A question was raised on a list re education in Ireland and I posted the
following to show what the situation was in one area of County Laois at the
time. Most people believe that the Irish were uneducated, yet, looking at
census figures for the19th century would give the impression that this is
not absolutely correct. This was the situation re education in a town in
Co. Laois and it's Hinterland in 1835. I am now sending this to other lists
as it will give people an idea of what the situation was in one area - and
so was probably very similar the country over. My apologies to those who
receive multiple postings
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
The article is entitled 'Primary Education in Rathdowney and Skeirke in
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
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
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