seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Formation of the Kildare Place Society

The Kildare Place Society, known officially as the Society for the Promotion of the Education of the Poor of Ireland, is formed on December 2, 1811, to maintain non-denominational schools and to promote the education of the poor. It is the most successful of all the voluntary educational agencies founded in the years prior to the establishment of the National Board of Education in 1831.

Set up in 1811 explicitly to cater to the demand for education among the Catholic poor, the Kildare Place Society aims to provide a Bible-based but non-denominational education that is acceptable to Catholics. In 1816 the society petitions the Parliament of the United Kingdom and is awarded 10,000 pounds, an amount that is greatly increased over the following decade. This money allows the society to spread across the country and to establish the rudiments of a national system of primary education. The society aims to modernize the teaching profession with a training college and an inspectorate, decent schoolhouses, and regular salaries for teachers. It also produces reading material aimed at a popular audience, which competes very favorably with the much-derided chapbooks that are the staple of popular reading material at the time.

Despite the commitment of the founders, many of whom are members of the Society of Friends, to respect denominational differences, and despite the allocation of seats for Catholics on the board of trustees, the society is increasingly drawn into quarrels over the use of the Protestant Bible for educational purposes during the second decade of the 19th century.

Particularly significant is the influence of the evangelical members of the board, especially Chief Justice Thomas Lefroy, who insists on the compulsory use of the Bible “without note or comment” in the Kildare Place schools. This measure is openly and stridently criticized by the Reverend John MacHale in the famous Hierophilus Letters of 1820 and is the immediate cause of the resignations of Daniel O’Connell and Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry from the society’s board in 1821. This gesture is followed in short order by directives to Catholic parents to withdraw their children from the schools.

The substance of O’Connell’s and MacHale’s attacks on the Kildare Place Society is that its policies are in line with the more overtly proselytizing societies associated with the “Second Reformation” and are therefore unsuitable for Catholic children. The society does not survive the challenge. As a result of the ideological conflict over education, the government inaugurates a series of inquiries to determine what kind of educational system would be acceptable to the different denominations in Ireland, and the outcome is the establishment of the National Board of Education in 1831. Although the Kildare Place Society continues its work into the 1830s, its school system suffers an inevitable decline with the spread of the new national system.

(Pictured: The main offices of the Kildare Place Society in Kildare Place, Dublin)

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Opening of the Catholic University of Ireland

The Catholic University of Ireland in Dublin is opened and lectures commence on November 3, 1854, with the registration of seventeen students, the first being Daniel O’Connell, grandson of the notable Catholic politician Daniel O’Connell.

The university is founded in 1851 following the Synod of Thurles in 1850, and in response to the Queen’s University of Ireland and its associated colleges which are non-denominational. Cardinal Paul Cullen has previously forbidden Catholics from attending these “godless colleges.” On May 18, 1854 the university is formally established with five faculties of law, letters, medicine, philosophy, and theology with John Henry Newman as the Rector.

In 1861, Dr. Bartholomew Woodlock, the rector from 1860–1879, tries to secure land for a building near Holy Cross College Clonliffe, the establishment to be known as St. Patrick’s University. Plans are drawn up by architect J.J. McCarthy and a foundation stone laid. Cardinal Cullen is against the idea of educating lay and clerical students on the same premises. However, this plan is shelved because of the expansion of the railway line. A church and monastery are eventually built on the site. Under the name St. Patrick’s University night classes are advertised by the University under Dr. Woodlock’s name.

Some feeder secondary schools are established for the Catholic University of Ireland. The nearby Catholic University School is joined by St. Flannan’s College in County Clare and Catholic University High School in Waterford.

The Catholic University is neither a recognised university so far as the civil authorities are concerned, nor an institution offering recognised degrees. Newman has little success in establishing the new university, though over £250,000 has been raised from the laity to fund it. Though they hold the foundation money as trustees, the hierarchy in 1859 sends most of it to support an Irish Brigade led by Myles O’Reilly to help defend Rome in the Second Italian War of Independence. Newman leaves the university in 1857.

Subsequently the school goes into a serious decline, with only three students registered in 1879. The situation changes in 1880 when the recognised Royal University of Ireland comes into being and students of the Catholic University are entitled to sit the Royal University examinations and receive its degrees.

In 1909 the Catholic University essentially comes to an end with the creation of the National University of Ireland, with University College Dublin as a constituent, however the Catholic University of Ireland remains a legal entity until 1911.

(Pictured: J. J. McCarthy’s design for the Catholic University of Ireland)