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Loch Awe

Dalmally School

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"History of Dalmally School"

Written to celebrate twenty years in the existing building.

Education in the Parish of Glenorchy and Inishail

This parish was at one time the largest in Argyll covering an extensive area of East Lorn and was, in the 18th and 19th century, reasonably well populated. At the end of the last century it was one of the first areas in this rural county to become accessible due to the development of the railway which ran from Stirling to the station at Dalmally, and later to Oban. Despite this however, and earlier the significance of a staging post at the main Inn at Dalmally, the community had not originally been the most prominent in the parish.

Glenorchy itself was the main school mentioned in the 1st Statistical Account of the area in the eighteenth century - a school of great repute which drew pupils not only from the local area but from as far afield as the East and West Indies! The pupils came to the school in this parish "where freed from that contagion of vice a bad example, which too often corrupts the morals of the youths in towns, they form early habits of virtue, and acquire a hardiness and vigour of constitution less common at their years, in warmer climates."

The 1st Statistical Account records the school masters annual income at this time to be around 40 shillings. During the winter months attendance could reach 100 and required an extra assistant to be employed, while in the summer, even though many poorer scholars had to seek work in service, attendance could still reach around 60.

The parish also boasted a girls' sewing school run by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, while there was another small school at Inishail. Even at this period the parish could attract the support of educational specialists on a temporary basis - such as fencing masters who occasionally come to instruct scholars in the art of defence, despite the local people being described as a 'peaceful people', and also masters of manners to teach the "the graces".

By the time of the 2nd Statistical Account in 1843 there were six significant schools in the parish including Glenorchy, Inishail and Bonawe. At this time the average cost of the school fees was between 10 - 12 shillings.

Throughout the early history of education in the parish, the reputation of the local scholars and their level of competence remained high. Few under the age of 50 or 60 were unable to read, though the Rev. MacLean complained that there were no Latin scholars in Glenorchy, unlike the situation only twenty years earlier when there had been "a goodly number". When the 3rd Statistical Account was being compiled in the 1950's, a more native tongue was also dying out. Gaelic had been common during the previous century, but by the middle of the 20th century it appeared on the curriculum of only one school in the parish. Still, despite a general decline in population, the parish maintained at least three schools at Dalmally, Cladich and Bridge of Orchy with rolls of 40, 10 and 4 respectively. Children in the west of the parish attended Taynuilt and Kilchrenan. Even at this period the organisation and cost of conveying pupils to and fro was a vexing problem. Then, as now, primary pupils travelled to Oban for secondary education, occasionally walking two or three miles to the nearest railway station.

In the community of Dalmally itself, formal education has a long and notable history going back well over a hundred years. Letterwood Public School dates back to the 1890's and although we believe Dalmally Public School to have flourished from the 1840's we are unable, as yet, to substantiate this. The site of the present primary school was eventually decided in 1964 according to council records which note: "Correspondence was submitted from the County Clerk intimating that the proprietor of Dalmally Hotel was prepared to make available an area of ground for the new school at Dalmally. In view of the fact the site was a suitable one and would not be affected by any trunk road development it was agreed to recommend that steps should be taken for the acquisition of the site" although it was to be another twelve years before the new school building officially opened.

Throughout the long history of education in these parts many teachers and pupils have made their individual contribution to the community and left their mark, but perhaps two names in particular should be recorded here. Duncan McLaren, born in 1800, gained all the formal schooling of his formative years at Dalmally before going on to become Lord Provost of Edinburgh and a notable member of parliament, while the nationally-mourned leader of the Labour Party, and potential prime minister, the Rt. Hon. John Smith, was actually born here in Dalmally in 1938.

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