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Schools and Education


1806 - Commission on education in its final report declared a need for "systematic, uniform"

instruction" & recommended a Board be set up.

1825 - Commission also recommended "schools of general instruction."

1831 - Stanley, 1 st chief secretary, asked the Duke of Leinster to be chairman of a board

composed of individuals of different denominations. He accepted.

The Board laid down that if it approved of an application it would give a grant

covering 2/3 of the cost of a building & would supply books at a reduced price &

a gratuity to a teacher. Locally they were to keep the school in repair, pay part of

the teacher's salary, & purchase the books approved by the Board.

The Board achieved a fair measure of success.

1838 - A training college for teachers set up in Dublin. In addition to instruction in the usual

subjects, they were taught agriculture.

1845 - By this time [the] National Board had schools containing 432,000 pupils. "The

National Board accomplished an enduring piece of work. The National teacher became

a stock character in rural society & the schools helped to mould the Irish mind for a


- The Great Famine, p. 56-60


Hedge Schools

"The genuine Hedge Schools of Kerry are rapidly disappearing; & necessarily with them the old picturesque schoolmasters - in some respects a meritorious, in others a pernicious class; for wherever there was disaffection, the village schoolmaster was either the originator or the sustainer of it; was generally the secretary of illegal associations, the writer of threatening notices, & too frequently the planner & leader in terrible outrages. The national system of education has destroyed their power, by substituting in their places men who are responsible to their employers, interested in their good characters & good conduct. The ancient Domines, however, had their merit; they kept the shriveled seed of knowledge from utterly perishing when learning was looked upon as an acquirement for the humbler classes, in the light of a razor in the hands of a baboon - a thing that was dangerous & might be fatal, but which could do no possible good either to the possessor or to society... The English of the lower classes covet knowledge, but only as a source of wealth; an Irishman longs for it as a means of acquiring moral power & dignity. 'Rise up yer head, here's the master, he's a fine man with grate larning,' 'Sure, he had the world at his foot from the strength of the larning.' 'What could you expect from him? Since he was the size of a midge he never looked in a book' - such are the phrases continually in the mouths of the Irish peasantry.

...The Hedge Schools (see [also] "Travelers," Le Chevalier de la Locnay) are almost gone from the country. During out recent visit (around 1840) we saw but 2 or 3 of them; some 20 years ago we would have encountered one, at least, in every parish. They received their name from the fact that in fine weather the school room was moved out of doors; the Domine usually sitting beside his threshold, his pupils scattered in all directions about the landscape...

- Halls, Vol. I, p. 259-60

In addition to the scholars who paid the teacher as they could, there were generally in such establishments (Hedge Schools) some who paid nothing, & were expected to pay nothing, "poor scholars" as they were termed, who received education "gratis," & who were not infrequently intended, or rather intended themselves, for the priesthood. They were in most instances unprotected orphans; but they had no occasion to beg, for the farmhouse as well as the cottage was open for their reception. In this way, with scant clothing, a strap of books over his shoulder, his ink-horn suspended from his button-hole, & 2 or 3 ill-cut, inky pens stuck in his hat, the aspirant for knowledge set forth, sometimes aided by a subscription started by his parish priest, who found many of his congregation willing to bestow their pense or halfpense on "the boy that has his mind t___ed1 for good."

- Halls, p. 260-61



Schools - History of

1. Elizabeth founded schools, principally to Anglicize the children, called the "Diocesan Free Schools. - In a report of Apr. 21, 1809; the whole number of these schools: 13

pupils: 380

2. Under Charles I - schools founded; more by Charles II. These had royal grants, but the children also paid. 1809 - these schools had 114 day-scholars & 187 boarders.

3. "Charter schools were incorporated by the Irish Parliament in 1733. The object, 'to teach the

poor Irish the English Language & the Protestant religion.'" In other words, organized to


In 1775 & again confirmed in 1778 (& not rescinded until 1803), "not to admit any but children of Papists into the schools." These school[s] received generous grants from the

government but were intensely disliked by the people. In 1802 - 2,085 pupils; 1808 - 2,187.

These charter schools were execrated in every possible way by the priest, for good reason - part of the catechism taught: Q[uestion]: Is the Church of Rome a sound & uncorrupt church? A[nswer]: No, it is extremely corrupt in doctrine, worship, & practice.

4. 1812 - "Kildare Street Society" began establishing schools in which it was expressly forbidden to proselytize. They made all concessions required by the Catholics except one - they insisted that the Scripture be read daily. This was unacceptable to the Catholics.

5. 1831 - National Board of Education set up. 3 members Established Church & 2 Catholics, 1 Presbyterian, 1 Unitarian. Many schools were placed in the Catholic grounds of their church; Scripture was not read. The Protestants objected violently & were hostile to these schools.

- from Halls, Vol. II, p. 359-69


1. In Elizabethan times schools were provided but were Protestant.

2. Under Penal Laws:

Hedge Schools

3. When Penal Laws were relaxed:

a.) Private Catholic schools sprang up for those who could afford them.

b.) 1811 - Kildare Society founded to furnish schools for those without means.

Supposed not to proselytize but accused of doing it on the sly & this movement


c.) 1831 - Irish Education Bill ("banned even the suspicion of Proselytism")

(board set up - 5 Protestants, 2 Catholics)

d.) By 1860s - nearly a million children were being provided with an education under

the Act, but it was neither popular nor efficient.

e.) 1868 - Gladstone set up Powis Commission. The effort to have undenominational

education was abandoned. Denominational schools for both Protestant & Catholic

were permitted to take advantage of state aid.




nglis, St. of Ire., p. 193-95


For National School in Cloghan, see card on Donegal.

For Established Church school in Newport, see card on Mayo.


The Halls include a table (Vol. 3, p. 387) from the Tenth Report of the "Church Education Society" (supported by voluntary contributions & maintained by the Church of England):


Year # of Schools Children Dissenters Catholic


1842 1372 86,102 8,365 29,612

1844 1812 104,968 13,668 32,834

1846 1899 96,815 12,832 29,691

1848 1861 120,202 15,713 46,367

1849 1870 111,952 15,562 37,857



Schools - Mrs. Nicholson on


icklow -

"We visited the schools in Arklow. In these schools, which are supported by private individuals, Protestants & Papists are taught the scriptures daily... They merit more praise than censure" (though not too clean).


In Wexford -

"In the afternoon looked into a poor cabin. The woman received me kindly, but seemed depressed with poverty, said her husband had had no work for weeks. She had two children in an infant school, one seven & the other five; & though the eldest had been there years and the youngest months, yet neither of the 2 could read." In a note at the foot of the page Mrs. Nicholson here goes on to say, "Through all Ireland I had noticed that few good readers could be found, either among children or adults; but the writing in general was good." (p. 234)


In Galway (Clifden; pop. 930 today) -

"Visited the Protestant School, taught by a male & female teacher. The children are mostly Roman Catholics, and are partly clothed by the society, and are advanced to grammar & geography. Next I went to the National School, a great building gone to decay, the school kept by a widow for the paltry compensation of ten pounds a year. The boys had all withdrawn and so no interest whatever was taken in the school. Bishop McHale had prohibited the reading of those portions of Scripture appertaining to the lessons, and the teacher, though a Catholic, talked seriously of leaving the school on account of it." (p. 395)




Clifden -

"We next called at a cabin where a number of children had collected to whom we gave books. Finding they attended a school near, we entered the schoolroom & may I never see the like again. In one corner was a pile of potatoes, kept from rolling down by stones, on which the ragged, bare-footed children were seated. In another corner was a pile of cartwheels, which were used for the same purpose; & in the middle of the room was a circular hole made in the ground for the turf fire. Not a window, chair, or bench could be seen. The pupils, with scarcely a book, looked more like children who had sheltered themselves there in fright, to escape the fury of a mad animal, or the tomahawk of some mad savage, than those who had assembled for the benefit of the light of science. This was a Connemara school, and it was all they could do. I had seen sprinkled all over Ireland, schools in miserable cabins, where were huddled from 40 to 70 in a dark room without a chimney; but they had benches to sit upon, & their schoolroom was upon the way-side, while this one was in a wet back yard. Those parents who were able, pay a penny a week; those who are not, pay nothing; while the wealthiest among them pay half a crown a quarter. I saw many schools of this kind, where the child takes a piece of turf under his arm, and goes two miles, and sometimes three, without breakfast." (p. 406-07)


Clifden -

"Went out & visited schools, found one in a miserable plight, crowded, dirty, & noisy, and the teacher in keeping with the whole. A second was a well-ordered one, the teacher a man of sense as well as learning." (p. 415)


1 Probably either tuned, turned, or twined.