Sunset at Cornagilta: Photo © Michael Fisher

Sunset at Cornagilta: Photo © Michael Fisher

The sun was setting around Bragan as a crowd of over fifty people gathered at the former National School at Cornagilta, a few miles from Tydavnet, for an evening devoted to the history of what was once part of the Rose estate. Since 2001 when the late Canon Jackie Gilsenan was Parish Priest of Tydavnet, a group of locals has been working hard to preserve the building, which has some interesting stonework features, particularly at the entrance.

Theo McMahon at entrance to school

Theo McMahon at entrance

The small rural school was one of a number in the parish, which includes Scotstown (Urbleshanny), Knockatallon, Ballinode and Tydavnet, where the old school has already been restored and now serves as a community centre. Among the visitors was the former GAA President and former Principal at Urbleshanny NS, Seán McCague from Scotstown. A former teacher and a number of former Cornagilta pupils gathered to listen to one of their own, Patsy Brady, describe the history of the school.

Seán McCague NT

Seán McCague NT

The records show that the school opened on July 9th 1912 with a total of 68 pupils: 36 boys and 32 girls. It was closed in June 1984, when the roll call had reduced to 28 children. Over a 72 year period, 671 attended classes there, 351 boys and 320 girls. An important contribution to education in North Monaghan. In view of our visit there with the William Carleton Society in August 2011 during the summer school, I was interested to heard Patsy refer to a hedge school being run nearby in the 1820s.

Brian Deery at Cornagilta (August 2012)

Brian Deery at Cornagilta, 2012

Patsy described the different Masters who had run the school. They included Master (Brian) Deery, who was there from 1967 to 1978. The first was Master Luke Owens who later took over as Master at Barritatoppy school, also in the parish. In 1928 he moved into what was the service wing of Mullaghmore House between Tydavnet and Scotstown. I remember visiting Mullaghmore with a group from the Clogher Historical Society that include his son, the late Dr Cahal Owens from Clonskeagh in Dublin. He also came to Cornagilta on the same occasion, where Brian Deery was there to open the school door once again.

Late Dr Cahal Owens at Mullaghmore, 2007

Late Dr Cahal Owens at Mullaghmore, 2007

The original house was demolished after being destroyed in a fire on 24th January 1925. Those at the talk recalled how some local people then children remember seeing the flames in the distance as the large house burned (it was not a “castle”, as some described it). In a useful article about the property, a fellow blogger Timothy Belmont has a description of the fire and more information about the owners of the house, now the property of the Ronaghans.

The fire razed all but the servants’ wing and the stable block behind. The family (Captain S.R. Tufts) were away visiting friends in County Tyrone and there were no servants in  the house at the time. No cause for the fire was discovered. Previously the house was owned by Sir Robert Anderson, a Belfast businessman and founder of the Anderson & McAuley store in 1861, who had acquired Mullaghmore on the death in January 1907 of Gertrude Rose. 

Grace Moloney, CHS & Theo McMahon

Grace Moloney, CHS & Theo McMahon

Gertrude became the landlord after her uncle James Rose died in 1841 and on reaching 21 in 1849 she inherited the holding of 2810 acres, which comprised 21 townlands. Her relative had bought the lands from the Bishop of Clogher for £20,000 in 1821. The list of townlands was discovered by Theo McMahon in a letter to the new owner written around the late 1840s by an agent in the estate. It was part of the records of a “defunct estate” that were about to be disposed of in Monaghan a number of years ago, when Theo stepped in at a fortuitous moment and rescued the documentation.

The same letter gives Gertrude, who was then quite young, some advice on how to proceed. Better to get people to work, the writer advised, at a time when tenants had great difficulty paying rents, arising from the famine. Gertrude Rose ensured that a school was built at Cornagilta in 1859, using the locally quarried limestone and sandstone. In the early 1900s the building was closed and for a time was used for storing grain. Gertrude was a progressive and forward thinking landlord. For more details see Theo McMahon’s article on the Rose estate in the Clogher Record Vol. 18, No. 2  (2004), pp. 218-256. Theo’s talk was introduced by Grace Moloney of the Clogher Historical Society.

Talk by Patsy Brady at Cornagilta

Talk at refurbished Cornagilta School

The Cornagilta heritage committee will be holding another open day at the school on Sunday May 12th. They have done a lot in recent years to tidy up the building, make repairs and restore lighting. Their hope is that once more the school can become a centre for learning and other cultural activities.

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