The Royal School’s presence in County Cavan goes back as far as the early 1600s and it enjoyed several locations, including Cootehill, Co Cavan. In 1735 Dr Thomas Sheridan was appointed and appears to be the School’s most famous Headmaster. Certainly he is the only one who has so far made it to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, although his main claim to fame rests chiefly on his friendship with Jonathan Swift.
Sheridan spent three years at Cavan Royal, and hated it. He fell out with a number of his neighbours; but his main complaint was what he described as the ‘moist and unwholesome’ air, which badly affected his asthma. As a remedy he took a daily half-pint dose of whisky, combined with ‘an agreeable mixture of garlic, bitter orange, gentian-root, snake-root, etc.’ The concoction also no doubt helped anaesthetise him against his failure to find a better appointment!
The present building at Lurganboy, entrance on College Street was completed in 1819. The plans drawn up by Francis Johnson, were executed by John McMahon, under the direction of John Bowden.
In 1901, the School came under a new type of management, that of the Protestant Board of Education. Amongst the Board’s powers was that of appointing the Headmaster, and their first nominee was James Hampton. A picture of the School in his time shows a student body of some twenty-three dayboys and seven boarders, with two masters, and Hampton himself. There was also Miss Reid, the drawing teacher, and Guy and Denton who taught drill and ‘musketry’.
Hampton left the School in 1913 and was followed, by Mayers and Charles Bain. In 1924, John Anderson arrived, the man who was, at long last, to make the School a success.
When Anderson arrived at the Royal School he was met by a calf grazing at the front door. It had simply wandered into the School grounds. The condition of the building, the finances, the pupil numbers were quickly found to be in a poor state and Anderson began to feel that he had been appointed under false pretences. However, he worked hard and the School began to flourish and prosper. Girls were now fully admitted and this increased numbers. There had been female day pupils at the School since 1915, but now they were allowed to board, making Cavan Royal only the second fully co-educational school in the state. (The first was Wesley College, Dublin.) Roman Catholics were also warmly welcomed (although, in fact, there had been the occasional Roman Catholic pupil since at least the eighteenth century.)
Anderson began an extensive programme of building and refurbishment. This did not, unfortunately, extend to the roof, as this was such a huge job and outside of the scope of the schools finance. However, in 1998, it was blown away in a storm and the replacement was provided by the insurance company. Electricity was also installed, but until central heating came much later, the School continued to be warmed by open fires.
While Ivan Bolton he was headmaster a huge amount of construction work was undertaken, totally over £700,000. He has also continued to promote a policy of inclusivity. The School welcomes several differently -abled students and non-national pupils.
The School is still small in terms of numbers and it does not have the resources of some of the larger schools in the area. However it continues to enjoy achievement and success in a number of fields, be it academically in terms of examination results, or in other areas, such as Young Enterprise competitions.
(Photo © Cavan County Library.)