Private Schools in Portarlington,

18th and 19th Century


In the 18th and 19th centuries, Portarlington was famous for its schools, some of which were founded by French Huguenot settlers. The heyday of the private schools was in the late 18th century, when there may have been as many as 16 schools in the area, accepting children of the gentry from all over Ireland. Many of the schools catered mainly for children boarding from outside the town, but some were also day-schools. The traditional subjects taught were grammar, French, German and Classics, along with mathematics and gymnastics. Private schools for girls also taught domestic skills, with lessons in singing, dancing, pianoforte, callisthenics and painting.


18th century private schools in Portarlington included those of Miss Lalande, the Miss Towers, Robert Hood, Richard Baggs, Thomas Willis, Henry Lyon, John and Jean Bonafus, the Rev. Robert Jelly, Nick Halpin and Miss Dunne. In the early period, many of these schools were promoted on the idea of the ‘French connection’; Miss Lalande’s school, for example, specialised in teaching the French language to boys aged 5-8. In the 19th century, boarding schools such as St. Germain’s and Portarlington School (‘Arlington School) continued the tradition of providing first class education to the children of the gentry.



     Advertisement for Portarlington School,

      Leinster Express 1891


That these private boarding schools were very well-equipped is clear from the sale catalogue of Portarlington School, dated 1885. The school, which had 107 boarders in 1879, stood on five acres of land, with a large playing field, an extensive walled-in playground and a flagged ball court. In addition to its well-stocked library, the school had swimming baths and a gymnasium replete with a trapeze, climbing ropes and other gymnastic equipment. In the ‘spacious’ dining-hall, pupils were waited on by servants, while a pianoforte provided entertainment. An advertisement for the school, dated 1891, shows that native language speakers and composers gave instruction in language and music, while a Colour-Sergeant from the 1st Wiltshire Regiment gave instruction in drill. Clearly, this was education of the highest standard; indeed, the entry lists to Trinity College show that an above-average number of pupils from this school went on to third-level education. For those pupils who were less academic, the school also promised to prepare them for army entrance and for the civil service examinations.            


While some of the early schools in Portarlington were short-lived, others had great longevity and attracted illustrious pupils. In the late 18th century, Lady de Vesci and Lady Staples had sons in school in Portarlington, and the eldest children of the 1st Countess of Portarlington may have also attended there. Lord Edward Carson, future cabinet minister, was a famous pupil of Portarlington School. The tradition that the Duke of Wellington also attended a school in the town is, as yet, unproved however (while his two elder brothers are listed on the roll-books of Thomas Willis’s school, the Duke’s own memoirs only mention attending schools at Trim, Chelsea and Eton).