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The History of the Schools in
Attymass Parish part 1

Hedge Schools

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 doctrine.

"...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 Reformed Church."

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 Kilgellia townships.

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 declaration..."

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 Society.

"...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."

National Schools

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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