George C Barry
Vocational education in Roscrea could not be mentioned without the name of George Barry. George was born in Cork city and was a tall and very charismatic man. On September 5th 1931 he arrived in Roscrea to establish a vocational school and spent the next forty two years as the head of vocational education in Roscrea.
Around this time in Roscrea a lot of development was under way. The construction of forty eight new houses had begun and works on the new sewage and water schemes were under way. One of the major events of the year was the opening of the new hospital and maternity unit which was among the best in the country at the time. There was also talks of a new meat processing factory coming to town, so Roscrea was a town that was starting to develop as a modern town. The first hurling match was also played in the new GAA field between Roscrea and Toomevara in 1931.
When George Barry arrived at Damer House it had been neglected for years and was in a very bad state. Floors were rotten and the house had been vandalised and many windows were broken. The school was opened quietly and without ceremony. Numbers were small and in 1932 there were sixteen boys and fourteen girls. George taught building construction, mechanical drawing and mathematics. As time went on he was joined by commerce teacher Josephine Cosgrave, domestic science teacher Sinead O Shea and by metalwork teacher Michael Barry. At this time there were not enough pupils to justify full time hours so the teachers had to travel between Thurles , Nenagh and Borrisokane and organise night classes to make up the hours.
One of George’s passions was for Irish culture and in 1933 the school was noted by the Department of Education as having done outstanding work in Irish drama and singing. In the early 40s he and some other teachers had a vision of the school becoming an all Irish one as far as possible but this never came to fruition. The school continued to have an excellent record and in 1943 alone no fewer than eleven students received various scholarships. All this despite the primitive conditions of the building. In 1948 the sanitary system had broken down and eleven students and one teacher were hospitalised with diphtheria. By 1951 after a section of the ceiling had collapsed and a student had a narrow escape of serious injury it was agreed to build a new school in Roscrea although it was October in 1956 before it was finished catering for one hundred day pupils.
By 1964 the Department had to build on two new rooms due to the increased enrolment in the school. By 1968 overcrowding had become a problem again and some classes had to be conducted in the Temperance Hall. By 1973 eight prefabricated classrooms had been installed.
George Barry retired in 1973 after forty two years as principle of Roscrea Vocational school leaving a remarkable imprint and influence on generations of boys and girls.
Below are extracts from an interview he did with The Nenagh Guardian in 1980
Prior to the passing of the VE act of 1930 Technical Education was administered by Committees of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in each county throughout the 26 counties. With the exception of cities and large towns Technical schools did not exist and evening classes were carried out in national schools and parish halls and even in hay barns by itinerant teachers. These courses usually lasted for a period of 6 weeks and then the teacher moved on to another centre.
The subjects taught in these classes varied from centre to centre but in general woodwork, domestic science and Irish were the popular choices for itinerant classes Generally speaking the location of these centres resulted in these classes being conducted in winter time without heat and poor lighting. Contrast these conditions with the modern centrally heated schools and it puts things in perspective. Running around at the termination of the six week course the teacher and any willing students loaded up his equipment and any other class materials on a lorry probably in the dark and proceeded on to the next centre. These were the pioneers and Vocational Education would not be where it is today without these men and women. I think at this stage I should call for a buala bas for these men and women. Their ranks are very thin on the ground today.
It is interesting to note that in the Temperance Hall in 1902 a technical school for boys was established by a Mr Owens. The teachers were mainly drawn from local schools, such as Jeramiah O Connor who was principal of the boys school, a Kerry man and a tenor of note also John J Murphy and Liam Barry of the Cistercian College.
At the termination of a training course held in Limerick in 1931 I was appointed to Roscrea where Day Vocational classes commenced for boys and girls at the Damer House in Castle St in September 1931. Built in the eighteenth century this house has a chequered history. It was a private dwelling until 1798 when it was taken over by the British army as a barracks. In 1906 Mr French used it as a preparatory school for boys. In 1924 it became a sanatorium and now we come again to 1931 and the introduction of Vocational Education to Roscrea.
The beginnings were pathetically weak and the number of students could be counted on two hands and the premises were unsuitable from every angle. It must be remembered that the building was empty for a number of years and had been badly vandalised, the equipment was totally inadequate and there was little or no finance available to improve matters. It was an uphill struggle all the way. The new system of education received little or no assistance from the existing ones, it was looked on somewhat as an intruder in the educational world and for a time was a very puny infant indeed.
Hence mention must be made of the Venerable Archdeacon Thomas O Molloy who was at the time administrator in Roscrea and chairman of the VEC. He gave his time and energy to put the infant school on its feet and without whose help it would not have survived.
In the meantime the staff was augmented by the appointment of a Domestic Science teacher Sinead Ni Sheadhga , Josephine Cosgrave B Comm. Later to become principal of Templemore and Michael Barry Metalwork teacher. Thomas Malone a well known figure from the troubled times and who later went on to become principal of Nenagh completed the staff. In the early days teachers were unable to get sufficient hours in Roscrea to satisfy the Departments regulations and so were required to conduct adult classes in Thurles and Nenagh, These went on for a number of years until numbers rose.
The schools in Roscrea and Borrisokane were housed in existing buildings. Borrisokane School was housed in part of the old work house building. As these buildings were not designed for educational purposes nevertheless it is interesting to note that these schools were very successful. Roscrea gradually asserted itself and it was particularly successful in placing most of its students in gainful employment.
George Barry died in 1994 but his legacy in Vocational education will live on for generations to come.