This article was written by Samuel J. Macguire and originally published in the 'Galway Reader' in the 1950s. The 'Galway Reader' is available from Galway Public Library.

Education in Penal Times

The penal laws rendered impossible an instinctive reverence for law; law which was recognised by the Catholics as a powerful immoral and vicious agent. It alienated the people from government and they looked at Catholicism as the centre of their affections and their enthusiasm. Arthur Young tells us of a "Protestant aristocracy of 500,000 crushing the industry of two millions of poor Catholics". So late as 1796 the problem of Irish poverty began to be taken seriously. The Whig Club in that year reported that the misery, dirt and idleness of the people were not really their fault, nor were their concomitants of crime, blasphemy, drunkenness and dishonesty. This fact lies at the very root of the social and political history of Ireland well into the nineteenth century. There was no confidence between the classes and this lack of confidence acute antagonism, in fact was "studiously aggravated by law", and for three centuries "English State Policy in Ireland persistently and constantly" used Education as a principal interest for that purpose. The penal laws failed to restrain the activities of the Catholic priests and schoolmasters who set the law and its penalties at defiance.

It was not until 1781 and 1792 that the Statutes of William III and Anne were repealed. These laws forbade any Catholic either to teach in Ireland or to send his children abroad for their education. The public money had been lavished on societies and schools during the eighteenth century, but these efforts had been so identified with proselytism that every fresh scheme appeared only to arouse the dislike and suspicion of the people and of their spiritual leaders. It is however, beyond question that popular schools did exist in Galway throughout the penal times in spite of the law. This has been testified by English travellers with evident sense of its significance. Hardiman records that few towns in Ireland were better supplied with schools than Galway, but regretted that classical learning was neglected and not

"generally estimated as it ought". He adds that most of the people of the town were content with a "plain English education" for their children. He records a classical academy kept by a Mr. Kearns; several boarding schools for young ladies, day schools for female children, and ends,

"and on the whole, though the town is not distinguished for a superior brilliancy of education, yet that blessing, in a moderate degree, is tolerably diffused among the inhabitants."

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