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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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Death of Emily Lawless, Irish Novelist & Poet

The Honourable Emily Lawless, Irish novelist and poet from County Kildare, dies at Gomshall, a village in the borough of Guildford in Surrey, England, on October 19, 1913. According to Betty Webb Brewer, writing in 1983 for the journal of the Irish American Cultural Institute, Éire/Ireland, “An unflagging unionist, she recognised the rich literary potential in the native tradition and wrote novels with peasant heroes and heroines, Lawless depicted with equal sympathy the Anglo-Irish landholders.”

Lawless is born at Lyons Demesne below Lyons Hill, Ardclough, County Kildare. Her grandfather is Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry, a member of the Society of United Irishmen and son of a convert from Catholicism to the Church of Ireland. Her father is Edward Lawless, 3rd Baron Cloncurry, thus giving her the title of “The Honourable.” In contrast, her brother Edward Lawless is a landowner with strong Unionist opinions, a policy of not employing Roman Catholics in any position in his household, and chairman of the Property Defence Association set up in 1880 to oppose the Irish National Land League and “uphold the rights of property against organised combination to defraud.” The prominent Anglo-Irish unionist and later nationalist, Home Rule politician Horace Plunkett is a cousin. Lord Castletown, Bernard FitzPatrick, 2nd Baron Castletown is also a cousin. It is widely believed that she is a lesbian and that Lady Sarah Spencer, dedicatee of A Garden Diary (1901) is her lover.

Lawless spends part of her childhood with the Kirwans of Castle Hackett, County Galway, her mother’s family, and draws on West of Ireland themes for many of her works. She occasionally writes under the pen name “Edith Lytton.”

Lawless writes nineteen works of fiction, biography, history, nature studies and poetry, many of which are widely read at the time. She is most famous today for her Wild Geese poems (1902).

Some critics identify a theme of noble landlord and noble peasant in her fourth book, Hurrish, a Land War story set in The Burren of County Clare which is read by William Ewart Gladstone and said to have influenced his policy. It deals with the theme of Irish hostility to English law. In the course of the book a landlord is assassinated, and Hurrish’s mother, Bridget, refuses to identify the murderer, a dull-witted brutal neighbour. The book is criticised by Irish-Ireland journals for its “grossly exaggerated violence,” its embarrassing dialect, staid characters.

Her reputation is damaged by William Butler Yeats who accuses her in a critique of having “an imperfect sympathy with the Celtic nature” and for adopting “theory invented by political journalists and forensic historians.” Despite this, Yeats includes her novels With Essex in Ireland (1890) and Maelcho (1894) in his list of the best Irish novels.

Emily Lawless dies at Gomshall, Surrey, on October 19, 1913. Her papers are preserved in Marsh’s Library in Dublin.