Wellington Hall Dundalk
The Wellington Hall was originally built in 1812 to accommodate the first public (free) school for children in Dundalk, this being some 20 years prior to Catholic Emancipation.
The Victorian novelist, William Makepeace Thackeray, visited the school in the mid 1800’s and was impressed by the staff, teaching over 200 (mostly poor) children, with 60 or 70 boys in the large room, a number of girls upstairs, and 80 small children in the infant school (the smaller building to the rear).
The Wellington Hall is located in the historic quarter of Dundalk and the old school complex remains a very significant part of the town’s heritage. The hall ceased to be a school in 1961, when St Nicholas National School (formerly the Wellington School) was relocated to nearby premises in Nicholas Street. The Wellington Hall then became a resource for the Parish of St Nicholas (Church of Ireland) and for the wider community.
In has been used for a variety of community and parish activities including:
Parish activities (Mothers’ Union, Sunday school, Youth groups),
A meeting place for local groups and organizations (e.g. First Louth Scouts, CND),
A resource for local schools, particularly St Nicholas National School
An examination Hall for Louth VEC examinations
A venue for concerts and musical recitals
A venue for parish sales and community coffee mornings
However, the minority Church of Ireland was unable to afford the upkeep, and the buildings fell into such a state of disrepair, that the Hall was closed for public use in 2009.
The Wellington Hall Project (WHP) was launched in 2010, at the direction of the then Rector of the Church of Ireland in Dundalk, the Reverend Sandra Pragnell. The WHP formed a committee, made up of parishioners and users of the hall, with the ambitious plan of renovating and restoring the hall. Statistics show that in Ireland, the Church of Ireland is the second largest religious group (after the Roman Catholic Church) but our numbers are comparatively very small: within the Republic of Ireland Church of Ireland membership is estimated at about 3% but in Co. Louth it is less than 2%, so our capacity for fundraising was, and still is, very limited. The committee has worked at seeking grants, organising fundraising events and raising public awareness of the hall and the project. In 2012 the first phase of our renovation project was completed and we were able to once again open the doors of the Wellington Hall, having refurbished it and made good the roof and other structural elements. The timing of the completion fell at the same time that the Rev Sandra Pragnell bade farewell to Dundalk to move to her new position as Dean of Limerick Cathedral. The money spent on this work was raised entirely by fundraising initiatives and donations from within our parish group, and from the wider community.
The Infant School
The Wellington Hall Committee had essential conservation work carried out on the Infant School to the rear of the Wellington Hall. This included some roof repairs, repointing the chimneys, replacing the ornate fascia boards, new guttering and downpipes, and some replastering. At present the windows are being repaired by the caretaker, Mr Willie Newberry, and some committee members.
The WHC is now planning to finish refurbishing the Infant School. Work will include internal repairs, rewiring and new plumbing, the installation of central heating, and redecoration. On completion the building will offer further space for community activities including a further ground floor room, and will bring nearer to completion the refurbishment of the Wellington Hall buildings which began in November 2011, a year after the Wellington Hall Committee was established to raise funds in September 2010.
Work has begun on preparing the Infant School (behind the Wellington Hall) for refurbishment. Debris and the remains of the old floor have already been cleared from the ground floor of the building which will allow electricity, gas and water to be installed. Renovation of the ground floor will include repairs to the plaster, a new wooden floor, doors re-hung and windows repaired. A new heating system will be installed. When the work is completed later this year, the main space on the ground floor, which measures 15 feet by 32 feet, will be used as a meeting room, and will include a sink and tea-making facilities. The existing toilet, off the small entrance hall, will be refurbished as a disabled toilet. Work on the first floor will be carried out at a later date when funds become available.