When I first came to live in this area I used to hear some older men out Callaghane way speak of the Blue School and to my surprise they meant that venerable institution Newtown School. On further elicitation I discovered that these ‘old boys’ had simply transferred the epithet from the former and real Blue School when it had been located in Grantstown, indeed in Grantstown House itself.
Even when Bishop Foy’s was based on The Mall its playing fields were maintained on the lands there. A ‘Blue’ school had become, in the popular mind, a generic term for a ‘Proddy’, ie Protestant- related school. By the way, despite the popular misconception Quakers/ The Religious Society of Friends – the founders and owners of Newtown School – are not and don’t regard themselves as a Protestant sect or part of the Anglican Communion as it is properly described. But that’s another day’s story which I will bring to you another time. Such subtleties didn’t bother the old guys.
Anyhow here we are again this week exploring the long link between the inglorious demise of Charles I, the rise and decline of Oliver Cromwell, the Restoration, defeat of James II at the Battle of the Boyne and the consequent return to power of Protestant Ascendancy in England and in particular its impact on Ireland – all that results in one Nathaniel Foy holding fast to his Protestantism and thus being awarded the Bishopric of Waterford and Lismore in 1691.
He reigned here for 16 years until his death in late 1707. But before he did so he established a school here which bore his name that served its community for the following 260 years, until its closure in 1967. That long link from 1707 to the tercentenary of its founding was celebrated in Waterford a few weekends ago when hundreds of its former pupils gathered from far and near. Last week I brought you some of the story of Foy himself, courtesy of the fine scholarship of Julian Walton who delivered an excellent speech on the notable bishop and his eponymous school.
The Four “Rs” of Foy’s
Here I will give some selected quotes from that excellent informative talk on the story of the school itself as it started 300 years ago in Broad Street, its move to Grantstown in 1812 and then to The Mall in 1920, where it remained until 1967. First we learn of the social and educational circumstances that led to its foundation in the first place in 1707:
“One of the chief battle-grounds between Catholic and Protestant was the matter of education. Despite the law, courageous Catholics maintained schools in Waterford City, and these attracted also the poorer class of Protestants. Up with this Foy would not put, and he resolved to establish in Waterford a free school where Protestant boys would be given a basic education. He made elaborate arrangements. A site was provided by the Corporation the old court-house on the corner of Broad Street and Arundel Street, more or less opposite the present Supermac’s. Lands were purchased, the rents of which financed the new establishment. So impatient was Foy for the school to start that he did not wait for the site to be cleared and the new premises built he rented premises and went ahead anyway. By the time he died in the closing hours of the year 1707, Bishop Foy’s School was up and running.
It provided free education for up to fifty poor Protestant boys aged between ten and fourteen. They were trained in the “Four Rs” Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic and Religion and at the end of their schooling they were apprenticed to tradesmen in the city. An act of parliament of 1728 formalised its structure. Throughout the 18th century, as Waterford City expanded and prospered, the school went from strength to strength. Its lands were well administered, rents poured in, the demand for places increased. The Religious Census of 1766 shows that perhaps one-third of the city’s population was Protestant at the time, and while some of these were wealthy merchants and politicians there were many small tradesmen and domestic servants for whose sons Bishop Foy’s provided the sole opportunity for education.
So successful was the school that, a hundred years after its foundation, the governors decided to expand it into a boarding school. As the existing building was far too constricted, they bought lands at Grantstown and built there a new school. It opened as a boarding school in 1812, and so Bishop Foy’s School left the city and reopened at Grantstown House. There, for the next ninety years, it stayed. For a time, all went well. A government commission reported in 1824 that “the boys are well instructed in reading, writing and casting accounts. .. The diet of the boys is good and sufficient; their clothing is decent and comfortable; and the master and mistress of the school seem, upon the evidence offered to us, to give every attention to their care and management.” But a generation later, however, in 1857, things were different and the state of affairs was neither good nor healthy. A report of the school in that year was damning – for want of space I’ll spare you the details! Except to add a cutting comment of the Commissioners who concluded by saying “that the only subject the boys were any good at was mental arithmetic perhaps their skill came from counting the days remaining until they could leave such a dreadful establishment!”
Moving Times
But a report in 1879 declared that the school improved beyond recognition and was as such thriving: That inspector reported thus: “I examined the boys of this school in reading, spelling, grammar, geography and arithmetic, in which subjects they acquitted themselves most satisfactorily. The master is a highly qualified music teacher, and he has brought the singing of his pupils to almost the highest degree of perfection, as well as having trained an excellent fife band; he informed me that one of his boys is about to go into training with the object of becoming a regimental bandmaster. The house arrangements are in every particular suitable; and I noticed, with very much satisfaction, a well-stocked carpenter’s workshop, which has been lately fitted up for the boys”. At this time the boys formed the choir which sang at services in the local St Thomas’s Church, now more widely known as the ‘Brasscock’. It was built, by the way circa 1830. But by 1887 the pendulum had swung back and numbers dwindled to 14 – its incomes had been severely affected by the ‘Land War/Plan of Campaign. This was the beginning of the end for the school at Grantstown though it remained there for a few decades more.
Julian goes on to tell us: By the beginning of the 20th century, the boarding school at Grantstown was no longer viable. In fact, there was an obvious need for the various Church of Ireland schools in Waterford to be rationalized. Accordingly, an act of parliament was passed in 1902 abolishing the old system. Two new secondary schools, one for boys and one for girls, were set up in Cathedral Square, using the endowments of the old schools and retaining the name of Bishop Foy’s. Grantstown House was retained for the accommodation of boarders. A further change was made in 1920 with the arrival of a new bishop, Dr Miller. Sensibly abandoning the vast palace on the Mall, he bought for his family a country house called Old Court, to the west of the city. (It is now the Waterford Manor Hotel.) The boys’ and girls’ schools were amalgamated into a single co-educational school, based in the Palace. Grantstown House was sold, and thus ended Bishop Foy’s association with the Ballygunner area. In June 1967, as you well know, Bishop Foy’s School was subsumed into Newtown School. Grantstown House now serves as offices and apartments. No longer in the depths of the countryside, it is at the centre of a housing estate”.
Grantstown House was later owned by Austin Earle – an Old Foyonian himself, who ran a thriving market garden operation there for many years until he sold the lands to McInerney’s in the late 80’s which then built an estate of over 300 dwellings there and in turn lent his name to it to become Earlscourt. Julian Walton has written an as yet unpublished history of Ballygunner Parish. I for one look forward to its early publication.
Let’s finish with these parting words of Julian’s as he concluded his fine lecture to the gathering: “Today the sectarian quarrels that so bitterly divided Ireland and all Europe during Foy’s life no longer make us hot under the collar, and thanks be to God for it. Foy was a man of his time who reacted to the issues of the day with vigour and determination. His abiding legacy is the school which provided an education to young people over many generations, and your presence in Waterford this weekend is a fitting testimony to the record of that school, founded three hundred years ago”.
Go seachtain eile, slan.