Hedge Schools

Hedge schools was the system of schools which became widespread during the eighteenth century so provide education for Catholics, who were prevented by the Penal Laws from attending schools, either in Ireland or abroad. Hedge-schools have been traced back to the seventeenth century but it was not until a century later that they became widespread. The hedge-school curriculum then included Latin, Greek, Arithmetic, Irish, English, History and Geography.

The hedge-school Masters were often itinerant educators, establishing their schools at will. Payments varied throughout the country and depended on the size of the school, the standing of the teacher and the need for education. It could be as low as £10 per annum, or as much as £50 per annum. Generally the teacher would, in addition, receive payments in kind, of turf, fowl, butter, vegetables, etc. He was a respected figure in the Community and was frequently called upon to assist when letters had to be written; he was also consulted about drawing up wills, leases, measuring land or arbitrating in disputes. Thomas Crofton Croke, writing of the celebrated Munster hedge school Masters, pointed out that .... "next to the Lord of the Manor, the Parson, and the Priest, he is the most important personage in the parish".

As time progressed, the conditions of the hedge-school improved somewhat and by the beginning of the nineteenth century the vast majority of them were held in a cabin, the condition of which would, of course, be regarded as deplorable by today’s standards. The system gradually faded out with the arrival of the National System of Education in 1831.


About a hundred yards to the south of this school, there was a hedge-school at a place called the Greenhall.”

(Folklore Commission, Ballygraddy School, 1938)

School was taught in three houses in Ballybahallow. One at Thomas Coleman’s, one at Philip Vaughan’s and one in Colemans’ field, partly opposite Denis O’Mullane’s fort. The site of this school is still to be seen. I don’t know how or when it was thrown down. Anyway it seems it was specially built for a school. The teacher in this school was named Cremin, and he could teach Greek and Latin. The teacher in Philip Vaughan’s house was nicknamed “Dan Bally Aingus” I have forgotten the name of the teacher at Colemans. They were all strangers and lodged at the homes of their pupils. The books used were the “Primer”, “The Spelling book", “The Read-a-may-daisy", "The Sequel No.1 and Sequel No. 2”, “The Woster". Every sum worked for the day was written out in foolscap, and sewn into one large book called “The Woster", and the book of sums was called “First-A-Wolume and Second-A-Wolume. Arithmetic was divided under the headings "Threat and Tare", “The Par of Exchange", “The Rule of Three”. (The Rule of Three puzzles me. Practice sets me mad. Threat and Tare pulls my hair. And the Par of Exchange is as bad). Writing was done with a quill pen and the desk was a board across the pupil’s knees. They were seated on large stones. On a fine day they were taught in the open. When the cold weather set in each pupil brought a sod of turf to make a fire. Each pupil had a small bottle of ink packed with tow or frieze, to keep it from spilling. Spelling was taught in syllables such as Constantinople = C-o-n Con, s-t-a-n stan, Con-stan, t-i Constanti, n-o no, Con-stan-ti-no, ple, Constantinople. There was no blackboard or slate and pencil, or lead pencil. All subjects were taught through the medium of English, and any pupil that broke into Irish found himself in trouble. School was taught for a short time in Mrs. W.J. O’Connor’s house in Ballybahallow and dancing was also taught there. Denis O’Mullane’s father remembers a famous teacher called "Kerry” Horan.

(Folklore Commission, Curraghs School, 1938)

According to the “Appendix to Second Report from the Commissioners of Irish Education Inquiry” (1826), there were six schools in the parish of Kilbrin. They were all pay-schools and the teachers and pupils were all Roman Catholics, except in the case of the school at Kilbrin.

  1. The first was held at “Barrysford, Curras"; the Master was Timothy Buckley and his rates were 2/- to 3/4 per quarter. The school was held in “a very poor cabin", attended by 48 males and 24 females

  2. The second school was held at “Ranagan”; the Master was Patrick Shanahan and his rates were also 2/- to 3/4 per quarter. The school was held in “a mud cabin, in state of decay", attended by 100 males and 20 females.

  3. The third school was held. at “Drumeneen"; the Master was James Carroll and his rates were 1/8 to 2/6 per quarter. The school was held in “a very poor cabin", attended by 39 males and 20 females.

  4. The fourth school was held at “Ballyrushin"; the Master was William Curtin and his rates were 1/8 to 3/0 per quarter. The school was held in “an old stone building, badly thatched”, attended by 44 males and 16 females.

  5. The fifth school was held at “Banemore Cross”; the master was Timothy Crimen and his rates were 1/8 to 3/4 per quarter. The school was held in “a miserable cabin, serving as a temporary school house”.

  6. The sixth school was held at “Kilbrin”; the mistress was Mary Wiseman and her income was about £8 per annum. The school was held in “a poor cabin", attended by 5 males and 31 females, five of the pupils were “ Of the Established Church".

The figures quoted are taken from Catholic Returns. Protestant Returns were also made to the "Commisioners Inquiry" and occasionally the figures were lower than those included in the Catholic Returns. Incidently the Protestant returns made no reference to Protestants attending any school in Kilbrin.


John Hannon

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