Dromleigh N.S. stands in the townland of Dromleigh in the historic parish of Kilmichael. Dromleigh or Dromliath translates as grey ridge which is derived from the sandstone on which the school securely stands. The site was probably chosen because of its central location on the old butter road which runs through the parish.
The National System of Education was founded in Ireland in 1831. It replaced an ad hoc network of schools which had evolved from the earlier hedge schools. There were several such schools in Kilmichael. Two of them were in close proximity to Dromleigh. One was in Clonmoyle just along the road from the present school. The other was at Cooldorrihy Cross near St. Michael’s Church. This area was a substantial village at the time and we know from a report in the 1820s that around seventy children attended here.
Rev. James O’Driscoll, the parish priest of Kilmichael, was a strong supporter of this new system of Education. In 1837, he applied for funds for the building of a schoolhouse at Dromleigh. The estimated cost of the building was £85. He had already collected £15 and expected more, both in money and labour. He explained that he could not secure the signature of the local Rector of the Established Church for the application because he was in France and furthermore, he was hostile to the National Education System. The projected enrolment was 120 boys and 80 girls. The application was signed by local Protestants and Catholic landowners.
The application was successful, and Dromleigh N.S. opened its doors on Monday 13th June 1840. The first principal was Cal O’Callaghan from Clonmoyle, and the average numbers present on the first week was 47 boys and 27 girls. By September of 1840, 232 children were enrolled. A separate girls’ school was opened in 1842, with Mary Sullivan as its first teacher. Both teachers taught up to 260 pupils in one room with the assistance of two monitors.
We know that the Great Famine took a terrible toll on the parish of Kilmichael. The PP Fr. O’Driscoll and his nephew (also Fr. James O’Driscoll) worked tirelessly for their flock and advocated strongly for aid for those in distress. It must have taken a terrible toll on the enrolment but no records for those years exist. However, by 1859 both boys and girls were again taught together in one school as the salary of the teacher at the girls’ school was withdrawn. The school was not partitioned into two rooms until the 1930s.
In 1872, a Payments by Results system of salaries for teachers was introduced in Ireland. From then on, a register of pupils was kept in Dromleigh. In 1900, a grant of £60 was paid for installing gutters and enlarging the porch. This was the first time in 60 years that any change was made to the school building.
One of the most traumatic periods in the history of the parish was the events surrounding Kilmichael Ambush during the War of Independence. The ambush took place on Sunday 28th November 1920 only a few kilometres from Dromleigh N.S. The following day only 8 children attended school. Locals recalled lorries passing by, and returning back to Macroom carrying dead Auxiliaries. The atmosphere was tense and fearful. Thirty-four children attended on Tuesday. However, as O’Mahony’s house across from the school and several others were burned and a local man shot at Kilmichael Bar; panic set in locally. Parents were fearful for their children and many local men went in hiding. The decision was made to close the school until 13th December.