN, a former pupil whose mother was principal of the school for around 33 years, reflect on the historic event and put a call out for people to share their memories
Seeking memories as Cork school gets set to close

A lovely photo from when Kidz Zone visited Sundays Well Girls National School in recent years Cork. Pictured were then Junior Infants, Charlotte O'Mahony, Samaha Anwar Draz, Anna McKee and Sarah Forde. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

SUNDAY’S Well GNS opened its doors in 1835, 10 years before the Famine, and will close them forever on June 30, 2021, as the country remains gripped by a global pandemic.

It was one of the first national schools to be built in Cork — or even Ireland — following the passing of the National Schools Act in 1831, as evidenced by the school’s very old roll number, which dates from this period.

Sunday’s Well GNS has witnessed a lot of societal upheaval and change in its 186-year history.

The building of the school came about as a direct consequence of the building of the City Gaol. The Old Gaol was completed in 1824; for that building, a tremendous amount of quarrying had to be done on the hillside to level the site. The quarrying yielded enough stone to build the Gaol and the road in front of it; a huge amount of stone was left over, and was left lying in a field alongside the Gaol.

The stone was donated to build Sunday’s Well Schools, and this led to the school being locally referred to as ‘The Gaol School’. Luckily, the name didn’t stick into the 20th century.

We prefer the notion that the school — unusually — was built from local stone, and is still, 186 years later, embedded in the local community.

The school, its teachers, parents and pupils, must have been affected by the terrible national tragedy that was the Great Famine (1845-50) and the terrible period of emigration which followed it.

The opening of University College Cork in 1849 must have provided a ray of light in the darkness, and indeed UCC has been a destination for many of our pupils.

The school building was refurbished in 1875 and again in 1903, before the onset of World War I presented another tragic disruption. Many of the girls’ fathers would have fought in the war and perhaps been killed, or returned shell-shocked or maimed.

The Spanish Flu followed in 1919, and our records show that the school was closed for a period, as the country experienced lockdown similar to what we have had to endure recently.

Then, 1921 saw the War of Independence, and again, many of our pupils’ relatives would have been very active during this period. This too would have been the case for the Civil War which followed.

During 1935, on its 100th birthday, the school underwent a complete renovation. Many past pupils will remember the building’s interior, which dates from this period. Electricity was installed in the late 1970s as well as storage heating to replace the open fires. In 1978, the community raised funds to build a brand-new school building, on a new location-and the school moved from Strawberry Hill to Blarney Road, to a site carved from the former grounds of the Good Shepherd Convent.

New dawn, new name, same excellence... September, 2021, will see the amalgamation of Sunday’s Well Girls’ and Boys’ schools, under the new name of Strawberry Hill. 

The choice of name underpins our past links with the original site, which is still used by the school.

Many of our current pupils are descendants of girls who attended the school decades, or even centuries, ago; this intergenerational richness informs our new beginning as one that is firmly rooted in a treasured tradition.

We anticipate an exciting future, with many educational and societal changes in the offing; but a constant will be the school’s determination to provide another 186 years of excellent education to our wonderful community.

SHARE YOUR MEMORIES OF SUNDAY’S WELL GIRLS’ N.S.

We’d love to hear from you; about your experiences in our school and how you are getting on now!

Also, if you have any:

Pictures (especially from multiple generations of pupils)

Stories (stand-out moments, lasting memories)

Videos (short message for our current pupils; where are you now; successes you’ve achieved etc.)

Please email them (along with any queries) to: jnolan@sundayswellgirls.ie

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