Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Education in Athy (Part 2)

The Parish School (as the local Church of Ireland School was officially called) received a grant of £7.6.3 in the year ended 5 January 1824.  In the same year John Bagot received £99.6.3½ for six schools at Ballykelly, Fontstown, Ballynange, Borbawn, Derryaghta and Athy.  It is not known where this last named school was located, and it did not appear on any subsequent returns.  P. O’Rourke, who had finished his training, was paid a gratuity of £7.10.0 by the Kildare Place Society for his efforts in the Athy Poor School during 1823.  The training of another local teacher was financed in the year ended 5 January 1824.  He was James Atkinson, destined to teach in the Athy Parish School.  Not so lucky was T. Sherlock of Athy whose application for a similar grant was refused on the grounds that he was not of any particular religious persuasion. 

The Report of the Commissioners of Irish Education for 1826/27, which was based on Parochial Returns for 1824, indicated that Athy had four schools.  Two were private schools.  Sarah Cox, a member of the established church, operated one of the private schools in a room in a local house where she taught 30 girls.  Thomas White, a Dissenter, taught 26 boys in his own private house.  The Parish School had 157 pupils on its roll, with an average attendance of 50 boys and 35 girls.  Located in the Courthouse (now the Town Hall) the school had 90 boys and 67 girls enrolled on the school books.  The headmaster James Hunter and the head mistress Lydia Hunter received a salary of £40 a year.

Athy Poor School was staffed by Patrick O’Rourke and Ann Doggan, the master receiving £20 a year, the mistress 4/2 per week.  While there is a discrepancy in the returns of the pupils for this school, it would seem that the school had 232 boys and 96 girls on its roll with an average attendance of 140 boys and 35 girls.  In the 1824 Parochial Returns Athy Poor School was described as a substantial building of stone and lime, the building of which was attributed to Colonel Fitzgerald of Geraldine.  While the education provided was free to the pupils, the school was supported by public subscription.  A Committee comprised of the Parish Priest and 12 local men superintended the running of the School.  The schoolhouse was located at the North East corner of the present Parish Church grounds.

Following the making of the 1824 Return, Athy Poor School was struck off the books of the Kildare Place Society.  It is surmised that the Society found its rule with regard to Bible reading without comment infringed by the teachers or the Catholic clergy.  The Society itself was soon to run into trouble and in 1831 all its State grants were withdrawn and the National Board of Education established.  This latter body permitted religious instruction of children by their respective clergy or persons appointed by them for that purpose.

The 1835 Report of the Commissioners of Public Instruction in Ireland shows that the Athy Parish Priest had followed the example of the local Minister by starting a Sunday School in the Catholic Church.  A Sunday School had been started in 1820 in the Methodist Chapel under the Superintendent of the Church of Ireland Curate, Rev. F.S. Trench.  In 1835 it had an average attendance of 95.  Another innovation was the evening school operated by George Bingham which attracted 10 or 12 students paying 10/6 every three months.  For this they received instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic, mathematics and the classics.  The Parish School, now known as the Parochial Day School and the Athy Poor School, now called the National Day School, were still in operation.  The Parochial Schoolmaster and mistress received £50 a year, in addition to part of the voluntary payments of 1d a week made by the pupils.  Instruction was given in reading, writing, arithmetic and religion, while a few pupils learned grammar and geography and the girls needlework.  On its rolls it had 84 boys and 60 girls, both of which figures showed decreases since the 1824 Return.

The 1835 Report showed that the National Day School, with George and Elizabeth Carmichael as teachers had 168 boys and 76 girls on its roll.  The average attendance however was 86 boys and 42 girls which showed a quite substantial decrease on the 1824 returns.  Sometime after 1827, but before 1836, a larger schoolhouse was built at the South West corner of the Catholic Church at the junction of Stanhope Street and Stanhope Place.  It is interesting to note that Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland published in 1837 refers to two large schoolhouses, one for 400 boys built in 1826 by voluntary subscription, the second capable of accommodating 100 girls, built with funds donated by the late Mrs. Dooley.  This is apparently incorrect.  The returns for 1824 were made by the Parish Priest and in it he attributes the building of the original schoolhouse, to Colonel Fitzgerald.  It is possible that Mrs. Dooley financed the erection of the schoolhouse at Stanhope Place.

The Board of Education paid a grant of £22 a year to the School while a few children paid 1d a week to five shillings a quarter.  Reading, writing, arithmetic, English grammar and geography were the basic subjects taught, with a few pupils learning mensuration and bookkeeping and the girls needlework.  The map accompanying the Municipal Boundary Survey of Athy in 1836 shows the girls’ schoolhouse located behind the Catholic Church at its North East corner, diagonally opposite the boys school.  This was undoubtedly the school built by Colonel Fitzgerald prior to 1824 and used for boys and girls until the erection of the Stanhope Place Schoolhouse.  This latter building later came into the possession of the Sisters of Mercy and later still passed to the Catholic Young Men’s Society.  The “Billiard Room” as it was affectionately called, remained in use until demolished in 1960 to make way for the new Parish Church.

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