Most of Drogheda’s hedge schools are located along the Dale and down the Glen.
The Glen is home to some for Drogheda’s oldest hedge schools with the first one opening in 1709, the same year the Penal Laws came into effect. It is also one of the oldest hedge schools in Ireland and quite possibly the world as not many other countries have the quality of ditch required to teach.
Murchadh O’Brien has been teaching in ditches for 40 years. It is not known exactly how many school’s he has set up but one thing is for certain – he founded the “Bush” in the early 90s. The “Bush” is an elite hedge school and the first of its kind to allow people from Meath to join.
Trouble in the 90s
In the late 90s the “Back Bush” was founded and is still in use today. O’Brien himself studied for years on the Mollies and still gives the odd guest lecture. He had this to say,
“We teach the 3 Rs; Reading, Riting and Rrithmetic. The Glen has the smallest class sizes in Drogheda guaranteed. And students can take part in a wide range of extracurricular activities including the 3 Ds; Drink, Drugs and Ditches.”
It is a testament to the success of the Glen that the boards of management at both the Sacred Heart Secondary School and St. Mary’s Diocesan were worried about dwindling numbers in their respective schools. And that is before they worry about the influence of the hedge schools on their own students’ mindsets.
The principal of St Mary’s Diocesan School at the time was a Mr. Winters. People who knew him say that he was a long and harsh man and it has been alleged that he was the offspring of former National Socialist bureaucrats who arrived into Baltray through well established ratlines from war ravaged Germany in 1946.
Winters was tasked with the challenge of stopping the flow of students from the soul crushing concrete schools to the freedom of the hedges. However, every time he entered the Glen the bushes would rustle with the warning ‘Winters is coming’.
“You ask my good friend George Martin about the time he spent down the Glen,” recalled Murchadh.
Winters would stand on the Mollies with binoculars desperately trying to find out where all his students had gone. He once tried to enrol his own son in the Bush in an attempt to take it down from the inside. But despite such cunning, his efforts proved fruitless. The only thing he done of note was to erect a large fence around St. Mary’s effectively turning it into an open prison. It didn’t have the desired effect and Drogheda’s hedge schools flourished.
Behind the hedges
Classes take place all over the Glen and cater for many religions. Non-practicing Catholics can mitch mass and school in most hedges. Devout Protestants can go to Cromwell’s Glen on the Faa Side while Pagans are welcome at the Educate Together Hedge in Druid’s Glen.
Drogheda’s hedge schools are now enrolling for 2016 so head down the Glen this Monday from seven and go into any open hedge. On the night you can learn many of the life skills that have served past pupils so well over the years – how to cut hash with an empty can of Dorfmeister, how to build and repair joints and how to make a shelter from the rubbish that collects in the stream.
Canteen manager Rich Forage ensures the students are well fed in the autumn but it the winter months students are required to bring lunch and a sod of turf or fire-log each.
Attendees are reminded to wear suitable footwear and bring a torch.
Take a field trip every day at Drogheda Hedge School.