IrelandXO Insight - Irish National Education sources relating to the 19th Century

Friday, 24 May, 2019
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Whether your ancestor was a national schoolteacher or a pupil, there is a wealth of information to be found about individuals and their families by studying the National School Registers Series and the Reports of the Commissioners of National Education.

Young Boys in Connemara c.1892

A new school system begins

Between 1831 and 1922 the power to make grants for the provision of primary education in Ireland lay with the National Education Board. On the foot of a proposal by Mr E.G. Stanley, Chief Secretary of Ireland, this board was established in 1831. Stanley's letter (of 9th September 1831) proposed a new system for the education of children in Ireland. The National Education Act that established the National Education Board allowed for all children, whatever their religious denomination, to be educated in schools that would receive grants from the government. The grants would be administered from a fund of £30,000, ‘placed at the disposal of the Lord Lieutenant for the education of the poor’. Essentially, this new education arrangement was devised to prevent the establishment of a dual system of education; one for Protestants and one for Catholics. 

There are many sources in relation to education in Ireland that shine a light on this educational system which started in 1831, and some of these are available to those who want to learn more about the schools, the teachers and also the pupils.

The National Schools Register

The Registers detailing the day to day administration of this system are retained in the National Archives at Bishop Street in Dublin. To access these records you will need to visit in person (making sure to bring a form of ID in order to secure a Reader's Ticket). If you can include this as part of a research trip to Dublin then your time could not be better spent.

Teachers were urged to keep a record of pupils and visitors and these records are referred to in the First Report (1832) regarding the implementation of the new school system:

The information is managed under the archival code ED/ and runs from ED/1 to ED/11.  Each individual code contains a specific type of source information.

  • ED/1: Applications for grants, 1832-c.1890*
  • ED/2: Registers, 1832-1963* (minute books of proceedings)
  • ED/3: Registers, District Model Schools, 1845-1881 (minute books of proceedings)
  • ED/4: Salary Books, 1834-1960s
  • ED/5: Salary Books, District Model Schools, 1862-1919
  • ED/6: Salary Books, Model Schools, 1862-1919
  • ED/7: Newspaper cuttings, 1854-1923 (indexed)
  • ED/8: Miscellaneous records (1861-1912 – not available)
  • ED/9: Files, 1877-1924* (Case files from routine maintenance to disputes among teachers and management)
  • ED/11: Records relating to teacher training colleges and Irish colleges, 1906-1922

You can learn more about the ED series here: National Archives Education Records

The ED series are a very valuable set of records as they usually contain a sketch map of the area detailing the position of the school along with the names of proposed teachers, whether they were trained or inspected for suitability, what each would earn and the names of the trustees and manager. It was the manager's responsibility to recruit and dismiss teachers and oversee the running of the school. Inspectors were expected to visit each school at least three times a year, though this was difficult given the number of schools involved, the weather and the topographical condition of each area. It is interesting to trace the establishment of a school from the time of its first application through all of the Inspector's Reports showing its growth and development.

De La Salle College, Waterford, c.1902 © National Library of Ireland

Reports of the Commissioners of National Education

While the school registers are not available online, the official Reports of the Commissioners of National Education are available and free to view here: Education and Management of National School. These reports were prepared by the Commissioners as a means to update the British government on the implementation and general progress of the Irish National Educational programme. 

Used in conjunction with the National Archives files, these reports provide some insight into the role of teachers, their responsibilities and obligations as well as showing the conditions under which they worked - living and working in environments that were often cold and in need of repair. 

In 1865 the District Inspector reported that in the area around Tuam, Co. Galway, there were only ten instances where teachers were provided with a residence, the remainder having to avail of whatever accommodation they could afford in the neighbourhood. Teachers also had to carefully follow the rules of the Board and ensure attendance, particularly at a time of impending inspection.

In the same year in Co. Wicklow the District Inspector reported on the difficulties experienced in schools in the county:

"The cold of January and December keeps the smaller children away, especially where the schoolhouses, instead of being inviting, are as cold and cheerless as the poorest of their homes. A reduction, somewhat less, is continued in March, April and November by severe weather and in country schools by field labour."

Appendix to the Thirtieth Report of the Commissioners of National Education, 1863.

At the end of the year in 1848, following the disastrous failure of the potato crop for the 4th year in a row, the Commissioner's report commented on an actual increase in the attendance of school children, especially in the West and South of Ireland:

Excerpt from Report of the Commissioners of National Education for the year 1848

Keep a note of these resources for future research

Each year, more and more source material is being transcribed and digitised in order to be easily accessed by people from around the world.  If you are not in a position to examine in person the Registers mentioned above, you may have an opportunity to do so in the future, either digitally or in person.  So make a note of them now, and what you would like to learn from these resources - who might be mentioned and what connections you hope to uncover.  That way you will be prepared when and if you get the opportunity to browse them first hand.

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