The Irish Education Inquiry 1826/7 includes a parish by parish account of education in Ireland. Many of the people who emigrated to North America in the years following the Great Famine of the late 1840s received their education in a variety of schools of which those of the south Mayo parishes of Kilcommon and Robeen are typical examples.
Kilcommon Parish In the townland of Kilrush, in which stood the important post-town of Hollymount, Patrick Murtagh, a Protestant, kept a school attended by about sixty students which was supported by the London Hibernian Society. The schoolhouse was a stone - built building erected at a cost of about £100.
In the 1820s an Agricultural school was opened in this townland on the Hollymount to Roundfort road by the Mansion House Relief Committee.
At the Roman Catholic parish church at Roundfort, two miles south of Kilrush (which was built 1825) Thomas Hughes kept the school supported by the Kildare Place Society. Seventy boys and thirty girls attended. The same Society also supported a school in a temporary house at Hollymount, which was attended by about fifty pupils under the instruction of one Patrick Murray.
Also in Hollymount, Anna Buckley, a Protestant, ran a small school in her own dwelling attended by fourteen girls. The Kildare Place Society also supported a school at Roos, five miles south east of Hollymount where eighty-one students studied. The majority were boys. The schoolmaster was Cormac Higgins. The building is described as being ' built of stone and lime, costing about £10."
In the townland of Oultanes, in the extreme south of the parish of Kilcommon, forty two students attended a school kept by David Burke. Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore, Maryland U.S.A. was apparently a relative of David Burke. Here too the Kildare Place Society helped support the school while the teacher received a house and an acre of land free of charge from Mrs. Lewin of Cloghan's.
A generation later the Roose and Oultanes schools were conduced in the chapel at Carras under by a Mr. Mellett from Lissatava. Lehinch School in Lissatava townland commenced operation under the early National School system in 1852. Robeen Parish John O'Brien kept a school in the Roman Catholic chapel in Robeen townland in the 1820s.
In Coolyloughnane another school was in operation in a small building attended by forty pupils, and Andrew Kelly taught at a school built of stone and lime at Waterford in the townland of Lisaniska, which cost £20 to construct. By 1837 two schools were in operation in the parish attended by 160 pupils. It appears therefore that about five hundred pupils were being educated in the parishes at any one time in pre - Famine days.
If we assume that, as was the general practice then, students attended for about three years, then the majority of those who emigrated following the Famine had some elementary education. Education at these "hedge schools" would have consisted typically of English reading and grammar, arithmetic and Latin.
by Gerard M Delaney (from South Mayo Family Research Centre Journal 1988)
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