Nov – Second level schooling in Skerries in a National, Historical context

by  Dr Dominic McQuillan
(Skerries Historical Society Meeting – November 2015)

Second Level Schooling in Skerries in a National Historical Context
Where to begin with Dr Dominic McQuillan’s brilliant study of Second Level Schooling in Skerries in a National Historical Context? This paper, the first of Skerries Historical Society’s new season, was stuffed with information about the growth of second level schooling across the country and, more specifically, about the five second level schools that Skerries has known over the last century and a half.

Dominic gave us a wonderful pen picture of a Skerries native, John Gowan, who was to play a significant role in the development of Skerries schooling. John was born in 1817 and lived in Harbour Road. He got his primary education in Skerries but there was no second level school for him and he headed off to The Seminary of St Laurence O’Toole in Dublin before continuing to Maynooth College to study for the priesthood.

Fr. Gowan became a Vincentian priest in Phibsboro where he met Margaret Aylward, encouraging her to found the Holy Faith Sisters to work with orphans and educate children. Less than ten years later the first Holy Faith sisters arrived in Skerries, creating a school in Gowan’s Lane, then renamed Convent Lane. This was the first post-primary school in Skerries and it soon grew so large it had to move to new premises in Holmpatrick.

The convent remained the only second level school in Skerries for many years until the 1930 Vocational Education Act introduced a new era in second level schooling. The new vocational schools were to provide young people with manual skills to prepare them for a trade but the big difference with other secondary schools was that they were 100% funded by the state and came under local authority administration.

Despite the long existence of Catholic schooling for girls in the town, there was no equivalent for boys until the arrival of the De La Salle College, housed in the old Grand Hotel in Strand Street, in 1948. Skerries continued with three schools through the 50s, 60s and 70s but things in the country were changing. Pupil numbers increased all around Ireland after 1966 with the introduction of free secondary education for all and the government was keen to introduce comprehensive co-educational community schools. Skerries parents weren’t so enthusiastic and backed a plan for the three Skerries schools to combine into a single, co-ed, Catholic Holy Faith De La Salle College which opened in 1982. But numbers in religious communities were on the decline and by the end of the century the school had become Skerries Community College under the trusteeship of Co Dublin VEC, now County Dublin Education and Training Board.

Report by Oona Roycroft