Events and History from Gelvin, Dungiven, Co. Derry, Ireland.
Gelvin Community Association was formed in late 1997 as the people from the area had for some time a vision of restoring what was then the dilapidated old school building and overgrown graveyard. No time was wasted as work began on the graveyard in the spring of '98 and was completed approximately 12 months later. Work included the piecing together of broken headstones, erecting fallen stones, some drainage,fencing, levelling and reseeding.
During '98 the group actively sought finance to help restore the old school building and by early '99 a significant funding package was in place. The next step was to acquire the property by way of purchase or long term lease and an agreement to purchase the building and what was the playground was soon agreed with the church authorities. Planning permission was sought and obtained; work commenced in mid October 1999.
One of the first tasks was the removal of the wooden floor and stage - the latter being a fixture dating back many years. Paddy Mullan, one of the oldest residents in the area and a former pupil of the school, remembers the stage being in place during his early days at the school. On removing the stage old altar steps of stone and lime construction were discovered which no doubt date back to the 1840's as the building was originally used as a catholic church. Work progressed over the winter months and by the end of April 2000 a visible transformation had taken place.
The building now comprises three separate facilities (1) a 1,000 sq ft commercial unit (2) a section containing the old altar steps which is now used as a meeting room and (3) a new kitchen.
Regrettably we were unable to locate any records covering the period when the building was used as a chapel - mid 1840's until 1901. It can only be assumed that christenings, weddings and funerals were conducted in the building throughout that period.
Dwindling numbers and the provision of more up to date facilities in Drumsurn led to the closure of the school in 1967. Shortly thereafter all fixtures and fittings were removed and presumably destroyed. However the following items of historical interest remain (1) school roll books dating from 1st January 1902 - the day the school opened (2) the old alter steps and (3) the Maltese Cross on the western gable - we believe this to be the best example of such a cross in the North West.
The building has been transformed from a decaying liability into a worthwhile asset and many past pupils, former teachers, local residents and dignitaries were present on 16th June 2000 to witness the official opening. Life in the classroom has undergone considerable change in the past 50/60 years. Compare the following extract from a note in 2000 by Bill McStay recounting his teaching days in Gelvin school in the 1950's with what pertains today:-
I retain an impression, forty-three years after I left Gelvin for the last time, that the schoolhouse was a low set building, nestling in the overgrown surroundings of what must have been a graveyard. It was no thing of beauty, but to me it was reassuringly familiar, for I had been a pupil in a primary school near Downpatrick that was not unlike my new dominion. Here was the same nondescript building, lost for a good coat of paint, the same chilly classrooms inadequately heated (though Gelvin had sweet -smelling turf which was unknown in East Down), the same basic toilet facilities, and the same recognisable bunch of sturdy country children, though there couldn't have been more than a couple of dozen in the whole school.
Nobody had told me that Gelvin was an integrated school, not that the term had been invented in those far-off days. But Thelma marked by card, announcing with justifiable pride that some Protestant families attended the school. Justifiable, I say, for I was to find that my little flock, Protestant and Catholic, comprised the nicest children I had ever taught. They were gentle, courteous and impeccably behaved. They brought in wild flowers, pictures and books, and at break times they skipped outside like lambs to play tig and rounders. I never heard the slightest hint that any of them considered others as 'different'. What a model of tollerance was that little group. I hope they went on in later life to show the same mutual respect for each other that so impressed me in them as children''.
We can confidently say that this mutual respect has continued and grown over the intervening sixty years.
Committee of Gelvin Community Association in 2000
Chairman.................................. David Hynds
Vice Chairman........................... Aidan Rafferty
Secretary.................................. Eugene McCloskey
Treasurer.................................. Patsy McNicholl