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School Roll Books Open Window to Forgotten Past

24 May 2016

A university and community research project is bringing to life the stories of children photographed a century ago in some of the worst housing in Europe.

By collating information in the roll books at St Andrew’s National School with family records in the 1901 and 1911 Census — published online by the National Archives of Ireland — it is hoped to learn and share more about the pupils.

Above: Children in 1913 in Magenniss's Court, off Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street), Dublin. Picture: Royal Society of Antiquaries Ireland

The school opened on Brunswick St in 1895 and was attended by thousands of local children before closing in 1976. The building is now home to St Andrew’s Resource Centre which runs adult education and many other community initiatives, and which has an integral part in the project.

It is run by Trinity College Dublin, where history postgraduates and computer science undergraduates have been inputting and analysing information from the salvaged roll books.

“St Andrew’s get a lot of queries from all over the world from people trying to trace if their ancestors went to school there,” said Ciarán O’Neill, who heads up a public history and cultural heritage postgraduate course. “This is an opportunity to give a real understanding of the situations those people lived in at the time.”

Visitors to the website can search for names or addresses of pupils, then find further links to the modern location of the family home on Google Maps. It is planned to link directly to corresponding 1911 Census forms, as well as information from hospitals and other institutions to build up a deeper story.

The details placed online to date cover St Andrew’s pupils from 1910 to 1916, and information on more than 150 of their homes shows that more than 50 were headed up by a labourer, including a dozen coal labourers.

Other prominent occupations in the children’s families were industrial and construction work, but children of porters, bakers, firemen, soldiers, office clerks, and hairdressers were also enrolled.

Most came from the immediate catchment of Brunswick St, which is now called Pearse St after the 1916 Proclamation signatory, who lived on the street with his brother Willie, also executed after the Rising.

“The next phase will look at roll books from 1895 on and we may find details of many foot-soldiers of the Irish Revolution,” said Mr O’Neill. “There was a branch of Na Fianna Éireann boy scouts set up by Countess Markievicz in Sandwith Street very near here, so there were probably plenty members at St Andrew’s.”

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