The History of the Schools
Attymass Parish part 1
British rule and the introduction of the Penal Laws in
the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries should have denied an education
to the vast majority of children in Ireland. In fact, the resilience of
the people ensured that schooling was provided.
Writing in 1940 parish historian and National School
teacher Patrick Flannelly writes:
"In the early 16th century, learning and culture
were honoured in Ireland, but the destructive warfare of the following
two hundred years altered the situation completely....the bards
and teachers... were bitterly attacked. They were denounced proscribed
and hunted down and their writings were destroyed, their hereditary lands
confiscated and their schools disposed. Education was denied the Irish
people in their own land..."
The only schools that existed were Protestant and any
Catholics that attended them were forced to submit to Reformed Church
"...no aid was given by the state to any educational
institution ... to which a conscientious Catholic would send the children.
Such money as was granted went to schools whose avowed aim was to alter
the religion of the children and instruct them in the doctrines of the
This led to the creation of "Hedge Schools"
- schools held illegally, in secret, in broken down cabins, farm buildings
or even in the open air. They provided tuition in the Irish language,
culture, history and Catholic faith until the formation of the more formal
national school system in 1831.
"These small scattered schools were known as
'Hedge Schools' and upon them the great mass of the people depended for
their education. They were conducted in defiance of the law and by teachers
with a price upon their heads. In these illegal academies the peasantry
got all that was left of native culture, its language and literature,
its history and legend."
Hedge schools are known to have existed in Attymass parish
in the Ballycong, Byhalla, Currower, Curradrish, Graffy, Treenlaur and
Although, in 1788, a Vice Regal Commission suggested
reforms allowing the teaching of the Catholic faith, these were largely
ignored. However under pressure from the Catholic clergy a second Commission
was set up in 1824 to look into the state of the education system in Ireland.
Here we find the first historic reference to schools in Attymass.
Irish Education Inquiry 2nd report 1826
"...both the Catholic and Protestant parochial
clergy were called upon to furnish a return giving particulars of the
various schools in operation in their respective parishes for the year
1824 and it was enjoined that each return should be accompanied by a sworn
The report for Attymass reads:
Mullahowney School in connection with
the Baptist Society of Ireland was housed in a most miserable thatched
cabin. Extracts from the Avowed Version of the Scriptures read daily.
Teacher was Michael McDonnell R.C., whose salary was about £12.00
per annum. Admission to school was free. Attendance according to protestant
return was 4 Protestants and 66 Catholics, but according to the Catholic
return, 8 Protestants and 74 Catholics, 52 males and 30 females.
Kilgellia School also in connection
with the Baptism Society was housed in “a bad thatched cabin.”
Avowed Version of Scriptures read daily. Teacher was Eneas McDonnell
R.C. whose salary was about £12.00 per annum. Admission to the
school was free. Attendance according to Protestant Return was a Protestant
and 40 R.C’s 26 males and 14 females; but the Catholics Returns
gave 0 Protestants and 86 R.C’S, 59 males and 27 females.
Currower School: Not connected to
any Society was housed in “a wretched thatched cabin”. Not
stated whether the Scriptures were read. Teacher was Patrick Diffely
R.C. whose rates of charge varied from a penny to four pence per week
per pupil. Attendance according to Protestant Return was 0 Protestants
and 20 R.C’s, 8 males and 12 females, but according to Catholic
Returns 0 Protestants and 13 R.C’s 9 males and 4 females.
It can be seen from the above returns that the "wretched
thatched cabin” that was Currower school, though free from the doctrinal
requirement that the Avowed Scriptures be read daily, had by far the lowest
attendance. It was the only one of the three not supported by the Baptist
"...the attendance was very small in comparison
with that of the other two schools of the parish showing the straits to
which the people were reduced, as probably the fee of one penny per pupil
per week was even more than they could afford to pay."
The findings of the 1824 Commission led to the drafting
of the Education Act 1831 and the formation of the National School system
though it was some time before it was implemented.
"Attymass, in common with most parishes...did
not take advantage of the National Board Scheme for about a decade after
it was set in motion. In the Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland there
is an account of this parish for the year 1834 when three hedge schools
were in existence here...
Mullahowney and Kilgellia schools probably continued
as they were for some time after the 1831 act but eventually:
"We may take it...that the Baptism Society...dropped
out and that...education came under the supervision of the Catholic Church..."
The Parliamentary Gazetteer of 1834 also mentions the
sum of £74/3/4 being granted for the building and setting up of
a school in Treenlaur by the National Board. It is thought that this was
considered a hedge school and was run by a Mr. Devaney who is known to
have taught in other hedge schools in the parish. It seems that Devaney
was not actually qualified to teach as he:
"...finished his career in the parish by conducting
a hedge school in the church up to 1872, when the first National School
was opened in Attymass (or townland of Kilgellia)."
There is an interesting description of Devaney in the
Schools Folklore Collection:
"About seventy years ago there was an old schoolmaster
called Devaney and this man lived in Graffy. There was an old school in
Currower at the same time and in Summer the children of Graffy would go
to that school but in Winter it was too far and they went to a barn in
Graffy where Devaney taught them. Each child brought him a penny and two
sods of turf in the week. Some person in the village gave him lodgings
and he got milk from the neighbours also."
>> Part 2 - the
Attymass National Schools
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