Scéim Na Scol

Séamus ÓCathain

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Circular 17/38 (=CMT 17/38), issued to managers and teachers in December 1938, contained instructions regarding the arrangements for the return to the Department of the official notebooks and the school copybooks. It also called for the return of all the copybooks:

The scheme provided that all Manuscript books supplied should, at the termination of the period of operation of the scheme, be returned to this Department for immediate transmission to the Folklore Commission, and that the pupils' composition copy books, or a selected number of them, should also be forwarded. The Folklore Commission desires particularly that all the copy books used by the pupils for composition and notes on Folklore subjects should be collected and transmitted with the official Manuscript books, especially as variants of the same story, tradition, belief; custom, etc, mav have been recorded therein.

Upwards of 5,000 primary schools took part in the Schools' Scheme and most of them followed the instructions of the Department to the letter, returning, in due course, not only the official notebook into which the items collected by the schoolchildren had been dutifully transcribed from the copybooks by 'selected' pupils, but also the copybooks (or a selection of them) as well. When combined with the injunction to avoid unnecessary duplication, this process of 'selection' had the unfortunate effect of relegating the work of some participants to relative obscurity by minimising the chances of its being represented in the official notebook.

In certain cases, an even worse fate awaited the material collected by some hapless pupils for, following completion of the Scheme, these compositions were effectively consigned to oblivion, when the copybooks of the individuals in question failed to be included among the 'selected number' (as per the injunction in CMT 9/37) chosen for despatch to the Department of Education. Regardless of their potential value to the Commission and despite the instruction in the subsequent circular -CMT 17/38 - to return all copybooks, it is likely that these copybooks were discarded soon after the completion of the Schools' Scheme. Some copybooks survived by chance - indeed, some may well still do - like the one which fetched up on the Dublin antiquarian book market a few years ago among the books and papers of a retired schoolmaster from the West of lreland.

In a Scheme as large as this, it is not surprising, perhaps, that some schools returned no material at all. Happily, such schools were few in number. In such cases, it is likely that none of the material collated by the pupils in their copybooks had ever been transcribed into the official notebook and neither the copybooks or the official notebook came into the possession of the Commission. Occasionally, for one reason or another, schools from which no official notebook was received returned instead a bundle of the copybooks. Thus, the school copybooks can assume an all-important role in some instances insofar as they represent the only material preserved from certain schools.


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