Ballyheaphy National School closed its doors 50 years ago this year (1968-2018). The decision to close it in 1968 was as a result of years of neglect and it was eventually condemned in 1966.

By 1903 there were calls for the roof to be replaced. The idea of the government of the day doing anything to improve the school was out of the question. Local fundraising also presented difficulties.

In correspondence dating from 1906, the then parish priest of Ballyduff informed Commissioners that only one third of the children were from his parish (Ballyduff) and these people were too poor to donate; with reference to the Ballyporeen parish, which also supplied pupils to the school, the PP said these people were also 'too poor to subscribe'.


The history of Ballyheaphy National School (part of the Waterford School District) dates back to January 1870. It catered for boys and girls with both being educated separately under the same roof. The first principal was Mr. C. McCarthy. During the early days there was a considerable turnover in teachers.

Mr. McCarthy was followed by Kate Egan, James Egan, Mr. A. Hearn, Mr. Patrick Cotter, Michael Kearney, Mr. John Gallaghue and Mr. Godfrey Daly. Responsibility for these appointments was in the hands of Ballyduff Parish Priest, Rev. D. Power. 

Heating the schoolhouse building was a constant problem, as was storing the fuel, timber and turf – these had to be kept in the classroom. 


The Irish national school system was controlled from Dublin by the Commissioners of Education. This influential group wielded considerable power and weren't afraid to use it. By and large, the role of teachers in the late 1800s wasn't a happy one.

They were poorly paid, facilities were basic and getting to and from work was a constant problem. Some of the teachers who taught at this time were Mr. John Gallaghue, Miss Louise McGrath, Mr. M. Shanahan and K. Shanahan. 

In 1930 the school had 4 teachers: Michael Shanahan (principal), Bridget Russell from Liss, Araglin; Miss Butler who later became Mrs. Curley and Suzy Brunnock (nee Donovan from Barnahown, Araglin). At this stage the girls had access to a dry toilet with the boys having to fend for themselves.

Mr. Shanahan retired in 1938 and was replaced by Patrick O'Neill from nearby Ballyduff. During Mr. O'Neill's time, dry toilets for the boys were built, in addition to a garage for the new principal's car – a Baby Ford costing, we are told, £120. 

The 1960s signalled an upturn in Ireland's fortunes and the standard of living rose. The appointment of a youthful and dynamic principal, John Gough, proved very popular. He was assisted by Miss Russell and Mrs. Armstrong. The female teachers added extra curricular activities such as sewing and playing the tin whistle. In a more compassionate regime, students were rewarded for doing well in examinations.

For many, their abiding memory during Mr. Gough's time was the purchase of a kettle and the making of tea for pupils – the piping hot tea replaced the tepid and less than tasty cocoa, which was heated in glass bottles around an open fire. There was an occasional ‘explosion’ as some of the glass bottles broke. Mr. Gough's commitment to sport and Gaelic games, in particular, endeared him to youngsters.


With the school condemned in 1966, there were hopes a new school would be built close to the original building. Local people campaigned in favour of this proposal, but for a variety of reasons it never came to pass. The school closed its door for the last time in the summer of 1968.

Despite all its trials and tribulations, this small rural school played a major role in educating children for almost 100 years. Unique in attracting pupils from 3 counties (Cork, Waterford and Tipperary) its loss to the Araglin area, was only felt years later.

Thanks to its present owner/occupiers, Christy and Mary Jo Higgins, Ballyheaphy N.S. is excellently maintained and its presence is a lasting reminder of distant schooldays in an Ireland that seems light years from the country we inhabit today. 


In 2008, a small but dedicated committee organised a reunion event. That night was hugely successful in acknowledging the contribution Ballyheaphy N.S. made to the area and it afforded past pupils an opportunity to renew acquaintances. 

Many thanks to John Gough and Bridget Leddy for providing the pictures.