Friday, October 10, 2014
A Model Farm
About the same time as the Great Famine chased our Tully and Flannery relatives out of County Tipperary, the British may have been having second thoughts about how they were conducting themselves over the fiasco decimating their Irish subjects.
Tucked away in the green hills above Ballina in County Tipperary was a section of land the government decided to establish as a "Model Farm" in 1850. The idea was to establish a boarding school, complete with training on all the latest agricultural developments, to be attended by the best and brightest—at least of those intended to keep farming after that date—from the surrounding regions. In addition to those boarding at the school, one fortunate local lad would also be selected by lottery to attend the daytime training while returning to his parents' homes each evening after class.
That particular school was housed in a building still sitting on the road up past Ballina, through Grange, and on the way toward the top of Tountinna, the mountain which includes the townland of the same name, where our Tully family once lived.
Our Tully ancestors may never have seen that school building, once it was completed. But on our two trips to Ballina this past week, we did. Not only did we drive by it—which we did on our first trip up the mountain—we actually stopped to take pictures. Better yet, we got to speak to the man who refurbished the place and currently uses the well-marked facility as his residence.
It happened this way: Anne, our host at the bed and breakfast last weekend, had told us, "Oh, you simply must stop and meet Jack." Jack was the man who had repaired and rehabbed the building. He had taken great care to leave the front of the facility much as it appeared in the past, though of course the inside of the building was modernized and converted into living quarters. A sign at the gate, as well as one over the front door, indicated its original state as a "Model Farm" and gave the date of its establishment as 1850.
On this second visit to Ballina, we headed up the road ourselves, after stopping at Anne's bed and breakfast to say hello and introduce my husband's two sisters, who had arrived in Ireland only a few days prior. Anne again urged us to stop and see if Jack was home. I, still suffering from childhood vestiges of wariness about accosting strangers and striking up conversations, was reticent to do so, but we did want to get a picture of the place.
We found the place easily enough on our own this time. While we were fairly certain that the school was established after our family had emigrated—and even if they had still been here, they would not have been likely candidates for inclusion in the training program, owing to the prejudices against Catholics at that time—we still wanted to stop, just to glean a bit of local history.
It was Jack's dog that insured that we would actually meet the man, for as we pulled in the driveway, Lucky ran out and began an unstoppable barrage of yapping. In due time, Jack appeared from around the back of the building, and we soon found ourselves in one of those Irish conversations that dance between who we all know in common and what news we have to bring to the area.
We told Jack about Anne and how she urged us to stop by. We explained how we learned about the school. My husband tried out his "dewy-eyed Yank" line—the one which he had, by this time, successfully deployed on several occasions across the western parts of the country and which never failed to evoke a smile from our patient audiences.
Jack was particularly interested in hearing about our Ballina area surnames. "There are no Tullys or Flannerys around here," he explained—something which we had, by now, heard before.
We talked about the precise location of the Tully property, and I told him I had an old property tax map. At this, Jack seemed interested, and invited us into his kitchen, so I could spread out my papers. As it turned out, the property upon which the school was built—labeled, incidentally, in our map—had been in Jack's family since it was established, and he had inherited the school records from his own ancestors. He had the rolls including the names of all the children who had once attended this school. No Tully boys there, he was certain. None that he knew of now, either. Perhaps, when Denis and Margaret Tully moved their family to Canada, they were the last Tullys to move out of the area. Likely the same for the Flannerys as well.
It was quite an experience meeting a total stranger—in a foreign country, even—and having him open his house to us. Yet the meeting wasn't just a one way conversation. There was an exchange of information, for I found Jack quite interested in the map and the corresponding Griffith's Valuation, not just to see our Tully listing, but to learn that he could find his own family in those records as well. Likely, the school was included in the listings, too. Jack wanted to check out the site and see that for himself. Perhaps he'll also do some comparisons between his roll books and the surnames in the area on Griffith's Valuation. I was thankful that I had a few extra copies of the townlands map as well, so that I could leave him a copy.
While the school building now looks so fresh and well kept as to make it difficult to imagine it as a part of Ballina's 1850 history, that is indeed what it represented. It becomes, to me--thanks to the insistence of our host at the bed and breakfast—a token of the efforts of local people, keen on preserving their history by whatever means they can contribute. In Jack's case, it was in preserving a local landmark and in keeping safe those records of the names of generations of school children in this northern part of County Tipperary—records that themselves will be of great interest to other researchers.
Photograph: Model Farm schoolhouse above Ballina in County Tipperary. Originally established in 1850, this reconditioned building has kept to the original exterior design and appearance as much as possible, though the interior has been converted to a residence. A roadside plaque commemorates its original purpose. Photo courtesy Chris Stevens.