Blog post

School sports: photographs from the Rathdown School Archive

Archive photographs from a girls school in Dublin

six young women lined up at the beginning of a running race
Adrian Murphy (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)
Antonia Hart (opens in new window) (Rathdown School Archive)

Many of us remember playing sport in our schooldays. Some of us may remember it fondly, and some may never want to repeat the experience again.

School sport lessons can be a time to try out a variety of sports, when a school offers these. It can also be a time where longer sport careers or hobbies begin.

Today we're going to explore a set of archive photographs which have been shared by the Rathdown School Archive via our Europeana Sport contribution website.

colour photograph, young woman jumping over a high jump bar with a number of adults watching

Rathdown School is a day and boarding school for girls upto 18 in south County Dublin in Ireland. It was established in 1973 following the merger of three schools: Park House School, The Hall School and Hillcourt School. A further school Glengara Park School was amalgated in 1987.

The archive photographs come from all of these schools. They span several decades, dating as far back as 1916, as shown in the First XI hockey photograph below. The 1920 photograph shows Hillcourt girls playing hockey on their famously sloping grass pitch.

black and white photograph showing young women holding hockey sticks, with some text written below and above the photo
black and white photograph showing a group of young people playing hockey

The school has always had a wide range of sports on offer - from hockey to riding, swimming to athletics. Park House was an enthusiastic pioneer of fencing for girls and it continued at Rathdown after the 1973 merger.

colour photograph, four children dressed in horse-riding clothes
black and white photograph, two people fencing

The Hall, Hillcourt, and Glengara Park were all early adopters of lacrosse in the 1920s. Pictured below are Glengara Park’s Firsts, winning the Schools Lacrosse Shield in 1947. Lacrosse in more recent years has suffered a decline in popularity in girls’ schools, but it was revived at Rathdown in 2019, thanks to Ireland Lacrosse.

black and white photograph, a lacrosse team of young women celebrating a victory, holding their lacrosse sticks in the air

Hillcourt School, on whose campus Rathdown now operates, advertised itself as being 20 minutes' walk from the sea at Dun Laoghaire (or Kingstown, as it was then known). Girls were regularly marched down the hill in all weathers, to the baths on the seafront which had seawater and freshwater pools, as well as seaweed and hot seawater baths.

In this photograph, Miss Gresham, in a bathing suit and hat, is poised to jump or dive off a projecting board, while other swimmers have clustered out of her way at the bottom of the steps. In the background, you can see the changing rooms, with towels strung up.

black and white photograph showing a woman standing on a diving board above water

The Hall girls were also lucky enough to be within walking distance of the sea, at Seapoint, where another set of baths featured high and low diving boards, and benches for spectators, making an ideal spot for the annual swimming gala against the backdrop of Dublin Bay. Pictured here is Lucinda Dockrell diving at the 1960 swimming gala.

colour photograph, a woman in a purple swim suit diving into a swimming pool

Tennis was popular with all the girls, and was played in all of the schools, originally, of course, all on grass.

colour photograph, a group of young women playing tennis
colour photograph, several young women playing tennis
colour photograph, two women shaking hands over a tennis net

Sports lessons today may be very different to those of the past. However, despite all the changes between then and now, it's heartening to see that some things always stay the same - this photograph show rain stopping Sports Day in 1957.

black and white photograph, a group of people some with umbrellas are running to hide from rain

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This blog is part of the Europeana Sport project which showcases cultural treasures relating to sporting heritage in Europe.

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