by ehistoryadmin on August 7, 2020


Rita Edwards

The Incorporated Society for Promoting English Protestant Schools in Ireland was set up with State funding in 1733. While no doubt its establishment was partly motivated by a genuine desire to help poor children in   Charter Schools, its primary purpose was to educate them in the Protestant faith and to prepare them for work in apprenticeships, farming, and domestic service. Pupils, as young as six years of age, were foundlings or orphans, but most were from destitute Catholic families who were unable to feed or clothe their children. Initially, the schools were co-educational, but later they became single-sex schools, designed to take up to approximately forty children.

Maynooth Charter School was founded in 1749 with a legacy from the nineteenth Earl of Kildare and a contribution from the twentieth Earl. The following is an abstract from Appendix 7 to the 3rd Report from the Commissioners of the Board of Education in Ireland in the Autumn of 1808 – Maynooth School for Girls. Archaic language used in the original report has been changed by the author to make it more accessible to today’s readers. The following chapters are from Reverend Dr Beaufort’s report:

The school is situated near to the town of Maynooth on the road to Dunboyne, adjoining the Duke of Leinster’s Demesne. The house is well built and in general good repair. It contains a dining-hall, which is also the entrance hall. There is no fireplace. It has a school room, a committee room, a kitchen, apartments for the family, and two well ventilated dormitories in which there are twenty-eight beds, all remarkably clean and neat. Regarding furniture, there are only two tables in the hall, and tablecloths are allowed on meat days. There is one table in the school room. In the sleeping area, some of the bedding appears to be old.

The outhouses are in bad repair. They consist of a barn, a potato house, a stable and a cow house over which is the infirmary. The cow house is propped up. Access to the infirmary is by stone steps on the outside. There is a large court in front of the house, a yard, and a spacious garden, all surrounded by a high wall. The garden is in particularly good order with an abundance of vegetables.

There are at present fifty-seven girls in this school, although the maximum capacity is fifty. They appeared perfectly clean, and all seemed to be in good health, except for one child who has been ill for a long time. She sleeps in the miserable infirmary. Two others who had been infected with scald heads are nearly recovered. (An infection in the roots of the hair causing ulcers that form a hard crust which left untreated gradually spreads over the whole scalp.) There are no symptoms of any cutaneous eruption (skin disease in the form of a rash) among them. Four children were vaccinated last year. Mr Ferguson of Leixlip is the Apothecary to the school, at a salary, as I was told, of 20 guineas a year.

The girls’ instruction appears to have been carefully attended to, for the first class the standard of reading is high. Forty-five are learning how to write and thirty-three to count, and they seem to have made a reasonable progress in both. They all answered extremely well in the Catechism and the older girls understood the content. They take it in turns to say grace before meals and they all join in a hymn before breakfast and dinner.

They are taught to make and mend their own clothes and considering that they have worn the same clothes for almost a year, their dress is neat and in good order. They have no other employment as there is no demand in the neighbourhood for this type of needle work. They also knit their own stockings and occasionally some are for sale, but sales are slow. Because of the unpredictability of the work the Mistress has applied for and expects to soon receive six wheels for spinning wool.

The girls’ diet conforms to the Diet Plan, except that they are sometimes given potatoes a month or six weeks before the appointed period of Michaelmas. (Michaelmas – the Christian Feast of Michael and All Angels occurs annually on 29 September. It is associated with the completion of the harvest and the beginning of Autumn.) The stirabout and buttermilk which they had at breakfast, when I visited the house, were of the best quality and the bread was equally good. The farm supplies the house with milk and other commodities, but the Master buys the greater part of the provisions for ready money at the market in Kilcock. The annual allowance for the maintenance of the children in this school is 4d. (four pennies) a day for each, but on account of the high price of provisions, an additional one half-penny has been added since last Christmas.

The whole extent of the land annexed to the school is fourteen acres at the annual rent of £11 (eleven pounds), four of these, two of which are occupied by the house, garden, and outhouses, are walled in. The other ten acres are fenced off and divided into two fields, one under tillage and the other in pasture, on which there are five cows in winter, and six in summer, along with two horses. The Society allows £30 (thirty pounds) a year to this house for fuel, which consists mostly of coal, but some turf is also used.

Mrs Jones and her husband have overseen this school for about twelve months. They both appear to be diligent. The great cleanliness of the house and children, the neatness of her own person, and her attendance in the school-room, at a very early hour when I visited it, as well as the progress of the children are very much to her credit. The Usher (Assistant) is Anne Clancy, a young woman of nineteen, who was educated in the school in Santry. She also, appears to be both diligent and capable in the discharge of her duties. The Reverend Mr Crane, Curate of Leixlip, is the Catechist (person in charge of religious education and formation), and regularly attends every week. The members of the Local Committee, who pay the most attention to the school are the Reverend Mr Ashe, Mr Coyne, Mr C Hamilton, and Mr Ferguson.

Dr Beaufort ended his report by making the following recommendations: The principal improvements that appear necessary are a new and well-constructed infirmary, a new working room, and the instillation of a fireplace in the dining hall. The outhouses require immediate repair and some work also needs to be done on the staircase. An additional number of tables in the dining hall and in the school room would be an improvement. Finally, the tablecloths and some of the bedding need to be replaced.

It should be noted that not all charter schools were as well-run as Maynooth School for Girls appeared to be in 1808. As early as the mid to late 1700s disturbing reports emerged as to the treatment of pupils in several schools, and at one point, questions were raised in the Irish House of Commons, but no action was taken. As the nineteenth century progressed opposition to charter schools became more organised. In 1825, with Daniel O’Connell’s help a committee of inquiry into education in Ireland, which included charter schools was commissioned. School Inspector Reverend William Lee noted that while physical conditions had improved, he wrote: ‘In the charter school all social and family affection are dried up, children once received into them are as it were the brothers, the sisters, the relations of nobody! They have no vacation, they know not the feeling of home; and hence it is primarily, whatever the concomitant causes there may be, that they are so frequently stunted in body, mind and heart.’ By comparison, he declared, that even the poorest day school children were ‘vastly superior in health, appearance and intelligence’. (www.historyireland.com18th-19th-century-history/).

As a result, the Committee of the Incorporated Society was censured for lack of appropriate oversight and State funding was withdrawn. The result was that the 2,000 children remaining in charter schools were sent home or to other institutions. Maynooth Charter School had already closed in 1819 and the house and lands handed back to the then Duke of Leinster.

Four years later in 1823, at the request of Dr Francis Anglade professor of Moral Theology and a refugee from the French Revolution at Maynooth College, four Presentation sisters came to Maynooth from their convent in Dublin. They lived for a year in a small hut on the Dublin Road and in December 1824 they moved into the old charter school. Two years later in 1826 the foundation stone of the new convent school was laid by the Marquis of Kildare.


Rita Edwards

Maynooth Local History Group

Heritage Week 2020


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