Teachers

School masters and teachers were appointed but their ability to teach was often not regarded as a matter of great importance. As with other officers the guardians appointed their friend, or friends of friends, or sometimes, as happened in Ennistymon, a relative of a previous teacher. When Bridget Leydon resigned due to ill health her sister Mary was appointed schoolmistress in her place. We read in the minutes of a meeting held on the 9th of July 1847 "that the board resolved that the clerk do write to the commissioners and state that there is no doubt in the minds of the guardians of the proper qualifications of Miss Flanagan from a proper examination before the board in reading writing and in arithmetic. The only subject namely the want of some forms in conducting the school, can be remedied by the offer of the Commissioners of Education to give a place in August next at their training establishment in Dublin.

Sometimes, it was not only their qualifications that were suspect. Joseph Robins concludes that "many of those (teachers) accepting appointments were drunken, incompetent individuals who would probably have found it difficult to secure employment anywhere but in the workhouse. Sometimes they were brutal and ill–tempered and in an effort to maintain discipline they savagely beat and kicked children in their care." We have no evidence to suggest that the teachers in the Ennistymon Union deserve such censure. For the most part they seem to have been guilty of far lesser misdemeanours.

William MacDonagh left the workhouse without permission – workhouse staff did not have the liberty to come and go as they pleased when their work was done. Michael O’Keeffe played the flute for his friends. Such levity had no place in the harsh workhouse regime. He was suspended, pending the decision of the Commissioners, and duly resigned. Mrs Alice O’ Donnell, the school mistress at Lahinch, was reprimanded for entertaining after hours in her room. Mary McInerney, the assistant schoolmistress, Ennistymon, was found guilty of gross misconduct and dismissed. We are not told what the gross misconduct was.

Teachers, even the schoolmaster, had a very low status in the workhouse system. The schoolmaster’s duties were to instruct the boys and girls in the house and to assist the maintenance of order and due subordination. This in effect meant that they were general dogsbodies acting as ward attendant, storekeeper, or doing whatever task the master saw fit to assign them.

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