The last decade of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century following the foundation of Connradh na Gaeilge by Douglas Hyde, saw a reawakening of the national spirit. Achill was to play it’s part in this movement. Some of the pioneers of this organisation established Scoil Acla in 1910.
This was a Summer School for the teaching of Irish; the teaching of Piping (Irish War Pipes) and the promotion of music, dance, song, and culture generally. Wearing of the national costume was encouraged. The founding members of Scoil Acla were:
Tomas O’ Raghallaigh
People came from all parts of Ireland and this was surely the start of the Summer School movement. The famous artist Paul Henry was introduced to the people of Achill by Mrs. Weddall and Achill soon became a haven for artists. Paul Henry was an active member of Scoil Acla and in 1912 was the director of the play ‘Casadh an t-Sugain’ (The Twisting Of The Rope) by Douglas Hyde. This and other plays in the Scoil Acla Hall which Mrs. Weddall built for the people of Achill.
While the language was then on the decline in Lower Achill, it was still spoken by the older generation. Those who spoke it and the musicians, particularly the fiddlers were an integral part of Scoil Acla.
The school gradually went into decline and all that remained was the very comprehensive Clar for 1914 and fond memories of those times in the hearts and minds of the older generation.
In 1985 a group of people decided to relaunch the school incorporating all the aims of the original school. The aims of the school are to:
- Examine the state of the language in the locality.
- Bring traditional music and set dancing to a high standard.
- Organise seminars on the historical, geological and archeological feature of the locality.
- Host poetry readings.
- Promote local song and poetry writing.
- Study the social development of the locality.
- Promote the Arts in general.
The desire of the organisation is for constructive and steady progress. Scoil Acla was rekindled at 10.00am on Tuesday 6th August 1985. Thirty six pupils enrolled in a course of traditional Irish music at Dooagh School.
Well known music teacher, Paddy Ryan from Roscommon began instruction with twelve young students on fiddles which were promptly bought on the day from Tommy Robinson of Belfast. The remainder were instructed on in tin whistle and concert flute by John McNamara.Those were the first tentative steps on the road forward.
Achievements to date include:
- Bringing more than a hundred young musicians to a high standard in traditional Irish music on all instruments.
- Collection and publication of a book of Achill poems and songs 1986.
- Exhibition of works of famous artists who painted in Achill, e.g. Paul Henry, Grace Henry, Alexander Williams, Percy French, etc. (the list is endless).
- Hosting of poetry readings which has now developed into a writers workshop; this work spear headed by John F. Deane, Achill poet, and locally handled by Dr Paddy Laineen.
- Organisation of set dancing workshops.
- Lectures on archeology, local history, sociology, genealogy, etc.
- Promotion of the Irish language in particular “Gaelic Acla” through it’s use at all events and specifically Irish topics.
- Launching of family competition in traditional music under the logo “Hata Acla”.
- Organisation of nature walks to historic and scenic sites.
- Putting Achill on the map by giving it a cultural focus.
- Staging of a most successful Mayo Fleadh Cheoil in 1991.
- Scoil Acla grows apace in being the oldest and most successful of all Summer Schools, developing at a local level and inviting the outside world to participate and share in this unique island cultural experience.