17th and 18th Century Hedge Schools

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Laws about Catholic Education

In the 17th Century new laws were passed in Ireland. They were known as the 'Penal Laws'. They came into force during the reign of King William of Orange who had been victorious over the Catholic King James the 11th at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

The penal laws of 1695 made strict laws against Catholics because the rulers of Ireland at the time were afraid that they would become too powerful and rebel. Below are some examples if penal laws.

No Catholic could become a teacher

To overcome this law, some Catholic school masters worked as under-masters in Protestant schools. A new law was brought out forbidding this in 1709.

It was illegal to send Catholic children to school

It was hoped that by having no Catholic schoolmasters there would be no Catholic schools set up and that Catholics would send their children to Protestant schools which the government preferred.

It was hoped that children attending these schools would learn to be loyal to the crown of England, would learn the English language and would adopt the Protestant faith.

Penal Laws repealed

The penal laws were repealed in 1782 but many parents still continued to send their children to hedge schools up until about the 1840's. After the end of the penal laws these schools did not have to be such temporary dwellings in hedges. Some hedge schools were also in places like cowhouses, mud cabins and some were built of sods by the parents of the children. They were often damp and wet.