The May Bank Holiday weekend will see the town of Oldcastle celebrating and commemorating the generosity of Oldcastle man, Laurence Gilson, who died in 1810.
The 19th century philanthropist and educator bequeathed a considerable sum of money to found a school in his native town which, he instructed, would be free of charge and would be open to Catholic and Protestant pupils alike.
A permanent tribute to Gilson is to be unveiled on Sunday 1st May. It will be a bronze statue of the philantrophist with two children. The sculpture. by Kells-based Ann Meldon Hugh, was commissioned by the Gilson Trust.
Along with this lasting memorial, a weekend of events is being planned to commemorate Gilson's generosity and to celebrate the history of the Gilson Endowed School.
From Friday 29th April to Sunday 1st May, there will be historical talks on Gilson and the school he founded, historical walks of the area, an exhibition of photographs and other items marking the school's history, sports matches, social get-togethers, music and entertainment for all.
As part of the weekend of celebration, the organising committee would especially like to hear from any past pupils of the Gilson Endowed School who would like to share their memories of their time at the school and if anyone has any photographs or memorabilia that they would be prepared to lend for an exhibition on the school's history for that weekend, the committee would be very grateful. These will be kept and returned safely.
More details on the programme of events and the unveiling of the statue will be available soon. In the meantime, if anyone would like to attend the weekend, or share their memories of the school, they should email Tracey Holsgrove on firstname.lastname@example.org or contact her on (086) 194 6429.
Ann Meldon Hugh lives in Kells and has been working as a full-time professional sculptor since 1989. She works in bronze, stainless steel, stone and ceramic and her public artwork can be seen around the county in places like Ardee, Tallanstown, Dundalk, Mullingar, Newbridge, Naas, Kilcock, Kilbeggan, Leitrim, Cork and Dublin.
Examples of her work which can be seen in Meath and include an old man with a toddler at Dunshaughlin, the life-size bronze sculpture of Turlough O'Carolan in Nobber, the Geall na Mi Millennium sculpture at Meath County Hall in Navan, the Spirit of Creativity sculpture at Loughcrew Historic Gardens and the Gateway to Meath bronze man with gate on the Clonee Bypass.
Laurence Gilson was born in Boolies, Oldcastle. His father, Magilsinan, was a farmer from the area and, on the death of his father, Laurence was given a portion of land.
However, he turned away from farming, sold his property and dedicated his life to education and learning. For a time, he established a school and made a living by teaching.
As a consequence, his family and relatives began to despise him so he headed to England where he earned himself a substantial fortune.
He then returned to Oldcastle dressed as a pauper in order to test his family's sincerity and they immediately rejected him. When he put on the clothes and manner of a man with wealth and affluence, they accepted him and, as a result, he returned to London.
Gilson married a wealthy woman and, when she died, he inherited all her property. Laurence Gilson himself died a very wealthy man in April 1810 but, before his death, he arranged for the building of the school on the green in Oldcastle.
He instructed that the school would be maintained, admit Protestant and Catholic pupils from every social background and be free of charge. He also left all his books to the school's library.
The Gilson Endowed National School was erected on Church Street on a site donated by James Lennox William Naper. In the early 1820s, the first lessons took place and the first schoolmaster was Philip Hyde.
By 1940, there were three schools in Oldcastle; one for infants, one for boys and another for girls. In 1976, a decision was made to amalgamate all three schools and build a new school on a plot of land, just adjacent to the main building.
The new school was officially opened in 1977 and is still referred to as the Gilson Endowed National School.