Since 1829, the Presentation Brothers conducted the Lancasterian School on Lancaster Quay. This school, popularly known as the “Lancs”, was set up by the Cork Charitable Society in 1814 and was organised along the lines advocated by Joseph Lancaster (1778-1838), the English educationist, whose aim was to bring elementary education to the masses and to whom – along with Andrew Bell (1753-1832) – is ascribed the monitorial system of teaching. The “Lancs” was situated on part of the site now occupied by Square Deal and, for a number of years, was under the principalship of the renowned Presentation Brother, Edmund Paul Townsend (1798-1881).
Br. Paul was an architect by profession and an accomplished linguist. He became a Presentation Brother in his late twenties and proved to be a remarkable teacher especially well thought of by his pupils, one of whom described him as “an ideal gentleman … most affable and courteous to everybody … [with] great affection for children and naturally enough was loved by them in return … “ and another of whom reported years later that “… He stood with the boys for something more than a schoolmaster. … The bigger boys and monitors adored him”.
In 1912, the Presentation Brothers acquired the current site where St. Joseph’s was built and ready for occupation a year later. The move from the old Lancasterian school on Lancaster Quay to the new school was, by all accounts, a very smooth and professional operation. On the day of transition, every pupil in the school, in addition to his own books, helped transport some object of furniture or equipment, the older boys carrying the desks and tables, the younger ones transporting smaller items. The pupils marched in orderly fashion up the Western Road, onto the Mardyke, and deposited the items as directed in the new school. Next day, the classes began in their new surroundings and the “old Lancs” was no more.
The move to St. Joseph’s on the Mardyke was regarded positively by Sean Ó Faoláin, a past-pupil of the “Lancs”. He wrote:
The Lancs has been replaced, a little out of town, by a fine modern school, all tiles and hardwood floors, and it is beside fields, and below it there are trees through which one sees the flowing river with cows chewing the cud in other fields beyond. In our old place there were just a few ragged trees growing out of gravel and not one blade of grass.
In 1987 the numbers in St. Joseph’s N.S. increased dramatically following the closure of the Presentation Brothers’ Private Primary school on the Western Road.
Since 1913, St. Joseph’s has developed a history and tradition of its own. The Brothers, teachers and staff, the parents and the pupils associated with the school in the interim have made their own respective and valued contributions to the developing story that is our primary school.
Each year we welcome past pupils from all eras back to the school. They have stories and memories to share and it is clear that St. Joseph’s holds a very special place in their memory.