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Education in Peterswell before 1850    




By Bríd O'Donnell

The hedge schools were an illegal network of mainly Catholic schools that had their own origin in the 16th century but really only took root in the 18th century, following the passing of the Penal Laws of 1695.  Their laws proscribed Catholic education and prohibited parents from sending their children abroad to be educated.  Teachers were now forced under ground to engage in what PJ Dowling in his pioneering work The Hedge Schools of Ireland (1932), called “a kind of guerrilla war in education”.  For the next 87 years teaching was done surreptitiously, in makeshift schools, hidden away from the public gaze.  The safest area was considered to be on the sunny side of a hedge and it was from this location that they derived their name.  So popular was the name that the masters retained it, even after the Penal Laws had repealed in 1782.

Chronic insecurity became a hedge schoolmaster’s constant companion as RL Edgeworth noted in the early 19th century “the best teacher …. Soon attracts all the scholars and the inferior master is obliged to give way”.  Competition was therefore keen and professional rivalry acute, especially as there were 6 hedge schools per parish in Ireland, with an even lager number in the towns.  Little wonder then that the master advertised his school in a most extravagant style, claiming expertise in a wide range of subjects, while referring to himself as either a professor or a philomath, the best of the mathematicians.  Modesty counted for little, especially when a master’s livelihood depended on his reputation.  His immediate concern was to impress parents with his erudition.  In conversations with them he was careful to use words which were “truly sesquipedalian”, ones that were “dark and difficult to understand”, often interspersed with Latin quotations. (Wm Carleton, Traits)

Hedge Schools in Peterswell       

By Frank Helly

The earliest record of a hedge school in Peterswell was in the latter half of the 1700s.  It was situated in Gortnagowan in the Slieve Aughty Mountains.  The teacher was Laurence Duffy of Gardenblake.  Mr Duffy intended to become a priest and at that time those who intended to join the priesthood had to go abroad to study, but he missed the boat.  Later, 3 of his sons, John, Michael and James became priests.  On the 17th of September 1775 James was the first student from the diocese to enter the newly founded college of Maynooth.  Bernard Hynes had a school at Gorteenkirkie and his pay was about £5 per annum, a description of his school says it was built with stone and lime.  The second report of the Commissioners of Irish Education Enquiry, 1826-7, recorded that Euguene Kearns held a school in the chapel and his pay was   £7 -15s per annum.  The second report of Public Instruction (Ireland) 1835 states that a school in Kiltomas was kept by Edward Diviney in a chapel, it also records that support of 1/- to 2/- per quarter was paid.  A school run in Ballylaha by Bryan Hynes is also recorded at this time with similar support , amounting to £4 per annum.  Both of these schools taught reading, writing, arithmetic and catechism.