Remedial Legislation (2)

Eleanor Hull
Remedial Legislation | start of chapter

In 1845 Peel pushed his educational schemes another stage forward by the foundation of the Queen’s Colleges of Belfast, Cork, and Galway, and later by the establishment of the Queen’s University, with which they were affiliated.

From the English point of view the proposal was of the most tolerant and large-minded nature. The Colleges were to be open to students of all denominations, and in all secular subjects the professors were to be chosen for their qualifications only, without regard to their religious faith.

No religious teaching was to be imparted in the classes for general instruction and no theological chairs were to be founded by the State, but encouragement was given to the establishment of such professorships by private means and the foundation of denominational residential halls was proposed.

Catholic bishops were invited to serve on the Board and Senate and though the appointment of professorships was kept in the hands of the Government the selection recommendations were to be made by the Board. No interference of any kind with religious belief was to be allowed.

A Catholic priest was appointed President in Galway and a Catholic layman in Cork; a Presbyterian held the same post in Belfast. It was an honest attempt to come to some fair solution of the problem of higher education in Ireland.

The plan was strongly supported by the Nation newspaper; the enlightened men whose opinion it represented, Davis in particular, taking up the matter with enthusiasm, and several of the Catholic bishops, including Archbishop Murray, Dr. Crolly of Armagh, and also Cardinal Wiseman, did all they could in its favour.

But the times were hardly ripe for those principles of united education by which alone toleration and mutual respect can be attained and a sense of common nationhood instilled into the minds of the young.

The principle of the Bill was violently attacked by the English Conservatives, and Sir Robert Inglis’s description of the new institutions as “godless colleges” was eagerly caught up and repeated as a slogan by O’Connell and the old Catholic party.

The discussion was long and acrimonious. Archbishop MacHale denounced the plan as “a penal and revolting measure,” and in 1847–48 he brought back from Rome a rescript declaring the colleges to be “dangerous to faith and morals.”

Dr. Derry of Clonfert went so far as to refuse the Sacrament to the parents of boys who attended them, and in 1850 the Synod of Thurles condemned them. The Colleges entered upon their chequered career in adverse circumstances, with Dr. Cullen, Archbishop of Armagh, who was translated to Dublin on Dr. Murray’s death in 1852, throwing the whole weight of his powerful influence against them.

The feud shook the Catholic Association to its foundations, O’Connell declaring that he saw in Davis’s advocacy of mixed education the cloven hoof of secularism and the French Revolution.

Equally adverse was Dr. Cullen to the Model District Schools which were opened in 1849, the year in which the Queen’s Colleges began their work. He took in hand the revision of the National school curriculum and prohibited the use of Dr. Whately’s lessons; and he had a large part in founding the Catholic University in St. Stephen’s Green, of which Newman was appointed the first Rector. This college, which came under the control of the Jesuits, was ultimately absorbed into the National University of Ireland, founded by Royal Charter in 1908, and became one of its constituent colleges, along with Cork and Galway. But as a University it had no power to grant degrees; and it was not until the foundation of the Royal University by Lord Beaconsfield that Catholics could obtain degrees without entering either the Queen’s Colleges or Trinity.

The Royal University was only an examining board and did not give teaching to students, who had to seek their instruction elsewhere; and attempts to fill the gap, such as the foundation of the Intermediate Board system in 1878, were not satisfactory from the educational point of view. They tended to degenerate into cramming and prize-winning institutions for the pupils and into a rush for result fees on the part of the teachers. Nevertheless, in spite of clerical opposition, the Queen’s Colleges turned out many distinguished men in various walks of life. Belfast naturally remained a college chiefly attended by Northern Presbyterians; and it was raised by Birrell’s Bill in 1908 to the status of a University, endowed with moderate funds for its support. At the same time the National University was founded, with the Colleges of Cork and Galway as autonomous institutions, having their own curriculum and their own teachers, but obtaining degrees by examinations arranged by a common Senate.

A number of excellent secondary schools, such as Clongowes, Blackrock and Milltown, have been established by the Catholic orders to feed the Universities; and on the Protestant side, schools such as St. Columba’s on the Dublin mountains for boys and the Alexandra School and College in Dublin for girls, provide sound education for large numbers of students. The tendency to keep young people apart in separate teaching institutions is becoming less rigid in recent years; similar courses of study, with increasing competition and mutual interest in games are tending to draw the students together into a natural and healthful association.

The foundation of the National University in 1908 brought the long series of experiments in University education to a satisfactory conclusion. The colleges at Cork, Galway, and Dublin remained under separate governing bodies, with Maynooth as an affiliated college. No religious tests are permitted; though they are, in fact, predominantly Catholic in their atmosphere, owing to the number of Catholics on the Governing bodies and Senate. Several of the professorships are held by Protestants and the statutes, as originally framed, showed a marked freedom from any sectarian bias. The introduction of Gaelic as a compulsory subject for entrance has served to give the University a definite complexion, as was to be expected, and its tone is strongly nationalist.

At first most of its students followed the constitutional leading of Redmond and they readily responded to his call for recruits for the war. But the growing tendency of the young men towards republicanism was accentuated when Mr. de Valera, a teacher of mathematics in the University, became first “President of the Republic” and Chancellor of the University in which he had held a chair, and when Professor MacNeill organized the Irish Volunteers. Its Senate consists of thirty-five members, mostly elected from the Professors of the different colleges, but four are nominated by the Crown and one, at least, must be a woman. Women are equally eligible with men for all offices; there is an excellent medical school well equipped with apparatus; and the University is undoubtedly exercising a very considerable cultural influence over the younger generation and bringing University teaching into its natural relation with home and social life.

At various times proposals had been thrown out to add a Catholic College to Dublin University, but the project met with violent opposition and had to be abandoned. Catholics have been admitted to Trinity College from 1793 onward, but they could receive no scholarship without submitting to a sacramental test, until Mr. Fawcett’s Act of 1879 abolished all tests for fellowships or scholarships, except for Lecturers in Theology. Though it was established as a definitely Protestant place of education, and has always kept a preponderating Protestant influence, Catholic students have entered its courses ever since they were thrown open to them.

The question of education was only the first of a series of measures of a remedial character which occupied the attention of the House of Commons during the second half of the nineteenth century. The Irish Church question was one of the most important of these. Since the passing of the Tithe Commutation Act of 1838, which had shifted the responsibility of the support of the Protestant clergy from the peasants to the landowners, this matter had been quiescent. But the relief was only indirect, for rents had in many cases been raised to meet the additional charge upon the landlords.

Sheil had warned them that in accepting the position of intermediaries they were digging their own graves; and, in fact, as the tithe war dwindled the struggle between owner and tenant became more fierce and embittered. The condition of things in some districts was commented on in a speech delivered in 1849 by George Henry Moore, an Irish Catholic landowner. He said that he paid tithes in eight parishes, in not one of which was there a Protestant church, service, or clergyman, nor a single member of the Church to require them; and he mentioned a hundred and ninty-nine parishes in similar conditions.

From 1865 onward the question of the Established Church was annually mooted in the House, especially by Sir John Gray, Member for Kilkenny and proprietor of the Freeman’s Journal. But the Ministry firmly opposed any discussion of a question which they declared had been finally closed by the provisions of the Act of Union. It is remarkable that Gladstone’s first Irish speeches were directed against the motions of Dillwyn and Sir John Gray; he did not think that the time for Parliamentary action had arrived. But on March 16, 1868, he launched the declaration that the time had come for the alliance between the State and the Protestant Church to cease; and a week later he gave notice of three resolutions to the same effect.

The controversy aroused by his action led to a dissolution on November 11, but Gladstone’s election for Greenwich showed that there was a popular feeling in favour of his views. The Church had nearly sixteen millions worth of property to be dealt with, and the struggle, especially in the Lords, was long and acrid. Their amendments, in the fullest House in living memory, would have reduced ‘disendowment’ to a shadow, but the decisive and conciliatory intervention of Lord Cairns brought about an agreement. About £10,840,000 was restored to the Church of Ireland, and was administered by lay commissioners, who have carried out their trust with great ability.

The claims of the Presbyterian church and of Maynooth were first considered and were met by the allocation to them of certain sums; but the Lords were steadily opposed to what was known as “concurrent endowment,” or the application of the surplus to religious purposes only. Finally it was agreed that the residue should be applied “mainly for the relief of unavoidable calamity and suffering” not touched by the Poor Law. Such was the compromise arrived at. The Bill received the Royal Assent on July 26, 1869, and thus a great measure of justice was placed on the Statute Book.

So far from having had the disastrous results foretold by its opponents, the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland has had the effect of bringing the clergy into closer touch with their congregations, putting an end to clerical absenteeism, and reviving spiritual and national life in the Church at large. It also gave the laity a position of responsibility with regard to the affairs of their Church which had the best results in attaching them to its welfare, while it removed a long-standing and well-founded grievance from the Irish Catholic people, clergy and laity alike.

The next struggle was to be the still more crucial effort to remove the existing anomalies in the relations between landlord and tenant. Before the Church Disestablishment Bill was out of the way Bright was already prophesying that North and South alike would combine in a demand for “something on the land question much broader than anything hitherto offered in compensation Bills.” He had in mind the gradual transformation of the tenants into owners, such as has come about in our own day.

Once more the North and the South are found banded together, to exact a reduction of rents, security of tenure, and right of sale. These demands became popularly known as “The Three F’s,” viz., Fair Rent, Fixity of Tenure, and Free Sale. But remedial legislation moved slowly. The chief stumbling-block to the landlords was the question of compensation for retrospective improvements; and it was on this ground that several attempts made during Lord Palmerston’s Ministry failed to pass the House.

The solitary Bill passed in 1860 was dead against compensation, yet till 1870 it was held by English legislators to have settled the matter. It was followed by a period of “murders, homicides, beatings, and outrages” more appalling than at any time for thirty or forty years. Catholic landlords were no better off than Protestant, or Irishmen than Englishmen; they suffered impartially.

A good Bill introduced by the Tories in 1867 was rejected, but on Gladstone’s return to office the Irish Church Bill was followed up by a Land Bill which became law on August 9, 1870. It legalized the “Ulster Custom,” rendered the landlord liable to pay compensation for improvements to an evicted tenant, and facilitated the creation of a peasant proprietary. But the Act did not prevent rack-renting, which became worse in view of possible compensation demands, nor did it check evictions.

Many landlords set themselves to circumvent the working of the Act in every way in their power, and Isaac Butt, who proposed an amending Bill in 1876, spoke of the failure of the landowners to carry out the intentions of the legislature. His Bill was introduced again and again, but always rejected, and the same fate met Forster’s excellent Compensation for Disturbance Bill of 1880, which passed the Commons, but was thrown out by the Lords.