The Early Schools of Ireland Circa 1800
Newry, Donaghmore, Loughbrickland & Banbridge Web Site
The Early Schools of Ireland Circa 1800

From an email posted on NIR-L listing by Jane Lyons

Rathdowney has a population today of about 2000 people. The article is taken from 'The Rathdowney Review' 1999. I cannot credit the author as none is listed.  The article is entitled 'Primary Education in Rathdowney and Skeirke in 1835.

In 1831, seven men met in 22 Merrion Street, Dublin, in what was afterwards the office of the Irish Land Commission and more recently the Merrion Hotel.  It was an important meeting, as they had come together to provide primary education for people ill-supplied with school buildings, school books and indeed school teachers. There were, it is true, thousands of schools in Ireland at that time, but most of them were mud walled, earthen floored, thatched-roof cabins. Yet despite the poverty of the school buildings and despite the poverty of the people, the Commission of 1835 set out to ascertain the state of each parish with reference to the means of education and could report in the whole of Ireland there were 9,657 "Daily Schools" of which 5,653 were supported wholly by payments from the children and 4,404 supported wholly or in part by endowment or subscription. Most of the schools supported by payment from the children, had their origin in the Hedge Schools of earlier centuries. These schools were the result of a policy of repression by the English Government aimed at denying education to Irish Catholics They were so called because the teacher - who was often treated as an outlaw knew that there was less danger of detection, in conducting classes in the open. The position in Rathdowney as per the

Commissioner's report was as follows:

1. School endowed by the London Hibernian Society and conducted by Ina Nolan. On the roll were 36 males and 32 females. Curriculum included Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Scriptural Instruction, Needlework for the girls.

2. Daily school conducted by Samuel Mason. Payment by scholars from 2 shillings to 3 Shillings a quarter. Subjects taught English Grammar, Geography and Book-keeping. Forty eight males and thirty seven females attended.

3. William White, school grant-aided by the Board of Education. On the roll were forty five males and twenty five females. Reading, Writing and Arithmetic were on the curriculum.

4. School conducted by Patrick Bergin. Payments by children of 2 shillings to 4 shillings a quarter. There were fifty males and thirty females on the roll. Reading, writing and Arithmetic were taught to all students, a few learned Book-keeping, Mensuration and English Grammar.

5. School educated by Francis Comerford, closed in Winter. Attendance forty males and twenty females. Curriculum was Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Payments by children.

6. School conducted by Patrick Phelan, closed in Winter. Forty seven males and thirty three females attended. Reading, Writing and Arithmetic were taught. Payment by children.

7. Luke McLean was the teacher. School supported by the London Hibernian Society and payments by children. Forty five males and thirty five females attended. Curriculum was Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.

8. School conducted by Patrick Byrne. Payments by children. Forty males and twenty females. Reading, Writing and Arithmetic were taught.

9. School conducted by John Kelly, Twenty nine males and ten females attended, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic were in the curriculum.

10. School conducted by Michael Glen. Forty males and twenty females attended. Subjects taught were Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.

11. School conducted by Michael MeEvry. There were fifty males and twenty females. Reading, Writing and Arithmetic were taught.

Schools 9, 1 0 & 11 were supported by subscriptions from the pupils. A Sunday School was conducted in conjunction with Ina Nolan's School. Teaching was gratuitous. Attendance thirty males only. Spelling, Reading and Religious Instruction were on the curriculum.  In Skeirke there were two schools operating in 1835. One was a "daily school" connected with the London Hibemian Society. Hugh Beale was the master. It received three pound from the Society, five pounds annually from the vicar plus a house and an acre of ground. Books were supplied by the Society. Reading, Writing and Arithmetic were taught. Fifty eight males and twenty five females attended the school. The second day school was kept by Michael Browne. Payment was from one shilling to three shillings per quarter. Thirty six males and twenty four females were on the roll. Reading, Writing, Book-keeping, Arithmetic and Mensuration were taught.

The London Hibernian Society, The Baptist Society, The Erasmus Smith Schools and others all had aims as much religious and proselytising, as educational.

The Commissioners of Public Instruction in Ireland withdrew grants from the various societies and according to Lord Stanley (the Chief Secretary) were to provide for "combined moral and literary separate religious education" scrupulously avoiding interference "with the peculiar tenets of any description of Christian Pupils". The bitterness of subsequent disputes between Church and State, seems to obscure these facts. Local contributions through Boards of Management, and paid out of Church funds are still in operation; while free second level and almost free third level are in vogue.

With falling walls in small schools in rural areas, and increasing numbers of non- compliant and non-paying members in large urban areas, complete financing from central funds cannot be too far away.

The present position or primary schools is a far cry from the sod of turf, lack of sanitary facilities, special vacation for potato sowing in spring and general harvesting in Autumn, as well as closure for protracted periods in winter.