Dowling: The Hedge Schools Of Ireland

Pdf Dowling, Patrick John, The Hedge Schools Of Ireland, Dublin: The Phoenix Publishing Company Ltd
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Hedge Schools In Ireland by Patrick John Dowling is a history of the hedge school movement in Ireland which sprang up in the wake of the enactment of a series of 17th century laws known as the 'penal laws' which persecuted Irish Catholics and Ulster Presbyterians.

Historically attempts to impose English laws and customs on the Gaelic Irish since the Norman invasion of the 12th century had failed. Later the Gaelic Irish and Old English descendents of the Normans had refused to convert to Protestantism during the reign of the Tudors in the 16th century. Gaelic culture and tradition was kept alive outisde of an area around Dublin called the Pale.

The loyalties of Catholics were suspect after a series of wars and rebellions in Ireland between the 1500s and 1691 demonstrated that European Catholic kingdoms were prepared to support Irish Catholic rebels. The British monarch was the head of the established Anglican church and therefore religious dissident challenged British sovereignty.

The Cromwellian reconquest of the country meant that a minority of British Protestant 'planters' had taken control of the majority of the land in Ireland after it was confiscated from the native Catholic Gaelic Irish and Catholic 'Old English' gentry. The victory of William III of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, copper-fastened Protestant dominance.

The penal laws severely restricted the religious, political and economic liberties of Catholics and Dissenters. Catholic priests became fugitives and masses were held in remote areas. Catholic schools were prohibited from 1723 to 1782. Education was effectively denied to the majority of the Irish population who clung defiantly to their traditional religion. Catholicism and Irish identity had become intertwined.

Middle class Catholics and Catholic gentry were forced to go to countries such as France to receive an education while an underground network of 'hedge' schools was set up to educate those who could only afford it in Ireland. Most schools often met in private houses and barns rather than in the open as the slang 'hedge' school suggests.

However in time hedge schools came to be tolerated and records of these schools were made in British censuses. Subsequent generations of liberal British Protestant planters also began to see themselves as Irish and questioned the practical wisdom of persecuting Catholics. The influence of late 18th century Enlightenment values across Europe made religious persecution philosophically untenable.

Renewed Catholic and Presbyterian rebellion in 1798 and  the peaceful 19th century Catholic Emanicpation movement led by Daniel O'Connell, who was educated in France , demonstrated the need for radical reforms. In 1831 the National School system was established which saw the decline of hedge schools. By the late 19th century Catholic Church run national schools were dominant across most of Ireland outside of Ulster .

Schools in Ireland became segregated along religious lines with Protestants and Catholics going to schools of their choice. However forms of hedge school continued to operate into the late 19th century.

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