History of Education

For this task I will investigate the relationship of the Church and the State and the role which both have played in the educational system in Ireland during the twentieth century. The relationship between Church & State has been central in Irish education with significant influence in policy, curriculum and in the latter half of the twentieth century an ultimate move toward a more non-denominational and inclusive schooling system. The History of the Irish Education system can be traced back to complex Church-State relations and the evolution of these relations in the twentieth century has had a huge bearing on our post-primary education system from policy making, curriculum to general school ethos. Any investigation of the Church-State relations will show that Irish post-primary schools were dominated and greatly influenced by The Roman Catholic Church and this has continued up to modern times. However in recent decades the separation of Church and State – brought about by a more modern and multicultural nation has increased and the post-primary landscape is rapidly evolving from its early incarnation.

Early Incarnations

The Penal Laws banned Irish Catholics from having their own schools and as a result Hedge Schools sprung up all over rural Ireland, the vast majority of these schools were Catholic, the master was Catholic as were most of the students. Since the English took control of Ireland, the religious split had characterised all educational developments and, in years to come, the most important issues concerning education. National identity had become entwined with Catholicism. ‘Since the Penal Laws forbade Catholics from participating in an educational system acceptable to them, the development of hedge schools was an automatic and understandable response in a quest to (illegally) educate young Catholics’ (Clarke, 2010).  The want of parents in Ireland for an education for their children survived after the repeal of the Penal Laws in the early 1800s. With no middle class to act as patrons for schools and a lack of religious personnel to educate Catholic children, this educational demand was satisfied mostly by establishing and supporting private fee paying Hedge Schools. The Catholic church had an undeniable grip on Irish education from this time and the soon to be formed Irish Free State would come to recognise this.

A Free State

The power of the Catholic Church increased more post-Independence in 1921, becoming an all-knowing  force in Irish society with an iron grip as it celebrated the centenary of Catholic Emancipation in 1929. After the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1921, the Church was due a special role in education. ‘The state acknowledged the pivotal position of the Catholic Church and accepted its authority in matters such as education, describing the system as being semi-state, with power shared between the state and the managers’ (Department of Education, 1926). President of Ireland Éamon de Valera soon oversaw the drafting of Bunreacht na hÉireann in 1937, this then enshrined a special place for the Church that helped define education in the twentieth century. A quote from Article 44 of the constitution shows the importance of Church-State relations : ‘The State recognizes the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens.’ (Irishstatutebook.ie, 1937). Titley (1983) points out that there were two authorities in education at this time, curriculum was controlled by the state and the church controlled the teachers and could interpret the curriculum. The Church saw education was a vital tool to win and keep followers. Up to 1985 we can see this influence in that ‘of the 548 secondary schools , 494 are owned and conducted by Catholic agencies’. Buachalla, Seamas Ó. ‘Church and State in Irish Education in This Century.’ A big change would occur when greater input from parents was allowed. Huge curricular and policy innovations would occur when more modern ideas were let come forward through ‘parents (through the National Parents’ Council Primary established in 1985) and teacher unions began to occupy a more pivotal and powerful role within the education system’ (O’Flaherty, 1994).

Source: https://digital.ucd.ie/view/ivrla:19952

President de Valera kissing the ring of Rev. Dr. John Charles McQuaid Archbishop of Dublin. I think this well-known photo captures the deferential attitude of the State to the Church in the first half of the twentieth century.

Move with the Times

There was a growing belief among people that Church interference in education might not be all good.  ‘In 1962, the Minister for Education, Dr Patrick Hillery, set up a committee of civil servants from the Department of Education to study the education system and to advise on the changes needed.’ (Elliot, 1996). This upset Archbishop McQuaid and the State and Church clashed on issues like pay – tax payers money could now be used to pay teachers so a greater public interest in schooling and curriculum would become evident. I feel an important part of Irish identity came from Catholicism and Nationalism but times were changing. Whyte (1980) stated thateducation has caused more trouble between church and state than any other single topic”. As Ireland progressed after ‘the emergency’ and modernised the State & Church began to clash more on important matters like education as both saw its vast potential to influence.  The seismic shift came in September 1967 as Fianna Fáil EducationMinister, Donogh O’Malley, made education free for all people in Ireland, this had a huge impact. The choices and opportunities now opened up to the children of Ireland, this was supported by the Church as their schools would receive grants as their numbers would undoubtedly increase. I feel this was a mature move forward in Church-State relations and showed how far they had come. At the turn of the century the Church had an iron grip on education and appeared to want to keep it that way but as time passed into the latter half and end of the twentieth century they learned to work together with the State. The success of these relations can be seen in our inclusive and non-denominational schools across the country, my current school is a Christian Brother School which can trace its roots back to a strong Catholic foundation but is now a multi-denominational school with a modern state ratified curriculum and also has a proud Catholic heritage.

Students from my school, St Marys Academy CBS Carlow

Word Count: 1054

Reference List

Clarke, P. (2010) The Teaching of Book-Keeping in the Hedge Schools of Ireland, Estudios Irlandeses. [Online] Available at:https://www.estudiosirlandeses.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Peter_Clarke.pdf (Accessed: 2 January 2021)

Department of Education (1926) Report of the Department of Education for the School Year 1924–1925 and the Financial and Administrative Years. [Online] Available at: https://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Statistics/stats_statistical_report_1926_1927.pdf  (Accessed: 2 January 2021).

Elliot, I. (1996) The Role of the Duggan Report (1962) in the Reform of the Irish Education System, Administration, 43 (3), pp.42-60. [Online] Available at: https://www.academia.edu/2572347/The_Role_of_the_Duggan_Report_1962_in_the_Reform_of_the_Irish_Education_System_Administration_43_3_autumn_1996_pp_42_60 (Accessed: 3 January 2021)

Irish Constitution (1937) Article 44. [Online] Available at: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/cons/en (Accessed: 3 January 2021)

Ó’Buachalla, S. (1985) ‘Church and State in Irish Education in This Century’, European Journal of Education, 20(4), pp. 351–359. [Online] Available at: www.jstor.org/stable/1503339 (Accessed: 2 January 2021)

O’Flaherty, L. (1994) ‘Religious Control of Schooling in Ireland: Some Policy Issues in Review’, Irish Educational Studies, Spring 1994, 13, pp.62–70.

Titley, B. (1983) Church, State, and the Control of Schooling in Ireland 1900-1944. Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Whyte, J.H. (1980) Church and State in modern Ireland 1923-1970. Gill and Macmillan.

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