The school roll books.
Altaeskey primary school has always been the hub of the community in the Sixtowns. It was here that the pupils would have made their first friendships with children from their area and got to know all the other pupils who attended the school. Every child in the area attended the local Altaeskey school because in those days attending another school would have been out of the question as there was no transport available like there is nowadays. There for, the school rolls which we are so fortunate to still have and which go back to 1900, are such a rich and valuable source of genealogy for anyone who would want to trace their roots or research family history in the Sixtowns. Every person who lived in the Sixtowns from 1900, whether they died young or emigrated, their name is registered here. Sometimes pupils came to stay with relatives for a short time and in attending school were registered while others whose family settled in the area are also registered as well with even their previous school entered.
The rolls are well written and recorded throughout and they give the pupils date of birth, the date they started school, their previous school if relevant, the names of their parents or guardians and what their occupation was. In that sense a huge amount of information can be taken out of these rolls about the people who lived in the Sixtowns. That makes them such a fantastic resource for us to still have access to.
On pouring through these rolls our attention is drawn regularly to unfamiliar names, occupations or the previous schools or origins of some pupils. Here we notice that the school population was not exclusively Catholic as we have a pupil called Tillie Wright who stayed with the Taylor family in Tullybrick and two Sinclair girls called Martha and Margaret who lived near the school. All three were Presbyterians. There were three McCrossan girls who had two brothers as well in the school and they lived with their mothers people, the Herons in Cavanreagh and they came from Strabane. In fact the rolls of the “wee school” in Cavanreagh show that the first pupils to register in that school had transferred from Altaeskey school.
On looking through the rolls we find the names of three girls and a boy from the McWilliams family who resided in Cavanreagh and who came from Derry. Their father was a bootmaker. This is an example of the small bits of information that are to be found in these rolls which might be of help to researchers.
Men`s roll books from 1900 onwards.
We will notice that sometimes pupils came to the school for a short period of time from other areas and their names appear and disappear over a short period of time. There were various reasons for this. Some may have been orphans, others may have had close family links to people from the Sixtowns and may have had a difference with their local school. We find a Kathleen Rattery (or perhaps Rafferty) from Coleraine who was staying in Owenreagh. There was also Nellie McGarvey from Legloughfin in Glenelly who was staying in Moneyconey. Maura O`Neill from Broughderg was staying in Tullybrick and Sarah Bridget Gormley from Plumbridge was staying with relatives in Moyard. We find Kathleen and Francis Devlin from Tyrone who were living in Moneyconey. Their father was listed as a hawker by occupation. Philomena Donnelly (Kelly) who was the daughter of Master Donnelly who taught in the school and whose mother came from Cavanreagh is also listed.
Among the numerous pupils from Glengamna and Bancran who attended the school were Peter and Michael Rafferty whose father was entered as a retired Head Constable in the R.I.C. They were living in Glengamna. Henry Duffy came from Dunamore and lived in Moneyconey as did Patrick Duffy who came from Glasgow.
Seamus Reid came from Swatragh and lived in Moneyconey. His father was listed as a mechanic. In 1911 James McOscar came to the school and by the time his brother Lawrence came in 1914, their surname had been altered to Cuskeran. This reminds us of James Gillaspie`s memoirs and the varying opinions that prevailed over those times as to how Gaelic surnames should be properly Anglicised. Their father was listed as a teacher in Tirkane which is in Slaughtneil near Maghera. Des Bartley whose mother came from Moyard moved from Barrack St. C.B.S. Primary School in Belfast to Altaeskey for a short while. We have a listing for the Donaghy brothers, Leo and Edward who came from Gortin and whose family lived for a while in Moyard. In 1916 two Kelly boys, Dermot and Joseph came from Belfast to Altaeskey PS and were staying with relatives in Glenviggan. Were they moved there for their own safety from the troubles which broke out that year? There were quite a few pupils from Glengamna and Bancran who came to Altaeskey PS. We see names like Murray, McNamee, Toner, O`Boyle and Rafferty. Often the reason for pupils attending a school which is not the closest to them was that the parents had had a difference with their local teacher(s) and decided to move their children to another school.
It is interesting to note the variety of occupations which are listed on the rolls:
Farmer, grocer, bootmaker, slater, carpenter, spirit merchant, labourer postman, hawker and mechanic. All these details which are given on the school rolls provide us with the means of identifying so many people, many of them so long gone from us.