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The Convent of Mercy, Portumna, a daughter house of Loughrea, was founded in 1882 and opened a residential Domestic Science School for girls in 1898. The founding manager was Sr. Mary Joseph Pelly. The convent may have run the school for some years prior to this as the third report of the County Committee mentions that the school was funded by the Board of Guardians (Portumna Union) and had been in operation for many years.

Under the 1891 Act Boards of Guardians were empowered to make grants available for agricultural education and training. The school was established to give “instruction in the science and practice of Cookery, Laundry Work, Dairy Management, Poultry Management, General Housework, Domestic Economy, and Needlework.

It had three principal objectives:
1) The training of farmers` daughters and other girls in improved modes of dairying and general household management.
2) The training of domestic servants.
3) The special instruction of girls about to become technical instruction teachers.

The admission requirements for prospective students were as follows:–
Pupils had to be sixteen years of age or older.

Applications for admission had to be signed by a “responsible person” who was well acquainted with the prospective pupil.

Pupils had to be able to read, write “with a fair hand”, spell with tolerable correctness, and have a knowledge of the basic rules of Arithmetic.

As pupils had to take part in all the work of the school and household they were required to supply serviceable dresses and aprons of plain washing material. In addition they were required to bring one good outdoor dress, hat and jacket, a pair of towels, house shoes, hair brush and comb, tooth brush, and clothes brush.

Whilst people might smile at the clothing requirements it should be remembered that it was always expensive to kit out children for boarding school.

Pupils from outside the Portumna Rural Union area had to be selected by either their Local Authority(Union) or Committee and submitted to the County Committee for Technical Instruction for final approval.

At the end of term (one year’s training) an examination was held under the auspices of The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland. Prizes were awarded for best exam results, neat-ness, and best notebook. A second terms training could be supplied if required.

Non resident pupils were admitted at a fee of ten shillings (€0.58) per quarter.

Pupils had to show an aptitude for the work of the school and if they failed to do so within two months they were to be sent home.

On completion of training pupils, who earned it, would receive a certificate of merit relating to their conduct and exam results.

The timetable makes it abundantly clear that there was little time for distractions. The day began with a 6.00am rise, with a half an hour for dressing and prayers. From 6.30 to 7.30 pupils were allocated various tasks such as milking cows, work in the laundry, dairy, poultry yard, or kitchen and household duties. At 7.30am they had
breakfast, following which they made up their beds, cleaned their dormitory and changed into their uniforms for the day.

From 9.00amto 1.00pm they were allocated duties in the workroom, kitchen, or laundry. Lunch and free time was from 1.00 to
2.00pm and from 2.00 to 4.00pm they were re allocated work in the workroom, kitchen or laundry. Lecture or examination time was from 4.00 to 5.00pm followed by tea until 5.30 after which they were allocated duties milking or work in the dairy, poultry yard or kitchen. Following this they all went to the workroom from 6.30 to 8.00pm. Supper and night prayers filled the last hour with bedtime at 9.00pm.

The subjects taught were Cooking and Domestic Economy, Needlework, Dairying, Laundry and General Housekeeping, as well as Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Geography.

The courses were designed to be practical.
During the year 1901/1902 there were eighteen resident pupils in the school. There was also a class for day pupils which dealt with Cookery and General Housekeeping. The boarders were in receipt of County Scholarships. During the first year of the scheme,(1901/1902) these were valued at £7 per annum. In the second year
of the scheme the scholarships were increased to £15 per annum

The teachers were: Margaret M. Riordan, Elizabeth M. Riordan, and Annabelle Gillespie.

In 1902 the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction’s Inspector reported that the school was the best of its type to come under his notice, As a result of his report the Department requested a set of six full plate photographs showing the various sections of the school at work. The photographs were to form part of the Department’s exhibit at the upcoming Cork Industrial Exhibition. It would seem that Portumna was to be used to set the national
standard for excellence.

In 1905 the Department took over the financing of the school and augmented the courses offered. By this means the school was established as a model school similar to The Munster Institute in Cork.

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