Remedial Legislation

Eleanor Hull
Remedial Legislation

It is not to be supposed that Ireland as a whole had shown itself permanently averse to the Union, or that there was a general desire for fresh changes. The educated classes had, with few exceptions, accepted it as a settlement which they had no wish to see upset. Many of them, both Catholics and Protestants, honestly held that the Union with England was the best solution of the country’s difficulties and that, in particular, it kept peace between the North and the South as no other system of government could do. In general, they looked on the malcontents as troublesome agitators.

Held quiet by the influence of the priests, the South had refused to rise on the appeal of Smith O’Brien and the Young Irelanders; and when, in 1849, Queen Victoria paid a belated visit to Ireland she received an enthusiastic welcome.

Dublin from about 1830 onward was a pleasant place to live in. The upper classes had been stirred by the patriotic ardour of Davis and his companions, without always attaching themselves to their advanced political views; and Irish history, antiquities, legend and poetry were studied with interest even in strongly unionist circles.

Members of the two faiths met in a sympathy born of love of country, which led them to forget differences of religion; and the efforts made to stem the tide of famine suffering drew all parties together. Between 1855–1860, O’Curry was lecturing to delighted audiences on the resources of Irish literature at the new Catholic University, O’Donovan was seeing the Annals of the Four Masters through the press, and, following in the steps of McGee, Davis, and Mangan, Ferguson and others were pouring forth ballads and lectures expressive of the sentiments and longings of the Irish race. Even at an earlier date the Government had been showing its desire to support these peaceable efforts for the good of the country in a variety of ways.

In 1824 Griffith’s land valuation survey had given for the first time secure ground for estimates as to the actual value of properties and fair rents. In 1826 the Ordnance Survey under Captain Larcom obtained the expert help of John O’Donovan, Petrie, and O’Curry in making a survey of the country on the six-inch scale, accompanied with notes on place-names and traditions of which full use has not yet been made.[1]

In 1852 the Ancient Laws and Institutes of Ireland or “Brehon Laws” were published by a special Royal Commission, and grants were made to the Royal Irish Academy for the purchase and preservation of Irish manuscripts and of objects found about the country as treasure-trove.

Ameliorative measures on a wider scale had been carried through under Peel’s administration. The question of education in Ireland, in all its grades, was one urgently demanding attention. The poorer classes were, so far as any adequate provision went, totally neglected.

The old and excellent grammar schools seem to have dwindled out of existence, owing to the refusal of the Government to give any encouragement to Catholic teaching; and the children of the poor picked up what scanty scraps of knowledge they could gather from wandering bards or poor curates or schoolmasters under hedges or in disused cabins or chapels.

The “hedge schools” became an institution, each child bringing his sod of turf or coin for the scanty support of his teacher and getting in return a smattering of Latin, grammar and poetry, for which the teacher’s fees ranged from 1s. 7d. to 2s 2d. per quarter. But in their efforts to prevent the population from remaining Catholic the Government had forced it to become illiterate. The class of books most in favour for school reading shows the sort of education these poor children were receiving.

Among the titles of a list of school books found in County Clare at the beginning of the nineteenth century were the following: Irish Rogues and Rapparees; The Seven Champions of Christendom; Francis, a Notorious Robber, and the Most Dexterous Way of Thieving; History of the Most Celebrated Pirates; Fair Rosamond and Jane Shore; Ovid’s Art of Love; Dame Rozina, a Spanish Courtesan; History of Witches and Apparitions; nor was there anything of a more elevating character to correct the pernicious influences of such reading.[2]

The few State-aided schools, such as the Charter Schools and the Schools of the Association for Discountenancing Vice, were, like the Irish Foundling Hospital, abodes of death, disease, and misery. The Board of Education recognized that the system pursued in them was chiefly a proselytizing one at a vast expenditure of public money.[3]

The question of national education was taken up in 1812. A Commission reported that schools should be established in which no attempt should be made to propagate the religious tenets of any denomination of Christians. This was a step in advance, but the body into whose hands the charge of the instruction of the poor was now placed was not well adapted to carry out this proviso.

The Kildare Place schools, though they gave an excellent education, gradually fell into the hands of persons more bent on sectarian objects than on general knowledge.

The principle that the Bible should be read without note or comment was objected to by the Catholic clergy and certainly left openings for abuse; and though in 1824 the society had 15,000 schools, with over 100,000 pupils, the agitation organized against them led to a rapid fall in numbers.

Probably the schools by themselves might not have been attacked, but they synchronized with the rise of other societies having purely proselytizing purposes in view and gave aid to them, thus departing from their original object.[4]

The question was taken up again by a Commission in 1825 and embodied in the Education Act inaugurated by Stanley in 1831.

From 1832 to 1852 the Catholic and Protestant Archbishops of Dublin, Doctors Daniel Murray and Richard Whately, worked side by side to frame a scheme of general instruction that should be acceptable to all parties, and to draw up a course of Scriptural extracts, partly from the Douay and partly from the Authorized Versions, for the use of schools. Where these versions differed a new translation was made by the two divines, after a comparison with the original.

The plan adopted was to leave all definite religious teaching to the different bodies, but to give general education to all the children together, including the reading of the selected passages of the Bible.

Undoubtedly the leading spirit on the Board was Archbishop Whately, who bent the whole force of his intellect to the framing of the school syllabus and supervised every detail even down to the writing of the headline mottos in the copy-books.

Dr. Murray, a gentle and accommodating man, though he fought for the retention of explanatory notes in the Scriptural courses, does not seem to have objected to the general scheme or even to the inclusion of “several essays on religious subjects by Archbishop Whately and other eminent divines.”

According to English standards of the day, the curriculum was excellently calculated “to furnish instruction of a moral and intellectual kind.” But all references to the past history of their own country were rigorously excluded and all patriotic songs, including even some of Moore’s Melodies, were taken out of the reading books.

That the range of knowledge imparted was wide, a study of the courses obliges us to admit. That it did not include any instruction in the Irish language or history was only to be expected from the circumstances under which the time-tables were drawn up.

One practical result, however, was that over considerable parts of the country districts Irish speaking children received instruction in a language almost unknown to them, and a fresh blow was given to the survival of the old tongue among the peasants.

For this, and for his efforts to meet the other members of the Board in the compilation of the school courses, Dr. Murray was fiercely attacked by Dr. MacHale, archbishop of Tuam, a native speaker, whom O’Connell styled “The Lion of St. Jarlath’s,” but he was almost alone in his views, preaching in Irish having been practically given up by the Catholic clergy.

But the syllabus was disputed on all sides, the more angrily of the two by the Evangelical party, who considered Dr. Whately latitudinarian in his views; while a fire of pastorals was discharged by his fellow bishops at the head of Dr. Murray.[5]

In 1840 the work of the Board was on the point of being condemned at Rome, but an enquiry into the teaching being given in the schools by a Legate sent over to report was considered satisfactory and the objections were withdrawn. Meanwhile the schools had been carrying out their work and the annual reports testified to the appreciation of their teaching.

The first report appeared in December, 1833, and gave the number of schools in actual operation as 789, and the number of children on the rolls was stated to be 107,042. The reports in the succeeding years showed that there was a continuous increase. In 1845 there were 3,426 schools with 432,844 scholars; and in 1860 the number had risen to 5,632 schools in operation, with 804,000 pupils attending them.

The system, though supposed to be undenominational and carefully arranged for that purpose became in fact rigidly denominational. Education was paid for partly out of the rates and partly by the Treasury. The local contributions involved representation and a share of control by those who paid the rates. The managers were in most parts of the country clerical, the laity being chiefly concerned to keep down the rates. Thus the education of the people fell into the hands of the clergy and, in spite of regulations, the schools became denominational in character.

In County Clare the National Schools dotted the country, but no Protestant attended them, though the Inspector was a Protestant and on good terms with the Catholic clergy; the Catholic emblems and pictures in the schools resulted in the exclusion of all children of other forms of belief.[6] The schools were ill-equipped, the teachers ill-paid and without any pension system or security of tenure. The instruction given was unsuited to the needs of the pupils and was in consequence half-heartedly given and inefficient; little interest was shown by the parents in the work of their children, who emerged worse prepared for life than the scholars of any other part of the British Isles.

So far as the Catholics were concerned, an effort was made by them to introduce a voluntary system more in accord with the views of the church in the Christian Brothers’ Schools, which provided a good secondary education at a cheap rate, and had its own curriculum. These schools have been well spoken of even by authorities in the opposite camp.

A cognate question was that of the endowments of Maynooth College. It first came before the House of Commons in 1845, by a motion of the Duke of Wellington, and was fiercely debated.

This College had been set up by the Irish Parliament in the days of its independence and was intended to give instruction to laymen as well as to priests, some of the governors being chosen from the laity.

The importance of having a college in Ireland for higher education was increased by the closing, under the French Revolution, of the French Colleges to which Irish students were accustomed to resort; St. Omer, at which O’Connell had received his education, had been disestablished since his time.

But the endowment of Maynooth was quite inadequate to its needs. The original grant made in 1795 was £6,000 a year, raised in 1813 to £9000 a year, annually voted. In 1844, Peel proposed to raise it to £26,000 a year, three times the original amount, and to make the grant permanent. He also offered £30,000 for buildings. But the institution quickly dropped its general character, such as was contemplated in the original grant and became a purely ecclesiastical seminary for the education of priests, and as such it was disendowed in 1869.

The founding of Maynooth may be said to have changed the whole character of the Irish Catholic clergy, whose foreign education had hitherto given them a wide European outlook, and induced in them a political convervatism which on many occasions had made them the supporters of order in times of rebellion and the strength of the established government. Henceforth they partook of the strong insular outlook of their people and they became avowedly nationalist and anti-English. As priests in their parishes and managers of the national schools they exercised an immense influence, political and educational.