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Education in the Parish of Corofin by Michael Mac Mahon
The first framework for the provision of state education in Ireland dates from the Reformation when the reformed religion was adopted as the State Church. In 1537 and again in 1571 legislation was passed to create diocesan and parochial schools where children could be taught to become loyal Protestant subjects. Twenty years later Trinity College was founded in Dublin mainly to ensure a steady stream of clergy to continue the anglicisation of the Church in Ireland. Over the next two centuries, until powerful pressure groups finally forced a radical change of policy, education in Ireland was closely linked with the promotion of religious reform. But despite a succession of penal laws designed ‘to prevent the further growth of popery’, Ireland never became a Protestant nation, and efforts to bring about religious uniformity frequently resulted only in risings and revolt.
The eighteenth century saw the introduction of the most comprehensive range of measures designed to secure the ‘Protestant interest’. A hardening of Protestant attitudes in the aftermath of the Williamite campaign in the 1690s resulted in the Irish parliament enacting a series of laws which impinged heavily on almost every area of Catholic life - property, education, worship and civil rights. An act in 1696 provided that no Catholic should publicly teach school under penalty of twenty pounds and three months imprisonment. The same act made it highly penal for Catholics to be sent abroad to be ‘trained in popery’. In short Catholics were denied any education whatsoever unless they were prepared to attend the Protestant schools. Enforcement, however, depended on local attitudes, and in any case the Established Church was in no position to undertake the mass conversion of the Irish nation since there were large swathes of the country were it had virtually no presence at all. In 1659, over a hundred years after the reformation, there were only thirty-five state paid schoolmasters in the whole country, and these were mainly confined to the English garrison areas.
In 1695 there was only one Protestant clergyman serving the parishes of Dysert, Killinaboy, Rath, Kilkeedy (Tubber) and Inchicronan (Crusheen). Service was held only at Dysert and Killinaboy and both these churches were falling down. A small Protestant population can be inferred and there is but one mention of a Protestant school in Corofin throughout the whole of the eighteenth century. This was a charity school set up in 1719 by Catherine O’Brien, widow of Lucius O’Brien, eldest son of Sir Donat O’Brien of Leamaneh and Dromoland.
To help finance the school Catherine turned for assistance to another O’Brien - William, 4th. earl of Inchiquin, from whom the Corofin property was leased. In reply he commends her for her scheme – ‘to which he will contribute’, but ‘as to anything of building in that place, I desire to be excused; I have contributed towards that too much already’. Though we have little further information on Catherine’s school at Corofin, we know that she succeeded at least in getting it off the ground. Her account book, preserved among the Inchiquin papers, shows a payment made in the following year towards the salary of the teacher, Hugh Sweeney. This is the very first school in Corofin of which we have record.
We get our first glimpse of the hedge-schools
in the parish in a return of the unendowed schools in the diocese of Killaloe
in 1806. By that time the penal laws against Catholic education had been
repealed, first by an act of 1782 which grudgingly allowed the schools
to operate under licence from the Protestant bishop, and another in 1792
which gave more extensive relief.
Sometime around 1812 a Lancastrian school on the monitorial model of education promoted by the English educationalist, Joseph Lancaster, was established in the Market House at Corofin. It was set up by the Rev. Frederick Blood, the Protestant rector, with the help of a donation of fifty pounds from Sir Edward O’Brien. Apart from the fact that Sir Edward gave a further sum of ten pounds towards the master’s salary, nothing else is known about the school and it gets no mention in later returns. Though strictly non-denominational, the Lancastrian schools found little favour, and the school at Corofin was probably of short duration.
After 1806 the next return of the hedge schools comes from a list supplied by the Catholic and Protestant clergy to an Education Inquiry Commission in 1824. At this time the schools had increased in number due to the rising population in the pre-famine decades. There was a flourishing school at Crossard established by the parish priest, Fr. Murphy, with assistance from the Kildare Place Society. It was held in a redundant Moravian chapel, a large slated building which had been abandoned by the Brethren over twenty years before. The three teachers, Francis McMahon, his wife, and an assistant were each on salaries of £10 a year. The salaries were paid by the parish priest out of payments received from the pupils and from collections taken up at the chapel. In addition he provided board and lodgings for the assistant. There were 150 boys and 70 girls in attendance, all of them Catholics with the exception of eight children who belonged to the Established Church. At Cahermacon there was a free school having an attendance of 55 pupils, comprising 39 Catholics and 16 Protestants. It was described as a stone-built, thatched edifice and functioned under the auspices of both the Kildare Place Society and the London Hibernian Society. The teacher, Mary Davis, was a Catholic on a salary of £10 a year, of which £4 was paid by subscription.
The Rath portion of the parish was served by hedge-schools at Cregmoher and Creggaunboy (Willbrook). At Cregmoher James Gutherie, a Catholic, taught 10 Protestant and 30 Catholic children in a small barn. His salary of £12 a year was supplemented by a penny a week from the pupils. The school was supported by the London Hibernian Society and the Kildare Place Society. The Rev. Frederick Blood, the Protestant rector, and Edward Synge, a local land agent, each subscribed £3 per annum towards the upkeep of the school. The school at Willbrook was held in a thatched cow-shed. The teacher, John Moloney, received amounts varying from one shilling and three pence to around eleven shillings per quarter from each pupil. He had an attendance of 80 boys and 12 girls, all of them Catholics. The school was not supported by any outside agency.
Another report in 1835 lists five schools in the parish catering for some 417 pupils. The largest was taught by John Lynch at Richmond, which will be discussed later. The others listed were: Killinaboy - Michael Corry (63 pupils), Michael Kelly (24 pupils) and a classical school kept by William McMahon, this last probably an adjunct to Francis McMahon’s school at Crossard mentioned in the 1824 list. Listed under Rath is Mr. Synge’s Hibernian school at Knocknacart (Moyhill). It was taught by Jeremiah Dixon and had 20 boys and 10 girls in attendance. Another school was held by John Casey in the old penal chapel at Liscullaun. Casey afterwards taught as an assistant in the school in Richmond from 1837 until his death in 1849.
Fr. Murphy’s appointment to Corofin took place at a time when the whole question of Irish education was very much a live issue. Between 1791 and 1825 five separate parliamentary commissions had addressed the question and each in turn had recommended the need for greater state involvement. In 1821 the National Education Society was formed for the purpose of promoting Catholic Schools. This subject had become all the more pressing because of the sharply rising population in the pre-Famine decades. The population growth in Clare was particularly striking. Between 1813 and 1841 the population of the county went from 160,603 to 286,394, an increase of almost eighty per cent. Between 1821 and 1841 the increase was thirty-seven per cent, the highest in the country as a whole for those two decades. The census returns in the latter year showed that 63% of the population could neither read nor write.
Among the best known societies offering to provide education to the poorer classes was the London Hibernian Society, and the Society for Promoting the Education of the poor in Ireland, better known as The Kildare Place Society. The London Hibernian Society was formed in 1806 for the purpose of diffusing religious knowledge in Ireland. It was the most aggressive of all the proselytising societies, and some of its earlier reports are sprinkled with lurid anti-Catholic phrases such as ‘deluded multitudes’ and ‘the mummery of the mass-house’. The Kildare Place Society was formed in 1811 and managed by a committee of mixed religious persuasions. Though well regarded in the beginning for its neutrality on denominational issues, by 1820 it, too, had come under attack from the Catholic hierarchy.
The behaviour of some of the evangelicals occasionally led to violence, and there are reports of itinerant preachers being beaten up in the streets. One of the most notorious sectarian dog-fights of this period was Fr. Murphy’s clash with Edward Synge, a proselytising land agent living at Carhoo in Dysert. At the heart of the dispute were three estate schools established by Synge under the auspices of the Hibernian Society for the children of his tenants, two of them located in the parish of Corofin. Though Synge would insist that his object was to ‘introduce improved civility’ among the tenants, he was not above using the ‘notice to quit’ in order to enforce attendance at the schools. Preachers from the Hibernian Society were regularly invited to address his tenants, and at one stage it was said that bibles had became as plentiful as blackberries on the estate.
Meanwhile Fr. Murphy’s efforts to provide schools for the children of his parish as a counterpoise to the estate schools were proceeding apace. In November, 1824 the Dublin Evening Post noted ‘the extensive scale of the Rev. Mr. Murphy’s school building at Corofin…in which he has been assisted by some Protestant gentlemen of the neighbourhood’. The report was probably inspired by the outfitting of the school at Richmond which opened just a few months later (1825). The school was accommodated in outbuildings at Richmond House donated free of rent by Sir Edward O’Brien of Dromoland. It afterwards became the first school in the parish to integrate with the National Education Board.
Now that he had his parish schools up and running, Fr. Murphy decided to take up the cudgel against Synge and his estate schools. The land-agent was repeatedly harangued from the pulpit, and his tenants in Corofin parish were warned under pain of religious sanction to have no further truck with the ‘bible schools’. When Synge countered with sanctions of his own the stage was set for a confrontation. What happened next is described by Synge in a letter to Dublin Castle in 1826:
About a year since the Rev. John Murphy, parish priest of Corofin, called on me and after reproaching Protestants with the piracies of Luther and Calvin required me to give up my schools. Upon my refusal he stated that the common fellows were so barbarous that none except their priests could control them, and that they hated a Sassanach. Pointing to a bridge from my window, he said: “Do you see that bridge? The last bloody battle fought with the English, before the Irish were driven from their property was at that bridge, take care; you don’t know what you are doing”.
Acrimonious though this meeting seems to have been, it is virtually certain that neither man foresaw that the dispute engaging them that day would become a lightning rod for a frightful campaign of mayhem and bloodshed spearheaded by the Terry Alts.
Richmond National School
A condition laid down by the education commissioners was that applications for funding should be supported by Catholics and Protestants from the district where the school was located. Among the more prominent Protestants who countersigned Fr. Walsh’s application were Matthew Blood of Roxton, William Fitzgerald, Adelphi, and Captain Powell of Poplar. The application was approved, and the master, John Lynch, was straight away awarded a salary of £12 p.a. with effect from the previous January. A sum of £6.8.0 was granted for outfitting the classroom and a further £4.7.0 was allowed for ‘requisites’.
Master Lynch fared well, too, in the early inspection reports, his work being deemed “highly favourable”, an accolade, it seems worth noting, that was not readily bestowed in those days. By 1842 the school had expanded greatly and Lynch had two assistants.
In his application Fr. Walsh stated that, apart from Richmond, there were three other schools in the parish - at Rath, Killinaboy and Corofin. The schools at Rath and Killinaboy were under his own supervision as parish priest. The school at Corofin was a Protestant school in the care of Mr. Allen the curate. It was regularly used by Mr. Synge and his followers for religious purposes connected with the Hibernian Society.
The later history of Richmond cannot be easily stitched together from the patchy records that survive. In April 1843 the attendance was 169 boys and 103 girls. Among the teachers who taught there at various times are some well-known names, including Seamus Mac Cruitín (James McCurtin), the self-styled ‘last Bard of Thomond’ (1843-1845), and Michael Cusack, a co-founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association (1865-66). Cusack had begun his teaching career as a monitor in Carron in March 1862. Seamus Mac Curtin was the last link with a Gaelic literary tradition that extended back through his illustrious kinsmen, Aodh Buí and Andrias Mac Cruitín, almost to the heyday of bardic Ireland. He died in the Ennistymon workhouse and is buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in the adjoining workhouse plot.
In September 1844 a separate girls’ school in Richmond under the care of Nora Cusack was affiliated to the National Education Board. Nora was a relative of Michael Cusack who, as we have noted, afterwards spent part of his probationary teaching in the school. Other teachers mentioned in the girls’ school were Honora Hutchinson, Mary Small, Margaret Kelly, and Honora Curtis (1852). Though reported as structurally unsafe in 1880, Richmond continued to function as a school until 1886 when it was replaced piecemeal by a new building – the “Bridge School” - on the other side of the Fergus at Ballykinacorra North. Built at a cost of £700 the new school was designed to accommodate 300 children. The boys’ school was in the charge of Thomas Hunt, who had a salary of £53 assisted by Michael Henchy (£35). Mary O’Connor, on a salary of £34.10.0, took charge of the girls’ school assisted by Ann O’Regan. It was stated in the application that the curriculum would include a programme for industrial instruction, a euphemism it seems for knitting and needlework. The “Bridge School” remained in operation until January 1950 when it closed down following extensive fire damage. The classes were then held in St. Patrick’s Hall until 1958 when the present school – Scoil Mhuire – was built at Kilvoydan.
The Erasmus Smith School
The application submitted by the Rev. J. H. Allen, the protestant curate, to the governors of the trust in 1840 mentions a projected expenditure of £151.19. 0, of which about £100 had already been raised by local subscription. It would seem that the proposal envisaged a refurbishment of the old eighteenth century school at Church Street and the addition of a teacher’s residence. In the flush of the Protestant evangelical movement in the 1820s Edward Synge had revived the building by opening a ‘Hibernian School’, but his aggressive proselytising met with much animosity, and the school was torched by the Terry Alts in 1829. We know, however, from Fr. Walsh’s observation above that at least some children were still being taught there in 1835, but it was then under the control of the Rev. Allen. The grant subsequently awarded to Rev. Allen was a building grant only for “an English school and a residence for a schoolmaster, to teach children under regulation of the governors and to instruct them in the Holy Scriptures”. These schools were known as English Schools because they taught entirely through the medium of English, but local people tended to refer to them as Erasmus Smith Schools. Located on the corner of Church Street opposite St. Catherine’s church, the school is indicated as “School Ho” on the Griffith Valuation Map of 1855.
After 1841 the next notice of the school
is found some thirteen years later in a letter dated 1 January 1854 from
Rev. R. Jervis at Baunkyle to Sir Lucius O’Brien. He says he has
for some years back been much embarrassed by the conduct of the school
because of his inability to give an adequate salary to good teachers.
He had, however, recently procured an excellent married couple who had
attracted a larger attendance, but they were tempted by an offer of a
considerable increase from another school. If only he could raise their
salary by ten pounds…..
From the date of the original endowment Corofin does not appear in any further listing of the English Schools in the trust’s registers and, apart from the note from Rev. Jervas in 1854, there is no record of any later correspondence with the governors of the trust. More significantly, there is no further correspondence about the school in the Inchiquin papers, and the receipts for annual donations of five and sometimes ten pounds from Dromoland are not found beyond this point. The last official notice of the school in this phase of its existence is found in a return of Endowed Schools in Ireland in 1857-58 when the master’s annual salary was stated to be £30. The school was perennially short of money and it appears to have closed down sometime around 1880.
Corofin (No. 2) National School
An Inspector’s report dated 3 May 1904 in connection with the application tells us something about the school and provides a plan of the building. The school had been vacant for about twenty-three years before being re-opened by Mr. Patterson. It was a slated, one room and one story building 29 ft. x 15ft. x 12ft. high built of stone and mortar and having a boarded floor. A teacher’s residence adjoined the school at right angles and the yard was common to both houses. The school was generally in good repair but the fittings were very imperfect. On the date of the inspection there were 17 children present from a roll book of 23. Of those 9 boys and 10 girls had been withdrawn from the Corofin National School. The manager of that school, Rev. M. O’Donovan, was opposed to the application, but only on the grounds that the assistant in his school would likely have to leave in consequence of the reduced average.
As events turned out Corofin (No. 2) National School had a short life span. In April 1915 the Rev John Foot, Kilkeedy Glebe, informed the commissioners that the school had closed. It was useless, he said, to keep it open with an average of five pupils, and he was asking to have it struck off the Board’s register of schools. Although struck off with effect from 1 May 1915, it looked for a while as if this old building which, on and off, had been connected with education in Corofin for almost exactly two hundred years, was refusing to die. In July 1917 the Rev. William Rutherford, Corofin, applied to have it recognised once more as a national school. The building was still in good repair and he hoped to have an average attendance of 10 pupils. He had altogether a list of fourteen children whom he regarded as prospective pupils. And, as if to remove any doubt the commissioners might have on that score he was supplying their names: Patrick Nagle, Joseph Scott, Mary and Margaret Moorehead, Eileen & Richard McMahon, Olive & Clair Williams, Tillie Long, Sarah Pearse, Adolphus and Arthur Pearson, and Maurice & Catherine Studdert. In addition he promised to obtain the services of a ‘graded but not a trained teacher’. The commissioners’ reply dated 26 Sept. 1917 left the door open provided certain conditions were met. But as this is the final notice of the school in the archives, it appears that the application was not pursued.
The Workhouse School
Killinaboy National School
Willbrook National School
The first principal at Willbrook was Margaret Roche who had previously worked as senior monitress at Killinaboy. Her starting salary was £27.10. 0. a year. Ann Morgan and Mary McGrath were employed as assistants. The average attendance for the first month exceeded 100 pupils although the school had been built to accommodate only 56. It consisted of just one room and a porch until 1928 when the building was extended and divided into two separate classrooms. Willbrook functioned as a school until June 1988 when it closed down for want of pupils.
In 1911 Canon O’Donovan made an application for a second school in Rath to be located at Moanreel North. Because of the distance from Willbrook, none of the children from the western townlands of the parish were attending there. He stated that they were opting instead for more convenient schools at Gortbofarna, Furglan, Kilshanny and Ennistymon, none of which was located in his parish. In fact, he might have added that, apart from the first-named, the others were not even in Killaloe diocese. In the event his plea cut little ice with the education commissioners. They felt that the needs of the locality “were sufficiently supplied”.