The Hedge Schools of Carlow
THE Hedge Schools of Carlow—-town and county,
like those of the rest of Ireland, owed their origin to the
suppression of the ordinary legitimate means of education; ﬁrst,
during the Cromwellian regime of 1649-59, and then under the penal
code introduced in the reign of William III—1697-1746, and operating
thence until less than 20 years after the opening of the 19th
century. These schools, however, really took root in the early 18th
century when the continued rigorous enforcement of the laws against
education of the type acceptable only to the majority of the
population, rendered teaching a dangerous calling. It was then, no
doubt, that the term ‘Hedge School’ arose.
The teacher in such school, as a marked man,
had to go ‘underground’ in his scholastic activities, doing so,
however, in a converse fashion, by teaching out of doors on the
sunny side of a hedge or bank in a remote spot, where his pupils and
himself would be hidden from prying eyes. Naturally, this school
could only be held weather permitting. In wintertime, he desisted,
turning his hand to farmwork or living on the hospitality of the
people, teaching his host’s children sub roan. (The householder was
liable under the law for harbouring a recalcitrant teacher, or
abetting him in any way).
Later, when the laws relaxed, although the
name “hedge school” was retained the school took the shape of a
cabin or' barn. Hence the reference ‘poor hut or cabbin’ (sic) in
contemporary writings. Obviously, those schools were of peasant
institution and maintained by people determined to have their
children educated in the way they considered best, and by the
individual they claimed to be the proper teacher. And such men
coming ‘from the people’ to the task of educating their children,
invariably believed that teaching was their life mission.
In the late 18th century the legal code
having been modiﬁed somewhat, the Hedge Schools increased rapidly in
number, but still they were illegal establishments until the passing
of Catholic Emancipation Act 1829.
Another reason for their increase was the
growth of population, but, said John L. Foster in a letter in 1811
to Secretary, Board of Education: “The strong passion for education
which marks the lower classes of our people assures us that if we do
not assist them, instructed nevertheless they will be."
In 1824, official returns were made of the
schools in every parish in Ireland, and of the children attending
each school, and it appears that of 11,823 schools, not less than
7,600 were Independent Pay Schools. A number of the latter were town
schools and city ‘academies’, but the vast majority of the Pay
schools were truly hedge schools, and it was to these the great bulk
of the children went for education.
The standard of work in hedge schools was
higher than that done in any other school of equal social status,
its curriculum more extensive, and the hedge schoolmaster's
attainments usually of a more liberal nature. The least he taught
were the three “R's” viz. reading, writing and arithmetic, but
subjects like history, geography, book-keeping, surveying, and
navigation would appear in curriculum. Latin and Maths. were
commonly taught, occasionally Greek.
These teachers were themselves products of
the Hedge School. They went far aﬁeld—known as ‘poor scholars'-—in
search of further knowledge, ultimately returning to their native
hearth to settle down vocationally. There was keen competition
between the schools. Reputations were only won by the superiority of
the master’s teaching. In an age when the cost of school books was
prohibitive, the popular method for imparting knowledge was that of
rehearsing although the immense variety of books mentioned in the
official returns of 1824 was remarkable.
PAID IN KIND
The schoolmaster’s income was usually
very small. His fee for teaching spelling was about 1/8d. quarterly;
reading, 2/- quarterly; writing from 2/2d. to 3/3d. a quarter, but
the standard of payment depended on three factors, viz: number of
school's pupils; their all-year attendance; the actual payment of
the fees. He was often paid in kind, e.g. turf, butter, eggs or
home-cured meat. But he might make a bit ‘on the side’ by way of
surveying, will-making, etc. And his high social status compensated
for frequent slack pockets in that ‘poor hut or cabbin'. But what
was available, be it cash, kind, shelter or respect—was given to him
freely. The people wanted education for their children. Now for a
glance into the Carlow Hedge Schools per the above-mentioned Returns
(these were sworn statements made to a Royal Commission appointed in
1824 to inquire into the state of education in Ireland). Let's ﬁrst
visit the Free School in
Chapel Lane, Carlow, where
presides with his assistant. Michael has a yearly salary of 30
guineas, with 3 guineas rent allowance. The assistant gets £12. A
two-roomed building with 180 male pupils. The three ‘R's’ are
taught, also Christian Doctrine. The Bishop is patron.
Presentation Convent, opened
12/1/1812 and Superioress has ﬁve nun assistants. 300 pupils learn
the three ‘R’s’, Catechism, spinning, knitting and plaiting.
Easton House, Athy Road.
Opened 1810, where
Mrs. David Kelly
teaches 27 girls for 30 guineas yearly (each presumably). We ﬁnd
another school in same street, that of
Mrs. Frances Redmons (sic).
Opened 1822 and has 38 girl pupils apparently, who pay each £2: 5:6
Dublin Street to ﬁnd
Miss Costello teaching 12
pupils (four of them Quakers). Her terms are 10/- a quarter. In same
street we meet a
who in her small house teaches 31 children, each for 1/ 7d. weekly.
Crossing over to
Centaur Street, we ﬁnd
Michael Taylor teaching for
approximately 3/9d. per quarter per capita, 48 pupils. The school
has been there since 1819, and he says his total income yearly is
James Redmond, since 1820,
enlightens 50 children. Terms are (weekly), 5d. for writing and 6d.
for arithmetic, and 11 /4½d. per quarter for the scientiﬁc branches
of knowledge. All this in one room. Has private pupils also.
Then we became acquainted with the
In a room, 28ft. by 19ft., he teaches 56 pupils (19 Protestants) the
three ‘R's’, as well as Catechism, History, Grammar, Euclid,
Geometry, Algebra, Trigonometry, Surveying, Navigation, Gunnery and
Fortiﬁcation, Astronomy and Book-keeping.
Barrack Street, where, in a
small room, since 1801,
Ellen Poor (sic.) educates 24
pupils for three-ha’pence a week, per child.
Pollerton Road, we meet
Daniel Molloy, in an old malt
house, teaching 16 pupils for two pence a head weekly. So far none
of the children can read, but the poor man (he has no other source
of income than the sum total of the tuppences) asks for 18 months in
which to make good in the scholastic arena.
In same street, we ﬁnd
James Neil. He was educated
(no doubt another ‘poor scholar.’) For a total income of £20, he
teaches 61 pupils, in a thatched house.
Potato Market, we ﬁnd--in a
very small room-—McDonald's
school, operating for 18 pupils at 3/9d. per capita per quarter.
But we mustn’t forget some non-Catholic
establishments, which seem to be of the hedge school class, for
Rutland Place, Rev.
John Caldwell teaches 10
children. Appears to be a classical school. Says: “He was of the
Established Church but won’t say what his religion may be.
Tullow Street, we ﬁnd
Mr. Jenkins, “a Dissenter,"
with four pupils (of whom two are Quakers). We’re told the school
may be discontinued.
Mr. Scraggs teaches classical
subjects in Montgomery Street to 11 pupils. They pay £1:2:9
Mrs. Hoffman presides over 26
female pupils for £4: 11:0 yearly per head, and we hear this school
is progressing ‘on account of the great attention of the Mistress.’
Bridewell Lane, we meet
Mrs. McAuliffe in her
Methodist (thatched) school, educating girls of various religious
persuasions along with her ﬁve daughters. She has 16-day scholars,
the rest are boarders. We note that ‘dissenters’ are on her roll.
We ﬁnd a
Michael Lynch in
Potato Market teaching-in a
small room-ten pupils, at “prevailing rates.”
Then, into the
Misses Strahan’s school (in
her parents’ house) where 32 children are taught, paying 9/9d. for
writing and 5/5d. for reading and spelling.
And we visit
William Carleton’s Parish and
Free School, in
It seems the school’s patrons each pay a guinea, annual
subscription. The boy pupils number 62, girls, 90. We note that
spinning, knitting, plain and fancy work, are included in the
curriculum (these items, no doubt, concern the girls, over whom a
and her daughter preside).
12 Dublin Street, we meet
with his 40 pupils, in a stone and slated house. His fees are 7/»
And although the County Gaol in
Barrack Street is scarcely the
headquarters of a Hedge School, yet it is intriguing to ﬁnd an
teaching here eight pupils on an average daily.
Escaping reluctantly from his classroom, we
resume our ‘run’ through neighbouring schools of ‘hedge’ type.
Graigue (Carlow) we meet
for a total income of about £10: 8: 0 yearly, imparting knowledge to
Mary Kinsella also teaches in
Graigue—for about £20 annual
income—37 children. So does a
James Mulhall, who in his
whitewashed cabin, instructs 30 pupils, and his yearly remuneration
comes to the princely sum of £13.
Slaty (Sleatty) we meet
Matthew Hoey (or
Haughey). He teaches 16 pupils
in an Outhouse on an annual income of £13. But concerning this
remarkable Matt., let's digress a few moments, whilst I project
myself into the pages of the Knockbeg Annual of 1935 which say:
—-“This schoolmaster lived opposite
Miss Dunny's door. His
domicile was a barn.
Matt went from house to house teaching. He
taught the three ‘R’s" and Greek and Latin. Matt used wear a tall
hat and priest's clothes given to him by Fathers Pat and James
Maher. He taught the Dunny children their lessons, Catechism and
prayers. He used to teach them ‘Glory be to God on High’ and he
pronounced ‘High’ in such a way that the children thought he meant
‘Glory be to God on Hoey (Matt.’) . . . Miss Dunny often saw Matt.
praying on his knees in the ﬁelds.”
And in the same Annual we learn that the
went to a Hedge School at
Harristown in a vacant
Margaret Cummins was the
teacher of about twenty children. They sat on planks laid on big
stones. There was table and chair for the Mistress. School lasted
from ten to three. The children were allowed out to eat their lunch
about noon. . . They were taught Catechism, the three ‘R’s’ and
used a Primer with a paper cover, her sister had a manual called
“Reading Made Easy.” There were no other books that Miss Dunny could
remember. Quill pens were used.
She subsequently went to a school in
taught by an old woman named
Mrs. Delaney, who had 20
pupils in her one-roomed thatched cabin. (It was still standing on
top left-hand side of
Henry Street in 1935).
Back now on our tour per Official Returns
we ﬁnd 20 children being taught by a
Mr. Hennessy in a small hut,
and he receives 2/6d. a quarter from each.
Over then to
Knockard, where in a thatched
instructs 80 pupils (13 of whom are non-Catholics). Again, the
writer must digress into self-projection. He recalls his own mother
telling him about her childhood’s schooling in
Pat Curran's hedge school in
(or near) ‘Pal’ and that on a ﬁne day the scholars used sit near the
ditch outside. No doubt, Pat was a scholastic descendant of
James Scully. Maybe her school
was the latter’s once?
Tempus fugit; not fond
- The image (above) is of a school made
of mud and was quite common during the period mentioned in this
Across the parish to
John Kelly in his mud cabin,
which was built for £8, instructs 60 children, from whom he derives
an income. of £5. He must love his work! Remember these Returns were
made on oath!
teaches, for an income of £20, some 70 pupils, in a mud cabin also.
And there is a poor cabin in
Graiguenaspiddogue where we
presiding over 77 pupils for a yearly income of £10, towards which
the Parish Priest and Incumbent give £1 each. The school cost £6 to
The schoolhouse at
Ballinabrannagh, looks far
more pretentious. It should, for it cost £50, being provided by
for his tenants’ children. There are 68 pupils.
James Murphy is the teacher.
His income is better too, viz: £30.
In adjoining townland of Tomard. for an
income of £20, we discover
Patrick Kehoe enlightening 50
pupils, in a mud cabin rented for £1:14:1, Whilst in
John Conran, for the same
remuneration, is busy with 51 children, in a school built by their
parents which cost £5.
Leighlinbridge, Elizabeth Money
(s1c.) in a rented room teaches 15 pupils. Her income is £5. And
John Dalton in Old Leighlin,
for the yearly sum of £40, attends to 85 pupils in the aisle of the
we come across a
Conwill, in a limestone
schoolhouse on a yearly income of £18, _teaching 50 children, and in
another school in this parish, similarly constructed, we meet
Michael Delaney with the same
number of pupils.
is doing better in
anyhow. for £20 a year, he rules the educational world of 51
subjects, in his stone and clay schoolhouse, but at neighbouring
only earns £9 from her 80 pupils.
There are some non-Catholic schools
scattered through the last dealt with area, which may, or may not,
be ranked as hedge schools, e.g., we ﬁnd that
Anne Rogers, a Protestant, in
teaches in a ‘Pay School’ 24 pupils for an income of £8, and it is a
And it is interesting to ﬁnd that at
in the aisle of the Cathedral, a
Mrs. Armstrong teaches 30
children without any income.
Space does not permit me to deal with every
Hedge School in Carlow County (about 100 are mentioned in the
Returns). I will have to be content with giving a general picture
instead of our resuming that tour.
Ballon parish there are ﬁve
schools. Here, economic distress is evident. Yet, elocution is
taught in one school. In another, after teaching Catechism, the
teacher uses her own “Volume of Moral Entertainments” and “Sinners’
Guide" as text books, but the good woman “fears she'll have to give
up her school unless some public institution gives her ﬁnancial
James Tallon, for an income of
about £15, teaches reading, writing, arithmetic, book-keeping,
mensuration, surveying, dealing, geometry, trigonometry and English
grammar. The curriculum of
James Lyons at
Ballontraine is practically
similar (we note Aesop's Fables and Robinson Crusoe among his text
books), whilst in same townland,
Jane Murray, aged 20, in a
clay house, costing £5 to build, teaches the three ‘Rs’, plus
sewing, fancy work, music and drawing.
Cashel, Parish of Kiltennel and Borris,
a ‘moral correct man,’ teaching the three ‘R's’ to 80 pupils in a
miserable hovel, and as the £7 income cannot support him, he has to
get meals from the children’s’ parents. In this school, the Spellers
sit on stones, and the Cipherers and writers use the new forms
available. The building is roofed with sticks and badly thatched.
(Those schools generally show the same constructional ingredients,
viz: stone, mud, thatch, low roof, cramped accommodation, poor
ventilation). Here’s what a County Carlow priest says in his
Parochial Return to Commission of 1824.
“In these small schools, on the other hand,
there can be no order or regularity (in general) observed. The poor
naked children pine with cold on the stone, or imbibe the seeds of
consumption and decay on the damp ﬂoor. Cleanliness is banished, and
nothing can exceed the ﬁlth in which they sometimes wallow . . ."
Kilcarrig, Bagenalstown, Catherine Byrne,
aged 56, holds school for eight pupils in a small bedroom, in a
thatched house. Her income is between £3 and £4. She teaches the
three ‘R's’, and the Catechism. One of her text books is the
Imitation of Christ. Then there is
Patrick Burns, who, in a barn
ministers educationally to 36 children, and his income totals £8
SEATED ON STICKS
But striking a brighter note, I ﬁnd
in her little thatched schoolhouse at
her ﬂock—through a text book labelled ‘Little Red Riding Hood,
with pupils numbering 60, seated on long sticks, introduces another
old favourite of mine, named Robinson Crusoe, after the Catechism
and three R's have been dealt with.
Now for the tribute paid in Returns to
Mistress Anne Doyle
Age between 20 and 23. (Must have been as reticient or uncertain in
this respect as modern ladies): “She is of character, manners and
qualiﬁcation that entitle her to a rank in society far superior to
that of Mistress in a country school." Mistress Anne was educated by
the Nuns of Carlow Convent, and for about £8 or £9 a year she
taught, with Master
school’s 153 pupils.
A ﬂying visit to
Tullow and district, where we
ﬁnd the Tree of Knowledge in full growth, even if the gardeners and
garnerers are labouring under disabilities. Most of the schools are
the Hedge type, the one at
Ardristan is “in an old ditch
built of sods by one
(I presume it is the school which is built of sods—-as well as
ditch). Its Master is
Pat Byrne, whose income is £4.
As this is the only case in which pupils’ names are mentioned in the
1824 Returns, and in case some of my readers are their descendants,
I give the scholars’ names as follows:—
Martin Nowlan, Paul Nowlan, William Nowlan, Michael Carney, Thomas
Carney, Edward and John Murphy, John Dawson, Pat Byrne, John Kepple
(Ardristan), Ed. and James Dargan, Thomas Bulger, James, Michael and
Thos. Bryan, Pat and John Neill, John and Thos. Gahan (Roscatt), Pat
and John Neill (sic.), Michael Hynes (Rath-rush), Elizabeth and
Bridget Murphy, Mary Nowlan, Elinor and Elizabeth Dawson, Elinor and
Ann Headen, Ann Malone (Ardristan), Elizabeth Bulger, Margaret and
Bridget Dargan, Margaret Foley, Mary Neill (Roscatt), Ann and Mary
Alexander Roche's school at
has a brighter aspect. It and his dwelling-house (stone and mud) are
under one roof and the scholar’s number 34. His quarterly rates are:
Reading, 2/2d.; Writing, 3/3d.; Arithmetic, 5/5d.
And run in connection with the Patrician
Brothers’ Monastery, is Tullow’s “Poor School (Free).” Here
Edmund Kelly handles the
education of 60 boys for no income. Presumably he is a Religious.
If the teaching abode of the Hedge
School-master was generally wanting in character, not so the Master
The Returns speak of his ‘excellent
character,’ ‘moral character,’ ‘patient and mild disposition,’
‘sober, religious and diligent in the discharge of his duties,’ ‘
conducts himself with great propriety,’ whilst as to the
school-mistress, she is eulogised for her meekness, humility,
patience, unblemished character, and for her desire to inculcate in
the youthful mind the spirit of decency, honesty and truth.
These people -with pride in their roots—were
truly generous with their time and energy.
The introduction of the State primary school
system in 1831 tolled the passing of the Hedge School, but so strong
was its hold on the affections of the people, so ﬁrm its foothold in
national traditions, that death didn't come till after the passing
of the Inter-mediate Act in 1878.
The Hedge School had its critics, of course.
But it stood for a system of education that was national and
democratic, and signposted the way of life our forefathers sought,
fought and bled for; died for.
Let’s resolve therefore never to forget the
Hedge Master and his ilk, their and our forebear’s Hedge Schools, OR
Source: This article originally appeared on p.14
to 19 of Vol. l. No. 9, New Series, Dec. 1960 edition of the Carloviana.