The School Books of Mary Armstrong, Pupil of Miss Dunne’s School in Portarlington
(pictures courtesy of National Library of Ireland, Ms27,650)


Slator’s National Commercial Directory of Ireland, dated 1846, lists the names of some of the private boarding schools in Portarlington in that year. Included is the ladies’ boarding and day school run by Miss Jane Dunne. A number of school copybooks belonging to one of the pupils at this school, Mary Armstrong, have survived and are now held in the National Library of Ireland. From these, we catch a glimpse of the subjects taught at Miss Dunne’s school and of the artistic skills of young Mary.

Her copybooks, dated to 1854 and 1859, cover French composition and natural history along with the more unusual subjects of astronomy and geometry. A decorative certificate awarded to Mary for her “very distinguished manner in writing” has also survived.


Her natural history copybook contains a fabulous array of ornithological studies, including beautiful drawings of a horned owl and ‘butcher bird’.

Her books for astronomy and geometry contain scientific drawings of the solar system, along with intricate diagrams illustrating ellipses, spheres and convexity.

They are a remarkable record of the subjects taught at this Portarlington school.