Trevor Sargent returns to Balbriggan this weekend to rename the old school building that was once his home
Balbriggan will welcome the return of one of its most famous sons this weekend for a very special event at the old St George’s National School building on Hampton Street.
ormer Green Party TD Trevor Sargent, who is now a Church of Ireland rector for the Bunclody Union of Parishes in Wexford, was the last teacher to live at the famous school’s residence.
He will be back in his old abode on Sunday, June 19, to officially rename the building, which will be known as the Judith Chavasse Centre in recognition of the substantial bequest left to St George’s Parish by the late nursing academic.
The occasion will also mark the completion of work in replacing the roof of the landmark building, which dates back to 1859 and served the town as a national school for 150 years.
A major fundraising campaign was launched to fund the roof replacement scheme amid fears that water ingress could damage the interior of the building. The repairs cost over €150,000, with a generous donation of €20,000 received from Progressive Credit Union and €50,000 in heritage grants secured.
The legacy left by Judith Chavasse, who passed away in 2018, played a significant part in funding the balance needed to complete the project. She is remembered as a dedicated member of the parish and “a visionary figure” in the world of nursing.
Robert Cashell, treasurer of St George’s Parish, told Fingal Independent there had been strong local support for the project and it was “a big relief” to see work on the new roof completed. He said further renovations will be required in the coming years, including the replacement of windows.
“The main thing for now is that the interior of the building is protected from the elements,” he stated.
He said the parish was extremely grateful to Helena Bergin, Fingal County Council’s architectural conservation officer, for helping to get heritage grant funding over the line.
Robert has a personal connection to the building as five generations of his family, himself included, went to school at St George’s. He remembers there were only four pupils in the school when he was there in 1961.
Trevor Sargent’s presence at the renaming ceremony this Sunday will be a fitting reminder of the building’s legacy.
He was principal of St George’s National School from 1983 until he was elected to the Dáil in 1992.
Reverend Sargent previously recalled his “wonderful memories” of working and living at the school as a young teacher.
“It was a one-teacher school when I started there, with just 16 pupils,” he said. “By the time I left, it had grown to 32 students with two teachers, and a remedial teacher was shared with other schools in the area.
“I loved living there, but it needed a lot of work. I remember using the warmth of the storage heaters at night to make my own yoghurt.
“I also brewed my own wine there in the evenings, but I made sure I removed my demijohn bottles the next day so the children wouldn’t see them. I have lovely memories of cultivating the garden with the help of the kids.
“It was wonderful to come up from Cork, where I had been teaching, and be able to move into the town without having to look for accommodation. It was a great start to a new job.”
St George’s National School, which is considered to be architecturally significant, has an important place in Balbriggan’s history.
In its early years, the houses in Hampton Place beside the school were known as Quality Row as they were home to skilled workers in the mills who were brought over from England to train local people.
The children of Quality Row attended St George’s while their families worked in Balbriggan.
In the early decades of the 20th century, the school had two teachers – Mr J Douglas taught the senior classes and Mrs Edith Douglas looked after the juniors. The junior classroom was located in what would become the parochial hall and the seniors were in the room beside the garden.
In 2008, due to the rapid expansion of the Balbriggan area, the school moved to a new site on the Naul Road. It is now considered one of the most multi-cultural and diverse school communities in the country.
However, the original school building continues to play a vital role in Balbriggan and is now used by Cairde, a community development organisation that provides support and assistance to ethnic minorities.
A number of other groups have also used the old school hall for their activities, including Balbriggan Dramatic Society and St Patrick’s Brass and Reed Band.
Because of its historical importance, St George’s National School and Schoolhouse is listed on Fingal County Council’s Record of Protected Structures under the County Development Plan.