in 19th Century
In the early 19th
century, poor children in
During the Penal
era (1750-1820), the only educational facilities for Catholic children were illegal
‘Hedge Schools’ which would have existed in the parish. With the Catholic
Emancipation Act of 1829, Catholic children were permitted to attend school and
in 1831 the
At first the Commissioners encouraged denominationally mixed schools, although over time schools catering for only one denomination became the norm. The Board of Commissioners worked on the principle of state support for local initiative. Local sponsors, such as the Earl and Countess of Portarlington, employed the teachers and were expected to contribute to teachers’ salaries and maintenance costs. The Commissioners contributed most of the costs for teachers’ salaries, books and school buildings, publishing textbooks and employing inspectors to oversee schools.
The majority of children probably went to school from the age of 5 or 6 until they were 12 or 13, when they left to help support the family. School hours were usually from , with a half-hour per day designated to religious instruction of prayers and catechism.
National Schools were generally quite basic and sparsely furnished. In 1879,
the girls’ schoolroom at the
harsh and beating was a common punishment for miscreant pupils. The school
registers often contain fleeting references to these grim conditions. At
Sickness was also rife and child mortality high. For example, an application for funding for the Emo girls’ school, dated 1873, notes that sickness “was very general in the area” causing poor attendance and the closure of the female school for a time. The high child mortality figures are illustrated by the 1911 census records for Emo, where more than one demesne worker had lost one or more children (the gamekeeper, John Dempster, for example, had lost two children).
In contrast to today, attendance at school was not compulsory and many children were unable to attend because their parents could not afford the books or because they had to work to help support their family. At National Schools such as Emo and Morette, only those children who could afford to pay fees of 1s a week were charged; paupers and children of widowers generally received free instruction. Attendance figures show that the number of children on the rolls far exceeded those in actual attendance: at the Emo girls’ school, for example, there were 80 pupils on the roll in 1835, yet the average daily attendance was only 39. Moreover, in the summer months, attendance figures dropped considerably, when children were busy helping out with farm-work.
It is not
surprising then that literacy rates were very low and census figures for
The census records
for 1901 show that some of the farm labourers on the Emo estate had little or
no formal education. William Coss, for example, a 57
year old labourer who later became the gatekeeper, never learned to read or
write, while another labourer, John Whelan, could read only. In contrast, the
indoor staff at