The development of second-level education in County Meath

The Irish system of education has developed in a haphazard way, in response to local initiative rather than central planning. In Meath, secondary schools were established by religious congregations in the major towns to provide an avenue of advancement for pupils of primary schools, which had already been established by these congregations. Traditionally, secondary schools provided an academic education.
Vocational training began to evolve at the start of the twentieth century with the establishment of vocational schools. Today these schools are administered by Vocational Education Committees, statutory bodies established under the Vocational Education Act 1930. The main thrust of vocational schools initially was directed towards the development of manual skills and preparation of young people for trades but as these schools developed they came to include more academically orientated subjects.
While a number of schools were operating in Meath prior to 1900, the majority of secondary and vocational schools were established in the first half of the twentieth century. This reflected the increased demand for secondary education. No private lay schools developed to serve this need in the county as happened in the south and west of Ireland.

Second-level education pre-1924
The earliest recorded second-level school in the county was a diocesan grammar school for Protestants, established in Trim in the 1560s, which continued in existence until the 1830s. Subsequently, the Preston school at Navan was established in 1686, by John Preston, who granted 1737 acres in trust for the school. The initial purpose of this school may not have been the provision of education as the first record of a school building or teachers only happened in 1764. The quality of education offered by the Preston School was queried by the Commissioners of Education. A new school was opened in 1830 and the curate or rector of Navan served as headmaster during the early nineteenth century. Preston School was taken into the care of the Commissioners of Education in Ireland under the Educational Endowments (Ireland) Act, 1885 and transferred to the Department of Education in 1925. In 1878 there were 48 boys in attendance. Many were educated for entrance to Trinity College. In 1900 the school was opened to girls and in 1915 the first lay principal was appointed.
Catholic diocesan schools were founded to train future clergy, but they also educated boys for the professions. St. Finian’s College, Navan, was founded in 1802 with Fr. Eugene O’Reilly as its first president. The Catholic bishop of Meath resided at Navan until 1830 and so would have had a close interest in the development of the school. This was the first seminary to be instituted in the province of Armagh since the Penal Laws restricting education for Catholics had been passed a century earlier. A large study hall, with dormitories overhead, was erected in 1814 and by 1821 there were 60 boarders in residence. Fees for students under twelve years of age was £40 and for those over twelve, 40 guineas. The classical course could be completed in five years and the English course in three. Boarders came from a variety of areas, including the south and the west of Ireland and a few students even came from overseas. St. Finian’s re-located to Mullingar in 1908 where the bishop of Meath then resided. This school was part of a rising tide of new schools being established nationally, with the number of Catholic secondary schools increasing from 20 in 1848 to 60 in 1879.

St. Finian’s Academy, Navan

Newly formed congregations of nuns became increasingly active in education. The Irish branch of the Loreto order was founded in 1822 by Teresa Ball, followed shortly afterwards by the Sisters of Mercy in 1835. Religious orders established secondary schools, seeing Catholic education as a vital area for an active apostolate.
The Intermediate Education Act (1878) provided funding to second-level schools depending on the results achieved by their pupils in a public examination. The Act recognised that girls had the right to take public examinations. Some schools also prepared their students for exams from the science and art department, South Kensington. A number of primary schools in the county also began to provide secondary education.
The Loreto sisters were introduced to Navan in 1833. Loreto students from Navan took part in the first Intermediate Examination in June 1880 and Bishop Nulty praised the results achieved in a pastoral in October of that year. In 1886 the Loreto Convent, Navan gained second place in Ireland in relation to distinctions in the Intermediate Examination. Bishop Nulty attacked the intermediate system for its emphasis on academic rather than practical subjects for girls. The Loreto schools emphasised the total education of the pupils rather than concentrating on examination results alone and provided a broad education, a purpose they continue to fulfil with a wide range of extra-curricular activities. In 1904 St. Michael’s Loreto Secondary School was opened at Athlumney.
The Christian Brothers took over the Boys’ National School in Kells in 1845 and Brother Pius Kenny commenced secondary classes in 1892, with the first pupils taking their exams in 1894. Initially the pupils sat their exams at St. Finian’s Seminary in Navan. A science room was equipped in 1902 with the aid of the people of the town, a grant from the Intermediate Board and a loan from the National Bank. The Brothers received a grant from Meath County Council two years later.
Secondary education attracted only a minority of children and was seen as very much a middle-class concern. The majority of second-level schools in Ireland were single-sex schools. Pope Pius XI’s Encyclical Christian Education of Youth (1929) discouraged co-education in schools.
The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction was established under the Technical Instruction Acts of 1889, 1891 and 1899 and a Meath County Joint Committee of Technical Instruction was established under these acts. Representation and financial support was drawn from the Department of Agriculture and Technical Education and from Meath County Council and the three Urban District Councils, financed through the rates. The Technical School in Navan was established in 1907. A new technical school was opened on Railway Street in 1913. The principal of the Navan school acted as organiser for the county. Evening and afternoon classes were held in existing halls throughout the county. The Committee was charged with providing Irish classes. When Patrick J. Barnett, the Principal of Navan Technical School, was killed in a car accident on 23 June 1920, the Committee appointed John Macnamee (Seán Mac Namidhe) as principal. Seán Mac Namidhe was involved in the politics of the time and was arrested by the British Military authorities in 1920. The Committee passed a motion supporting Mac Namidhe. The Committee’s Irish teacher was also arrested by the British in 1921 and was interned for eight months.

Date of Foundation Name of School Founding Body Additional Information

1560s Diocesan Grammar School, Trim Meath Diocese (C.of I) Closed 1830s
1686 Preston School, Navan Preston Charity
1802 St. Finian’s College, Navan Meath Diocese (R.C.) Transferred to Mullingar 1908
1880 Loreto Convent Navan Sisters of Loreto Intermediate exams from 1880 St. Michael’s opened 1904
1894 Christian Brothers, Kells Christian Brothers Intermediate Exams from 1894
1907 Technical School Navan Meath County Committee of Technical Education
1924 Convent of Mercy Kells Sisters of Mercy Moved to Eureka House in 1956
1925 St. Joseph’s Convent of Mercy, Navan Sisters of Mercy
1930 St. Patrick’s Classical School Navan Meath Diocese (R.C.)
1930 Gilson Endowed School, Oldcastle Gilson Endowed Schools
1931 Kells Vocational School Co. Meath V.E.C.
1932 Trim Vocational School Co. Meath V.E.C.
1933 Dunshaughlin Vocational School Co. Meath V.E.C.
1935 Athboy Vocational School Co. Meath V.E.C.
1936 Convent of Mercy, Trim Sisters of Mercy Now Scoil Mhuire
1937 Nobber Vocational School Co. Meath V.E.C.
1947 Christian Brothers, Trim Irish Christian Brothers
1949 St. Joseph’s Convent of Mercy, Athboy Sisters of Mercy
1952 Longwood Vocational School Co. Meath V.E.C.
1956 Gormanston College Franciscans
1958 Oldcastle Vocational School Co. Meath V.E.C.

Vocational education 1923-1966

In the early years of the Free State vocational education continued in Meath under the control of the Meath County Joint Committee of Technical Instruction. Navan Technical School was the only dedicated full-time centre in the county for day pupils but permanent centres were soon established at Trim and Kells. A vocational school operated in the Town Hall, Kells, from 1924. In 1928 Kells Urban District Council informed the County Committee that it had purchased a site for a new technical school at Bective Street. Trim classes under the auspices of the Trim Local Technical Instruction Committee were held in the Courthouse but the holding of dances interfered with the classes. Trim Urban District Council proposed to add two rooms for technical instruction in the rebuilding of the Town Hall. In 1925 a new technical school for Trim was approved by the Technical Committee and a site acquired by 1930.
In 1928 there were 285 students at the permanent centres, of whom 174 were enrolled in Navan, 61 in Trim and 50 in Kells. Fees for day students were 10s for commercial classes and 5s for engineering students.
In 1930 a Vocational Education Act provided a new approach to the teaching of technical subjects. The act introduced a system of public education by providing schools which were funded by local and central government and managed by local Vocational Education Committees (V.E.C.) which were nominated by local authorities. Technical education included the trades, commerce, household, science, art and physical training. The act also provided for ‘continuation education’ which was an academic education to continue and supplement that provided in elementary schools.
The first Meath Committee met at County Hall, Navan on 20 October 1930. At the first meeting, the chairman, Senator Michael Duffy, made a special appeal to parents to encourage their children to attend vocational schools. He said that the Committee was ‘dealing with an important and far reaching measure of social advancement.’ Mr. N. Tully, a member of the V.E.C. said that ‘he took it that Vocational Education meant education to fit the students to be better equipped in the vocation which they chose. It does not mean stuffing them with Greek and Latin.’ The new Committee replaced the Technical Instruction Committee, which had also been financed by the County Council and state funding. When the new V.E.C. took over the work of the Technical Committee, a new school was ready in Kells and work on a new school at Trim was underway, both of which had been undertaken by the Urban District Council of each town. The Vocational School in Navan continued to operate.
Religious instruction for the pupils was omitted from the new proposal to change vocational education and this created concerns amongst the clergy. At the opening of Kells Vocational School in February 1931, Father Flynn said that “if it (religious instruction) gets a suitable place in the curriculum then all would be well.’ Religious instruction in the schools was generally provided by the local parish priest or curate. Another concern for the Church was loss of control over education provision which heretofore had been dominated by the Church through the primary and secondary systems. The Minister for Education reassured the hierarchy that there was no threat to the secondary system.
Religious representation was strong on the committees. One quarter of the members appointed to the inaugural committees throughout Ireland in 1930 were clergymen. The first Meath Vocational Education Committee included three priests, one Church of Ireland clergyman and one Christian Brother. Fr. W. Cooney, C.C. Trim was elected first vice-chairman of the Committee. The administrator of Navan, Fr. J. Holloway, was elected as chairman in the 1950s and continued to serve into the 1960s and 1970s and the Church of Ireland was represented during the period by Navan rectors, Rev. C.C. Ellison, until 1969, and then Rev. J.A.G. Barrett.
Vocational schools traditionally focused on practical subjects and the preparation of students for trades, business and agriculture. Unlike their secondary counterparts, vocational schools are co-educational and members of various religious groups were welcome to attend. There were twelve Church of Ireland pupils attending vocational schools in Meath during the school year 1963-64. In 1947 the Day Vocational (Group) Certificate examination was introduced to cater for continuing education in vocational schools while the secondary schools followed the Intermediate and Leaving Certificate syllabus.
As demand for education grew, Navan Vocational School on Railway Street could no longer cope with increasing numbers and so in 1963 a new school was erected in Abbeylands. The old Vocational School became a Furniture Trades school. The apprentices from the Furniture School transferred to the Vocational School on Abbey Road when the building was disposed of to Meath County Council in 1973.
Vocational education classes began in the Courthouse in Trim and a newly built school opened 12 September 1932. The fee for day classes was 10 shillings and for evening classes 5 shillings. A limited range of subjects was offered: woodwork, home economics, commercial skills, English and Irish. As the school expanded there was need for a new extension, but before that was built the overflow of students were accommodated in the Town Hall and St. Patrick’s Hall.

Kells Vocational School

Kells Vocational School was opened on 24 February 1931 by Senator Michael Duffy, chairman of Meath V.E.C. This new school replaced the old technical school which had operated in the Town Hall.
A technical school was established in Athboy in 1935, initially in the rented Civic Hall, until Athboy Lodge could be adapted as a school. Athboy Technical School was officially opened on 21 June 1938 but had been occupied by students for at least six months before that.
The appointment of former carpenter, Seán Moylan, as Minister for Education in 1951 drew a lot of criticism, as he had no formal secondary education. His work gave a fresh impetus to vocational education. He chose to concentrate resources on school building and during his term in office 160 new vocational schools were provided. During his tenure (1951-54), a new school was opened at Dunshaughlin and a new centre established in Longwood. Approval was granted during his time in office for new schools in Athboy and Oldcastle.
Meath VEC decided to proceed with the erection of new technical schools in Oldcastle and Athboy on 28 June 1952. In 1958-9 a new vocational school accommodating a maximum of 60 pupils was built in Oldcastle. The numbers applying for admission filled it to capacity and on its opening day there was a call for a further extension. At the opening, V.E.C. member, Rev. C.C. Ellison, said that he believed there was a great demand for education, which had not yet been satisfied.
The new Dunshaughlin Vocational School was officially opened in January 1933, in the old workhouse. The subjects taught were rural science, domestic science, woodwork, Irish, English, mathematics, history and geography. In 1935 there were 44 day pupils. Many of the boys obtained agricultural scholarships to Warrenstown College and a number of the girls availed of domestic science scholarships to St. Martha’s College, Navan. The majority of girls returned to their own homes after finishing at school or went into service, with a number also going directly to train as nurses. The school moved to the Courthouse for a year where it served only boys. A new vocational school was opened on 3 October 1951 when the attendance was 38. Extensions were added in 1955-6 and 1968-9. In 1960 a metalwork room was added.
In 1936 a plot of land was purchased to erect a continuation school at Nobber. A contractor began operations on 19 April 1937. Three teachers were appointed to teach rural science, domestic science and woodwork. In 1939 there were 22 pupils in Nobber school, 9 boys and 13 girls. During World War II the numbers declined and the school was actually closed for two years. At one stage the school had more teachers than pupils. Numbers continued to be small and in 1953, when appointed principal, John Holland closed the school for a week and sent the pupils home to recruit more students for the school. During the week he canvassed the local national schools. The school re-opened with 10 additional students.
In 1952 a vocational school for girls was opened in Longwood on an experimental level. Twenty girls enrolled in the first year. Classes were held in the parochial hall and a nearby Nissen hut. In 1953 the school added a second-year course. Day classes for boys began in 1956. Due to low enrolments, Fr. Clavin, the parish priest, had to canvass the local area for students.
In the school year 1936/37, enrolment of day pupils in Navan was 108, in Kells 90, in Trim 52, in Dunshaughlin 37 and in Athboy 37.
In the 1950s rural depopulation left small second-level schools struggling to maintain numbers. Athboy Vocational School had a decline of 12% in pupil numbers between 1957 and 1960.
Tuition fees at vocational schools provided less than 3% of estimated income in 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1966. This was considerably lower than the figure of 5.9% given as a national figure in 1962. Fees were 30 shillings per annum per pupil in 1962, but these were increased to £2 in December 1963. In certain circumstances, pupils could be exempted from fees. Fees were collected by the school principal and noted in the roll book.
The estimated local authority contribution in 1963 was 46% of total estimated budget, and the state grant was 48%. Between 1963 and 1968 the local authority contribution increased by 84% and the state grant by 90%, while the fees hardly changed until 1969.
The vocational schools in the major towns required additional accommodation in the early 1960s. The Navan Vocational School rented rooms in the Irish Foresters’ Hall and also in the C.Y.M.S. Hall. Trim Vocational School rented accommodation in the Town Hall. Kells school also required additional space. Throughout the 1960s, even before the advent of free education, an extensive building programme was in the process of fulfilment with extensions planned for Trim, Dunshaughlin, Nobber and Oldcastle.
Colleges were also required to address the needs of males and females entering the agricultural industry. In 1936 a private residence at Sion in Johnstown parish was purchased by the French Sisters of Charity and on 29 July St. Martha’s College of Domestic Science for girls was opened. The V.E.C. offered a number of scholarships to St. Martha’s College annually. St. Martha’s closed in 1981. The Salesians at Warrenstown College began providing courses in agriculture for boys from 1923. Since 1959 the college has also supplied courses in horticulture.


The churches, in particular the Catholic Church, took the initiative in providing secondary education, with the state evolving as a minor partner. The state through the county councils, took a lead in providing technical and vocational education but here too the Church played a role, at least at the early stages.
Congregations such as the Order of Mercy, the Christian Brothers and the Loreto Sisters, began to establish secondary schools, particularly in the period after independence. Similarly, after the passing of the Vocational Education Act of 1930, there were many new vocational schools established. There was a growing demand for secondary education throughout the twentieth century. Limitations of access due to lack of accommodation and the charging of fees meant that the option was not open to all, but by the 1960s it was certainly becoming more accessible than the case had been in previous decades.

The Impact of Free Second Level Education in County Meath 1966-1986

The demand for second level education increased throughout the twentieth century. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the government began to take an increased interest in the provision of second level education. An increased level of state finance became available with capital grants for buildings being provided from 1964. Scoil Mhuire, Trim, was one of the first schools to benefit from this provision, applying for funding in June 1964 which was approved in July 1965.
Meath was in the lowest category of participation by 13-17 year olds in full-time education in 1962. Meath at 38.54% participation was below the national average of 43.82%, leaving it in the fourth last place among the counties in the Republic.
In 1966 the Minister for Education, Donogh O’Malley announced the introduction of free secondary education for all. A free transport scheme for children living more than 3 miles from school was also included in the reforms. Within a short period the numbers attending second level schools in County Meath mushroomed. This had an impact not only on the pupils but also on the teachers, schools, and wider community.

School Fees
In 1962 fees paid by students contributed on average 21% to the cost of running a secondary school in Ireland. Over 70% of the cost of running schools was met by the state through capitation grants and teachers’ salaries. Almost 75% of students paid less than £20 per annum in 1961-62. In the early 1940s fees at St. Michael’s Loreto, Navan were £10 per annum, in the 1950s £16 per annum and in the 1960s £32 per annum payable in two yearly instalments. In the 1960s the fees for St. Michael’s C.B.S., Trim were £13 7s 6d a term, payable in advance.
For a number of students and their parents raising the fees was difficult. Fees were sometimes met by payment in kind, so that a bag of potatoes or some turf sufficed. Sometimes pupils worked to pay the school fees themselves. Some schools charged fees only for boarders with no fees being paid by day pupils. Loreto schools had a policy whereby students whose parents had a difficulty with regard to paying fees could attend school without payment. This would have been a private arrangement between parents and school principal. The same would have also have happened in other schools.
Meath T.D. James Tully expressed concern at the September 1965 meeting of Meath County Council that the Department of Education should take some action before the fees for secondary schools exceeded the reach of everybody. Scholarships were provided by the local authorities under the provisions of the Local Authorities (Education Scholarships) Act 1944, and by the state under an act of 1961. Age and income limits applied and awards were dependent on the results of a scholarship examination. Meath County Council awarded 58 scholarships in 1963. The value of the scholarships was £25-£40 each. In 1960-61 nationally there were 5.4 scholarship places per school (average size of school 146 pupils). Certain national schools prepared their pupils for the scholarship examination but not everyone who passed the exam received a scholarship.
At vocational schools tuition fees were low. Fees were 30 shillings per annum per pupil in 1962 but these were increased to £2 in December 1963. In certain circumstance pupils could be exempted from fees.
The introduction of free education and free transport
In September 1966 the Minister for Education, Donogh O’Malley, announced that free post-primary education would be available from 1967/8 onwards. He also announced a free transport scheme for children living more than 3 miles from school. Reaction from opposition parties was not complimentary. Deputy Tully said that one of the aspects of free education that worried many parents was the cost of uniforms for girls attending secondary schools. Even the cost of providing overalls for the vocational school system was a struggle for families as well. The cost of the full uniform for a secondary school could equate to a full year’s school fees.
Travelling to school was difficult for students living at any great distance from the school itself. Public bus routes could dictate which school a student attended. Students in the Batterstown, Dunboyne area often found it easier to travel to secondary schools in Dublin rather than attend Meath schools.
In 1962 73.5% of secondary pupils in Ireland travelled under five miles to school, 21.5 % travelled between five and ten miles and 5.0 % of pupils travelled more than ten miles. Vocational school pupils had much higher percentages of pupils travelling five to ten miles (32.5%) and over 10 miles (6.2%). Bicycles provided transport for 44% of secondary pupils, with some of these travelling more than ten miles, while public transport accounted for 20.5%. Students travelled great distances by bicycle to schools: from Delvin, Clonmellon and Ballivor to Athboy and from Rathkenny and Grangegeeth to Navan. Some students would cycle to the nearest bus stop, where they would get the bus to school. Not every family was able to afford a bicycle for a student. In 1965 a meeting of Meath V.E.C. was told that the cost of bus transport for pupils attending Kells, Navan and Nobber was an additional burden on parents.
Meath V.E.C. became the co-ordinating body for the free transport system in 1967. C.I.E. administered the scheme throughout the country. In September 1967 C.I.E. announced its plans and itineraries for County Meath in the local newspapers to cater for 1,450 children on the new special school transport, with 350 children being catered for by the public bus service. A total of 1,805 children attending post-primary schools in County Meath applied for free transport in 1967.
Deputy Tully outlined shortcomings and inflexibilities in the school transport system in 1968. A number of parents complained of difficulties such as the early hour of collection and the lateness of pupils being dropped off after school. Deputy Michael Hilliard expressed concern for students attending Blanchardstown post primary school ‘because of the time loss, morning and evening.’
However for many students the introduction of free transport meant that the journey to school became a lot easier. There were no long journeys now of 8 or 9 miles to school in the wet and cold, when soaked coats would be put to dry in the cookery rooms. The free transport scheme was welcomed by students and used during the winter months, but in the fine weather a number of students cycled, as in some cases this was quicker and in other cases it provided an opportunity for some fun. Overnight the droves of bicycles which had been on the roads had disappeared.
The free transport scheme gave the opportunity of a second level education to students who lived at a distance from post-primary schools and who were not in a position to attend boarding schools.

Phasing out of Boarding Schools
Boarding schools declined as a result of free transport. Nationally the number of schools enrolling boarders was 218 in 1971-72, 180 in 1976-77, 132 in 1981-82 and 108 in 1986-87, a decline of 50% in fifteen years. This decline was part of an already existing trend. At a national level in 1962/63 over one quarter of pupils at secondary school were boarders. In 1944 the proportion had been one third.
Many Meath secondary schools took boarders: Loreto, Navan; St. Joseph’s, Navan; Eureka, Kells; Scoil Mhuire, Trim and Preston School, Navan, but these have all ceased to cater for boarders. Some schools had only a small number of boarders and in the case of Trim most of these came from areas just outside a convenient travelling distance. In 1911 St. Michael’s, Loreto had 74 boarders. Boarders outnumbered day pupils in Loreto in the early 1960s but the boarding school was phased out and closed in 1985. Eureka Secondary School had facilities for 70 boarders but ceased operating its boarding section in 1980. St. Joseph’s Navan closed its boarding section in 1981. Preston was one of the few co-educational boarding schools in Ireland. In 1967 Preston School had twenty-five boarders and fifteen day pupils. A number of Meath boys boarded at Castleknock College, which was convenient for their fathers, if they attended the cattle marts in Dublin. Gormanston College continues to take boarders.
Schools in neighbouring counties such as Louth, Dublin, Offaly, Kildare and Westmeath also serviced the county. In 1962-3 there were 1,564 pupils in secondary schools in County Meath. However only 846 of these came from the county itself and there were 862 natives of the county at school in other counties.

The reaction from Schools
The Provincial Council of the Christian Brothers decided to opt for the free education system but one writer detected a certain reservation from the superior of Kells C.B.S. on the whole question. St. Patrick’s Classical School, Navan, too, had its reservations. In Athboy the principal of St. Joseph’s regarded it as a gift and it ‘was for me one of the highlights of my time as an educationalist as it opened up opportunities for many pupils.’
For the Athboy principal there was a bonus of additional staff, including a vice-principal. At Dunshaughlin teacher numbers went from four in 1960 to 22 full-time and 10 part-time in 1977. Free education did not impact that much on the vocational school in Navan as numbers were already increasing and fees were charged at a very low level and could be waived quite easily. With increased numbers there were accommodation problems for teachers because of a lack of staff rooms and staff toilets. As numbers grew, discipline sometimes became a problem.
At a meeting held in Navan, the catchment area for each vocational school was decided by the representatives of all the schools in the county. Principals could not actively recruit outside their own catchment area. Certain principals actively canvassed the primary schools in their catchment area each year for additional students.
As a result of the greatly increased numbers of students at school, there was a shortage of trained teachers, and so a number of female teachers, who had left the system due to the ‘marriage ban’, were welcomed back.

Increasing Numbers
Between 1966 and 1973 enrolment at second level on a national scale increased by 60%. This national trend was replicated in Meath with enrolments in second level schools in the county increasing by over 100% in the twenty year period between 1967 and 1986 (See Figures 1 & 2). There was an immediate increase in the first year of free education and this created a bulge in numbers. Total enrolments in 1967-68 were 3,254 pupils, and this had more than doubled to 7,302 by 1986-87.

Enrolments in vocational schools in Meath showed a similar rise in an even shorter time. (See Figure 3). Total enrolments in vocational schools increased from 837 pupils in 1963 to 2,105 pupils in 1973, an increase of 150% in that short period. Part of this increase was due to the introduction of the Intermediate and Leaving Certificate examinations, which offered students an opportunity to remain at school. Initially Navan Vocational School was the designated centre for the Leaving Certificate course in the vocational system in Meath. Students from the surrounding school districts began to take Leaving Certificate courses in Navan from 1966 onwards.
This overall increase in enrolments continued a trend which had been established with numbers in second level education doubling in the 20 years before 1963. This trend was reflected in new accommodation being provided at schools such as at Scoil Mhuire, Trim, and in the move to Bective House by the Christian Brothers at Kells.
Factors contributing to the increase in numbers at second level included the raising of the school leaving age to fifteen years in 1972 and the rising population of the country. The 1966 census recorded the first rise in the population of the country since the Famine. Large family size, reduced employment opportunities, and an increasing awareness of the importance of education contributed to students remaining at school for a longer period.

Accommodation Difficulties
In September 1967, small second level rural schools, which were heretofore struggling for survival, were now bursting at the seams. Schools could not be built quickly enough to take the increase in student numbers.

Time was required by schools to provide the necessary facilities. Short term arrangements had to be made, such as conduct of the dress-making classes in the Science Laboratory in Athboy. ‘It proved difficult, cutting out garments, using the benches with protruding bunsen burners.’
New facilities were needed for the additional student numbers and Meath schools met this challenge by using temporary prefabricated classrooms, erecting extensions or building new schools.
By 1980 most schools in Meath had reached full capacity. Deputy Tully said in the Dáil that:
‘Navan schools have all the children they can cater for. Teachers are working very hard in trying to cater for the huge number of students attending the schools but if the necessary additional accommodation is not made available we will be faced with very serious problems. So far as County Meath is concerned within a matter of a year or so the vocational schools will be totally overcrowded.’
Prefabricated classrooms were the initial solution to the accommodation crisis. The first ‘prefab.’ in Dunshaughlin Vocational School arrived with the introduction of free education. Problems were encountered with the heating, ventilation and the accommodation of the prefabricated classrooms. Movement between prefabricated classrooms in wet weather was difficult. In 1971 the V.E.C. sought approval for prefabricated classrooms for four of their schools, at Dunshaughlin, Trim, Nobber and Kells.
In 1978 Deputy Tully T.D. said that:
‘there is a lot of dissatisfaction over the prefab schools which were introduced as a lifesaver some years ago when it was impossible to get school accommodation…..Now, years after they have outlived their usefulness, they are still being used as schools.’
Deputy John Bruton T.D. raised the matter of prefabricated classrooms in the Dáil on two occasions in 1982. Eight Meath second level schools had prefabricated classrooms: Longwood: seven; Trim C.B.S.: two; St. Patrick’s Classical School: three; Christian Brothers, Kells: eight; Vocational School, Kells: three; Trim Vocational School: two; Nobber Vocational School: nine prefabricated classrooms and Oldcastle: four. In reply to John Bruton, the Minister for Education, Professor Martin O’Donoghue, said he was not of the opinion that the use of prefabricated classrooms in suitable circumstances caused pupils to be at any educational disadvantage.

Christian Brother’s Trim

The Christian Brothers at Trim provided additional accommodation following increased enrolments. At Eureka, Kells increasing numbers necessitated prefabricated classrooms and toilets in 1967. A science laboratory was provided in 1971-2. Schools had to secure money through fundraising to provide additional accommodation.
At St. Patrick’s Classical School numbers increased and in 1968 Deputy Tully, a past pupil, said ‘There are more potential pupils than it is possible to handle. If there was accommodation, the attendance would quadruple within twelve months.’ The old school on Academy Street had difficulty coping with a doubling of enrolments in one year. The Department of Education gave approval for a new school to cater for 250 pupils, but the School President, Fr. John Walsh, fought to have provision made for 375 pupils which the Department eventually agreed to. A new school was erected in 1970. The Minister for Education, Mr. Padraig Faulkner, opening the new school in April 1971, said it was clear that the new school
‘meets an urgent need … a steady increase in the number of pupils attending the school made it clear that a new building must be provided, the need became acute in recent years and the new building designed to accommodate 350 pupils has arrived none too soon. The enrolment in St. Patrick’s has shown a dramatic increase from 116 in 1968-9 to 238 in the present year. This increase is symptomatic of what is happening throughout the country generally’.
In 1976 a large extension was added. When the President, Fr. Walsh, died in 1970 he was succeeded by Mr. Liam Murphy, the first lay principal to be appointed to a Catholic voluntary school.
At St. Michael’s Loreto a new school was built in 1978 to accommodate the increase in student numbers. St. Joseph’s Mercy Convent, Navan erected a new school in 1968-71 and extensions were added in 1975 and 1982.
In Navan a new vocational school capable of catering for 800 students was proposed in 1975. Land was acquired on the Trim road to provide for the new vocational school. The purchase of the site was approved in April 1977. However the Department became unsure as to whether it should build a new school on the 16 acre Trim road site or build a new school on its existing site at Abbey road.
The Sisters of Mercy, Trim, opened a new secondary school in September 1968 with an enrolment of 300 girls. Three major extensions were carried out in 1972, 1980 and 1990.
New vocational schools for Trim, Navan and Nobber were authorised for architectural planning by the Department in 1978 and 1979. In 1980 Deputy Tully was concerned that while there was progress in Navan with regard to a new vocational school, there had been no progress in Trim and Kells
The Minister for Education told Deputy Bruton in the Dáil that he had approved the development of a new vocational school at Trim for 275 pupils on a site convenient to the existing Christian Brothers school.
Numbers had increased so dramatically at Dunshaughlin Vocational School that a new school was required. A parent-teacher association was formed and pressure put on the Department of Education to provide a new school. The Minister was informed by a deputation that the school had 12 prefabricated classrooms in use. The Minister’s response was to suggest putting additional prefabricated classrooms on the front lawn and tennis courts. The school principal, John Holland, visited England to research the secondary education system. He suggested a community college rather than a community school as a college would continue under the local V.E.C. while a community school would be directly under the Department. The parents and V.E.C. agreed. Dunshaughlin Community College was the first of its kind in the country. In February 1974 John Bruton T.D., Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education, announced sanction for the building of a 510 pupil school with the help of World Bank funding. The new school was approved by the Department of Education. In September 1977 the new school opened on an eighteen-acre site. Mr. James Tunney T.D., Minister of State for Education, officially opened the new school on 25th April 1978.
In 1978 an extension to Nobber school was planned, but by 1982 this had become a plan for a new school. By then there were thirteen prefabricated classrooms in Nobber.
In Longwood the first significant increase in enrolment occurred in 1963, which coincided with the beginning of the new regulations concerning entry to apprenticeships. A new school was completed and opened in September 1966. With the introduction of free education, two prefabricated classrooms had to be erected in 1967. By 1982 there were seven prefabricated classrooms in use at Longwood Vocational School and an extension was planned.
In Oldcastle an extension was built in two stages during 1970-71, and in 1980 two further prefabricated rooms were added with a third a year later. In 1959 the number of students was 63. By 1966 this had increased to 90 and by 1969 it had increased to 150, almost double the original attendance. By 1975 following amalgamation the total number of pupils was 350, and ten years later, in 1985, the figure was 435.
In Drogheda a new post primary school was erected in St. Mary’s parish to cater for students from the south of Drogheda town and the wider east Meath area. By 1984 it had 450 students. The Vocational School in Drogheda also catered for Meath students.

Rationalisation and Amalgamations
The Department of Education suggested that schools be amalgamated to provide for the efficient use of facilities and new buildings. In May 1969 the development unit of the Department of Education convened meetings in Athboy, Kells and Trim with regard to rationalising education provision in these areas. However no amalgamations took place at this time.
In 1965 the Department of Education proposed a community school to cater for all post-primary students in Kells. In 1970 Kells had three schools with a total enrolment of 725. The Convent of Mercy had 330 girls, the Christian Brothers had 170 boys and the Vocational School 224 (154 boys and 70 girls and no senior cycle). In 1972 a community of schools was proposed for Kells with all three existing schools re-locating to three separate new buildings on a site to be provided by the parish, but this proved to be unacceptable to the Department. In 1975 it was decided that the C.B.S. and the Vocational School would have new buildings to be erected on a single site owned by the parish. A new proposal was made in 1977 that Kells should have a community school for boys and that places for female students would be provided at the Convent of Mercy. In 1984 the Minister for Education sanctioned a community school for Kells to cater for 600 students.
In Trim a similar suggestion was pursued when in 1975 planning permission was sought for a new vocational school to be located near the Christian Brothers School at the Maudlins.
In Oldcastle amalgamation took place with the union of the Oldcastle Vocational School and the Gilsons School in 1969. The agreed board of management was a chairman nominated by the Bishop of Meath, four representatives from the Gilson School and four from the V.E.C. The school was named ‘Blessed Oliver Comprehensive School’. Fr. Holloway, chairman of Meath V.E.C. noted that everyone was ‘now happy that there is no question of a takeover by anyone’.
In 1977 Deputy Crinion asked if there was a need for a post-primary school in Duleek to serve that area of the county. In 1981 a second level school for Ashbourne was under consideration.
The Protestant sector was rationalised at this time. In 1969 the small Protestant secondary school, the Preston School was amalgamated with Wilson’s Hospital School, Multyfarnham, Co. Westmeath, which led to the introduction of co-education in that school. In lieu of ‘free education’ the Secondary Education Committee was established for the Protestant community, to which the Department of Education paid a grant which was then distributed to the neediest pupils to enable them to attend secondary boarding schools. In many cases boarding was the only option for those wishing to be educated in their own ethos. The last headmaster of Preston, Leonard Horan, became the deputy principal at Wilson’s Hospital.

The Relationship between Vocational Schools and Secondary Schools
Following the introduction of free education there was an increase in the number of pupils in Meath attending vocational schools compared with those attending secondary schools (Table 4).
There had been competition between the vocational and secondary sectors for pupils. Employment and further education had been limited for graduates of the vocational system. In 1966 Minister for Education, George Colley, announced that vocational schools would provide courses leading to the Intermediate and Leaving Certificate examinations. Vocational schools introduced academic subjects such as history and geography while secondary schools began to offer woodwork and mechanical drawing. Dunshaughlin Vocational School provided instruction in history and geography as early as the 1930s to a standard ‘higher’ than the Intermediate grade but could not enter its students for examination. There was an increased enrolment in vocational schools due to the growing interest in vocational technical subjects and also the provision of academic programmes in those schools.
Longwood Vocational School commenced a Leaving Certificate course in 1970, Dunshaughlin in 1971 and Nobber in 1974. Resources and new teachers were required to cope with the new curriculum. A number of part-time teachers were employed to provide instruction in the new subjects.
Co-operation between neighbouring secondary schools and vocational schools in particular areas worked well. The Vocational School in Athboy initially provided woodwork classes for the boys attending St. Joseph’s Convent of Mercy. A similar situation existed for the Preston School where the Navan Vocational School enabled pupils to receive instruction in science, woodwork and domestic economy. Navan Vocational School provided Economics and other commercial courses for Leaving Certificate students from St. Michael’s, Loreto, for one year.
With the opening up of examinations to the vocational schools the whole vista changed. When the results in the vocational and community college system began to match those of the secondary schools a level playing field for recruitment of students had arrived.

Gender Balances

In Meath approximately 55% of pupils attended a single-sex secondary school, with 5% in mixed secondary schools and 40% in co-educational vocational schools (See Figure 5). These figures varied little between 1967 and 1981.
As on a national level, few secondary schools in Meath were co-educational. In 1960-61 only 12.5% of secondary schools in the country were mixed. In Athboy Vocational School in the 1960s although boys and girls attended there were separate classes for each gender. At the request of the Department of Education in 1970, co-education was introduced into St. Joseph’s Convent, Athboy, but this is the only case in Meath during this period. The national trend towards co-education, which began in the 1970s, failed to affect Meath.
Girls, compared to boys, are over represented in secondary schools in Meath, as is the case at a national level. As can be seen from figure 5, more girls attend secondary schools compared to vocational schools but a trend of increasing representation in vocational schools seemed to be emerging.
More girls than boys attended second level schools in County Meath. Figure 6 shows the numbers of boys and girls in second level schools 1967-87 and demonstrates that while figures for enrolments for boys and girls have increased, more girls were enrolled each year than boys.

Meath females have a similar pattern to the national average where attendance past the school leaving age is concerned, but Meath males were more than 10% below the national average. (Figure 7) However, the increase in second level school attendance for males appears to follow the national average with the percentage of adult males in Meath who had attended second level schools increasing from 24% in 1966 to 45% in 1981, which was similar to the national increase from 26% to 44%.
Before the introduction of free education many sons of farmers attended schools only as far as the Group Certificate. Boys were often needed for jobs on the farm and often the small income they got from working for neighbouring farmers at peak times was an important contribution to the family income. Unless the family was in farming or business boys rarely continued into secondary education. Secondary schools were located in the major urban centres, which were difficult to access for rural dwellers.
The percentage of adult females in Meath who had attended second level schools increased from 35% in 1966 to 52% in 1981, which was similar to the national increase from 35% to 50%.

The removal of fees gave a great number of students the opportunity of a second-level education, which due to income constraints they would otherwise never have been able to afford. The provision of free transport opened up second level to those living in places removed from centres of second level education. The introduction of free education and free transport was one of the contributing factors to the decline in boarding school facilities.
Increased school enrolments resulted in accommodation difficulties which were met with initially by the provision of prefabricated classrooms and then by building extensions and new schools. Rationalisations and amalgamations were also proposed to assist in the best use of resources, but these did not come to fruition before the end of the period covered by this article. The freedom to introduce academic subjects and a full public examination programme opened up the vocational school system to wider student participation. Meath males continued to participate in second level education at a level lower than the national average.
The introduction of free education furnished the opportunity of fulfilment for each young person, regardless of family income, and was the most significant shift in Irish education policy in the second half of the twentieth century.