Dunmanway Model School was one of the 26 primary schools built in the early half of the 19th century as a model of best practice in education. Construction started in 1848 and completed in 1849. The Model School became a teacher training college, a technical school, an agricultural research station, and latterly a national school, that was to be a model of its kind for most of West Cork and southern Co Kerry. The school itself continued its existence as an ordinary national school for children of the Church of Ireland community.
From the beginning the model school concept of integrated education, i.e., children of all religions educated together, faced opposition from the main Churches and the House of Commons, especially the Catholic Bishops in Ireland who wanted teachers trained in denominational training colleges, and the national schools to be strictly segregated.
The school was designed by Frederick Darley, Architect of the Board of Education, and was built in little more than a year. It was a substantial building consisting of male, female, andinfant schools, residential accommodation for the Headmaster and for the other teachers and for a small number of boarders. It also had a farm consisting of 11 acres adjoining the school. The aspiring teachers spent about three years in the model school before going to Dublin to complete their training.
The first three years saw it getting off to a great start with the number of pupils averaging 180. Due to its widespread popularity there were in 1858 242 pupils on the waiting list with about 400 on the rolls. There were applications from Bantry, Killarney and Macroom.
Despite the small size of the farm at Tonafora trials were carried out with a number of crops; even animal husbandry was included in the curriculum. The farm school was attended by the sons of farmers from all over West Cork and Co Kerry as it was aimed at educating these young men to modern farm practices. Many of these young men went on to be farm stewards. The 1860s was a very successful decade for the Model Schools; they accomplished what was intended for them. As well as acting as above average national schools, they acted as
preparatory schools for aspiring teachers; the farms continued to carry out experiments and to prepare students for agricultural employment. Due to its popularity overcrowding became a serious problem, and so in 1860 an extension was built to the west of the original school. It consisted of 2 large classrooms and 2 smaller rooms with some ancillary rooms. This greatly alleviated the overcrowding and almost doubled the teaching capacity of the school. The opposition to the model school concept which manifested itself in the 1840s began to raise its head again in the late 60s and early 70s, until finally in 1876 the farm was sold. The Model School concept continued as part of the national school primary system. Except for the loss of the farm education training continued in Dunmanway as before. On its golden jubilee, 1898, the school had but one third of its original attendance it had on its opening year, and 10 years later it had only 6 Catholics with 61 Protestant and 19 Methodist students on the rolls. As the 1900s progressed its dwindling numbers seldom included Catholics, and when the Model School experiment finally ceased it assumed the status of an ordinary national school under Protestant management. In the 1950 – 1970s the western extension housed St Ronan’s Secondary School for boys. Despite its short existence Dunmanway District model School, both as a literary and agricultural school, had a profound effect on the economy, welfare and self esteem of the people of the area. Over the years the school can boast of some very illustrious scholars who attended the school, in both the literary, political and sporting fields, most notably Sam Maguire, who played his part in the struggle for independence and in whose honour the cup presented to the All-Ireland Senior Football Champions is named.