Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter V - Section 10

State of education-schools, and charitable institutions

THOUGH schools abound in this county, yet, with the exception of those highly respectable ones of Ennis and Killaloe, the state of education is at a very low ebb indeed. The common country schools have generally from twenty to one hundred scholars each, boys and girls mixt together, but are badly attended in winter, as they are usually kept in small damp cabins, or in the Roman Catholic chapels, (to the disgrace of the priest and his flock,) equally damp and dirty. It may be justly imagined no respectable man would suffer the hardships the masters do, when the remuneration is so very inadequate to a task so very irksome. The prices for education in some places are very different from those in others; some receive 6s. per annum for teaching to read, write, and the common rules of arithmetic; for reading and spelling only 4s.; low as these prices are, and established at a period, when the value of money was much higher than at present, yet custom has so firmly established it in the minds of the parents, that any attempt to raise it would be probably accompanied with the withdrawing of the pupil from school, and even this pitance is very badly paid; sometimes a trifling addition is made to the master’s little income, by drawing examinations, bail-bonds, petitions, summonses, &c. &c. As the cold and damp situations of country schools generally drive the children home in winter, the master during this season goes from house to house, and teaches the children for his diet; the Irish peasants partaking in common with the higher classes this peculiarity, that they would rather give five shillings worth of eatables than one in cash. It often happens that, from want of employment, some masters are under the necessity of employing themselves in manual labour for a subsistence. The distance being sometimes great between the master and childern, he is obliged to neglect some in winter, and they often forget in period what they had learned the previous summer. The state of education may be easily appreciated, when it is known that, with the exception of a few universal spelling-books, the general cottage classics are the 

History of the seven Champions of Christendom.
————— Montelion, Knight of the Oracle.
————— Parismus and Parismenes.
————— Irish Rogues and Rapparees.
————— Freney, a notorious robber, teaching
        them the most dexterous mode of robbing.
————— the most celebrated pirates.
————— Jack the Bachelor, a noted smuggler.
History of Fair Rosamond and Jane Shore, two prostitutes.
—————Donna Rosina, a Spanish Courtezan.
Ovid’s Art of Love.
History of Witches and Apparitions.
The Devil and Dr. Faustus.
Moll Flanders highly edifying no doubt.
New system of boxing by Mendoza, &c. &c. &c.

Whilst these are the books, from which our poor have their education, it can hardly be expected, that the lives of pirates, dexterous thieves, witches, smugglers, and illustrious prostitutes, can have any but the very worst tendency. The fault must be in a good measure attributed to the total neglect of the Roman Catholic clergy; did they pay that attention to the schools, that they ought, such books would not for half a century have continued to disgrace and corrupt the children of their persuasion, of which the scholars almost exclusively are; for good spelling-books, and many little cheap tracts published by the Society for discountenancing vice, and sold by Mr. Watson in Capel-street, and in some country towns, are not dearer or more difficult to procure than the infamous publications, of which I have given a disgusting but small catalogue.

At the chapel of Kilfenora two schools are kept; one master has about eighty, and the other fifty scholars; for small boys they receive 1s. 7d., for bigger ones, whom they teach arithmetic and book-keeping, 3s. 9d. per quarter. In Kilrush one school has upwards of one hundred, another seventy; another fifty; Menmore twenty, Querin thirty-five, Moyferta twenty, Cross forty, Fodhieragh twenty, Kilclogher twenty; all these are in the union of Kilrush. The three schools in Kilrush are the only ones, that are attended in winter; the masters receive for reading, writing, and arithmetic 6s. per annum, and for reading and spelling 4s. There is scarcely a part of the county without a school, which in summer is numerously attended. In the mountains of Broadford one school contains upward of sixty of both sexes, at 1s. 7d. and 2s. 2d. per quarter; they are taught the Universal Spelling Book, Alibaba, and the Seven Sleepers. In a school near Spansel-hill, containing above sixty scholars, they pay 3s. 3d. per quarter, but are taught arithmetic. There is a very numerous school kept in the Roman Catholic chapel at Killaloe; it contains several grown boys and girls, and, when I visited it unexpectedly, I suprized two of these learning their lesson in a very loving manner, the gentleman’s arm about the young lady’s waist; the master was absent. There are two schools at Ennis, one of which is on the foundation of Erasmus Smyth, and has been conducted by the Rev. Mr. Fitzgerald for many years with high reputation; the other school is also admirably well kept by Mr. O’Halloran. The diocesan school at Killaloe is well conducted.

The Rev. Mr. Barret, titular Dean of Killaloe, by his unwearied exertions had a charity school erected in Ennis in 1792; it at present consists of about fifty boys: he informs me, that the Roman Catholic inhabitants of Ennis conribute very little towards its support; the chief aid comes from the Dean’s own pocket, assisted by the liberality of the Marquis of Headfort, Lord Conyngham, Colonel Burton, and a few other gentlemen, by whose assistance upwards of forty boys have been apprenticed. This good Dean also supports, chiefly from his own little income, a school of ten girls; how different from some of his Protestant brethren possessing lucrative sinecures, who think charity begins (and stays) at home!

There was a Protestant charter-school erected by Anthony Hickman, Esq. early in the last century, at Ballyket in the parish of Kilrush; it maintained forty boys, and had two acres of land annexed to it; but from non-payment of rent the establishment was dissolved, and a very commodious house in a cheap country is now in ruins. There are three of four protestant families in the neighbourhood, whose ancestors were educated there. Until lately there was a protestant charter-school at Newmarket; for what reason it has been removed, I am ignorant.

Sir Edward O’Brien intends to procure one of the benevolent Mr. Lancaster’s pupils, and open a school at Newmarket. The benefit this will be of to the rising generation is incalcuable; the scholars will not only learn infinitely quicker, but they will not imbibe bad principles from the lives of notorious prostitutes and successful villains. How different the state of education now and before the irruption of the Danes! it is too well attested to be disputed; learning flourished greatly between the years 432 and 820, when the Danes first invaded Ireland. MCCurtin says that, after the coming of the English, there were, at one time, upwards of six hundred scholars at Clonroad near Ennis.

Back to Statistical Survey of the County of Clare - Chapter 5