Catholicism and the Curriculum: The Irish Secondary School Experience, 1922-62
Thomas A. O'Donoghue
Through the nineteenth century the Catholic
Church opposed rising state intervention in education and resisted it wherever
possible. By the 1920s, Ireland was one of the few countries where the
Church was satisfied with the school system, particularly in secondary
education.(1) Here, where the majority of
secondary schools were Catholic, successive governments left management
in the hands of their owners, diocesan authorities, and religious orders,
all the while accepting financial responsibility for maintenance. In return,
schools were obliged to provide a required number of school subjects and
to conform to requirements as to facilities and teachers.
"Ireland" means the twenty-six counties established as
a distinct political entity since 1922, as The Irish Free State, Eire,
and the Republic of Ireland. Before 1922, the entire island of Ireland
was one administrative unit within the United Kingdom of Great Britain
and Ireland. The political settlement of that year produced a division
into the independent Irish Free State and the Northern Ireland state, which
latter remained part of the United Kingdom. The Church was now in a position
of great power in the newly independent state, whose population was more
than 90 per cent Catholic,(2) the vast majority
of the Protestant population being located in Northern Ireland.
The Church's power resided primarily with a hierarchy
of twenty-seven prelates whose dioceses were grouped into four ecclesiastical
provinces.(3) They met as a body twice a
year, whereas "regular administrative matters and questions of policy were
handled by a standing committee of the four archbishops and five or six
other prelates."(4) Throughout the period
1922-62, the bishops opposed any joint responsibility between laity and
clergy for schools.
"[T]he only format ever acceptable to the bishops was
one in which direct control was exercised by either the secular clergy
or members of religious orders or congregations."(5)
Secondary schools, called diocesan colleges, came under
the direct jurisdiction of the bishops and were run by diocesan clergy.
These clergy presented ecclesiastical thinking on education through their
association, the Catholic Headmasters' Association (cha). Some orders of
religious brothers and religious sisters independent of episcopal jurisdiction
ran schools. Among these, the Christian Brothers were, like the cha, consulted
directly by the national Department of Education on matters of educational
policy. Church protocol and internal politics were such that no religious
order would build a school in any diocese unless invited to do so by the
Public discord among bishops and religious orders on educational
matters was unknown. Equally, there was no tradition of the Catholic laity
openly criticizing the clergy.(7) The public
face of unanimity makes it possible to speak of "the Church" in a generalized
The Church's primary task was "the salvation of souls"
and thus it saw control of the schools as vital. It was well satisfied
in the period here under consideration with its control of primary education.
Most primary schools were managed by the local parish priest. The managers'
most important prerogative was the appointment of teachers, subject to
the regulations of the Department of Education pertaining to academic and
The Church was especially anxious to maintain control
of secondary schools. Titley(9) draws attention
to the role of secondary education in generating a loyal middle class whose
members would perpetuate the Church's influence in Irish society and encourage
their children to enter religious life. Secondary schools constituted fertile
ground for the direct recruitment of priests, brothers, and nuns. Not only
did this arrangement produce the required administrators of the "faithful"
at home and of the numerous Irish Catholics who had settled in Britain,
the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but it enabled the
Church to send many missionaries to Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Meanwhile provision of and attendance at secondary schools
in Ireland was low. In 1924, the number of pupils in secondary schools
was a mere 5 per cent of those enrolled in primary schools in the State.
By 1960 this figure had increased only to 16 per cent. Major political
parties showed little enthusiasm for the notion of free secondary education
for all, preferring to continue with a very limited scholarship system
designed to allow only extremely bright children of poor parents to progress
beyond primary school. Some religious orders offered instruction for very
low fees and, in some cases, accepted poorer pupils free of charge, but
few profited from this. As late as 1961, only 13 per cent of the work force
were professionals, managers, and employers, yet in the secondary schools
their children heavily outnumbered those from lower status occupations.
Children of unskilled or semi-skilled manual workers benefited least from
The lack of provision of secondary schools and the fact
that only a small percentage of those who left primary school went on to
secondary school each year was of little concern either to the Catholic
Church or to the State since the numbers fulfilled their respective expectations
of secondary education. The State looked to the secondary schools to produce
an adequate number of suitably prepared individuals for the professions
and for a variety of public and private occupations. Throughout the period
the Catholic Church co-operated with the State in the pursuit of these
objectives. In turn, the Church was afforded great latitude in the pursuit
of its interests through the schools: development of a loyal middle class
and recruitment of priests, brothers, and nuns.
From the 16th-century Tudor conquest of Ireland, schooling
was intimately bound up with colonisation, and with the consequent ascendance
of the English language.(11) The Irish
nevertheless maintained their Catholicism. Indeed, loyalty to Catholicism
was strengthened by subjection to constant threat. The threat was most
severe during the 17th and 18th centuries when a series of "Penal Laws"
was passed aimed at the removal of all rights to property, religion and
education from the "native" Irish.
By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the political
climate became more favourable and the Church became a powerful interest
group pressing its claims in educational matters with great tenacity. It
had a commitment to the principle of denominational education at all levels.
Its efforts, along with those of the Presbyterian Church and the (Anglican)
Church of Ireland, ensured that the national schools which had been intended
to provide a multi-denominational primary school education, were attended
mainly by pupils from one particular denomination and managed by local
All three churches sought to keep the secondary schools
free from State control. After much debate, the Intermediate Education
(Ireland) Act of 1878 was passed.(12) Under
that legislation, the Board of Commissioners for Intermediate Education
aided secondary education through the award of fees to school proprietors
and prizes to students on the results of public examinations. A conscience
clause safeguarded pupils' religious affiliations during religious instruction
classes. What resulted, however, was a mechanism to support denominational
schools, privately owned, managed and staffed. The State provided no funds
directly for the building or equipping of schools, operated no inspectorate
until 1901, and did not concern itself with the uneven distribution of
schools on geographical and social class lines. Individual secondary school
managers determined the qualifications, salaries, and conditions of employment
In independent Ireland from 1924 onwards, the State's
responsibility for most education outside the universities was vested in
a Minister for Education and a newly created Department of Education. Money
now came to secondary schools as capitation grants and as salary increments
to recognized teachers.(13) Schools where
Irish was the medium of instruction received additional grants. The Church
liked an arrangement that provided state subvention while preserving the
Church's managerial control.
For its part, the State wanted no controversy with the
Church. The Department of Education stated in its first annual report that
the State had assumed no responsibilities for the appointment of school
principals, teachers, or managers.(14)
Although the Department inspected schools and exercised supervision through
its grants to secondary schools, it was not concerned with founding secondary
schools or financing their building.
Two new examinations were introduced--the Intermediate
Certificate Examination, taken after a three-year course, and the Leaving
Certificate Examination, taken after another two years. These examinations
shaped the secondary school curriculum. In order to pass them overall,
students generally had to pass in Irish, English, another language, history
and geography, mathematics, and one other subject from an approved list.
The Certificates curriculum emphasized the Gaelic development
of pupils, in contrast to the indifference to Gaelic of the curriculum
of pre-Independence days. Equally radically, history and geography were
now compulsory subjects with an Irish orientation. This use of schools
to reshape national consciousness through a linguistic and cultural revival
arose from a desire to give the children of the nation possession of what
was seen as their national heritage.
Teaching of Irish history was crucial to gaelicisation.
Even though the history of Western Europe was well covered in Intermediate
Certificate history and included under "special topics" in Leaving Certificate
history, Irish history received high priority,(15)
an emphasis reinforced by examination questions that strongly favoured
Irish history. This history was "shaped by nationalistic fervour" and a
"desire to establish a legitimate continuity for Irish separatism."(16)
The approach to Irish history showed the concurrence of
dominant ideologies of Catholicism and conservative nationalism. John Broderick
has characterised this as follows:
The idea of history that we got was that we had been oppressed
by our neighbours, the British, for seven hundred years; that the Catholic
religion in particular had been suppressed and was persecuted; that there
had been a great revival in the nineteenth century with Catholic Emancipation
through Daniel O'Connell, and that Catholicism thrived under that, but
that coming into the twentieth century we were being Englified and we were
becoming more and more part of the United Kingdom and that was why 1916
came about; this had to be broken, the Irish people had to be shown what
their heritage was. In a capsule this was the history of Ireland.(17)
Educators encouraged the teaching of this perspective
on Irish history through study of outstanding individuals and significant
incidents. Teachers were informed that the continuity of the separatist
idea should be stressed and that pupils should be imbued with the ideals
and aspirations of revolutionaries. The other side of this emphasis on
Irish language and culture was a bias against Protestant Anglo-Irish culture.
This exclusion was blatant with respect to the teaching of English. Emphasis
was on "Shakespeare's Historical Dramas and other suitable plays of the
same period,"(18) and on the poems of Scott,
Byron, Longfellow, Milton, Wordsworth, and Tennyson, whereas no recognition
was given to contemporary Anglo-Irish dramatists, poets, essayists, or
Professor T.J. Corcoran, the main architect of the programme,
defended this lack of attention on the grounds that it protected pupils
from exposure to a body of literature which was "rarely good in structure"
and was strongly influenced by a Protestant ethos and materialist values.(19)
He also argued as follows:
Of great dignified, national prose writing, Anglo-Irish
literature has none to show. In poetry, the best is an odd patch of fair
second-grade quality....The cultivation of such material in Irish educational
work would be a real national and linguistic misfortune.(20)
Elsewhere, he argued that "what is called 'Anglo-Irish
literature' deserves no preference"(21)
in the Irish secondary school curriculum. This rejection of works such
as those of Berkeley, Goldsmith, Swift, Shaw, Wilde, and Yeats, was a further
step in strengthening the connection between Catholicism and the nation-building
enterprise. The fact that it also contributed to feelings of rejection
on the part of the minority Protestant population(22)
was of little concern to either the Catholic Church or the State.
The Church was well satisfied from the early years of
Independence that its educational interests were safeguarded by the administrative
and curricular structures of the State. In turn, it cooperated with the
State in gaelicisation. It soon became clear the Church was not prepared
to accept gaelicisation beyond a certain level. In the 1920s, the President
of St. Colman's Diocesan College, Fermoy, expressed fear that Irish would
threaten the place of the classical languages in the curriculum,(23)
and Mgr. Ryan of Cashel expressed opposition to "any method that would
exclude the study of the English language in our schools," reminding listeners
it was English that helped make Ireland "an apostolic nation."(24)
Further reservations were voiced in 1934, the year in
which a pass in Irish became essential for passing the Leaving Certificate
examination overall. The argument was that any further emphasis on the
Irish language could push Latin out of the curriculum of boys' secondary
schools.(25) When this became a possibility
in 1936, the cha objected in a lengthy public statement,(26)
anxious that secondary school programmes in Latin provide the necessary
groundwork in an essential subject for seminarians.
The Latin controversy surfaced again in 1937, following
speculation about the re-balancing of subjects in the secondary school
curriculum in the interests of gaelicisation. Headmasters worried about
the future place of Latin in the schools, and declared opposition to any
move from the "cultural and mental development" emphasis in the curriculum.(27)
Similarly, the cha declared its opposition to any system that would "unfairly
depress the lawful position of Classics."(28)
It also declared against any attempt to downgrade the position of English
in the secondary school programme. A high standard of English, it argued,
was essential in view of the country's geographical position, the need
for contact with countrymen in America and elsewhere, and "the actual predominance
of English as a spoken language in the world." The "missionary value of
the language" was inescapable, for the Church was not prepared to sanction
any domestic educational developments that might slow its work in this
The severity of the Church's opposition was such that
curriculum changes over the next thirty years upheld the pre-eminence of
Latin and English. This, however, was only one of the ways the Church safeguarded
its interests in the secondary school curriculum. The Church played a part
in marginalizing, if not completely neutralizing, other educational interest
groups, most notably parents, from contributing to the development of curriculum
policy and practice. It cooperated with successive governments to stifle
attempts to establish a national forum where curricular and managerial
proposals could be discussed by representatives of the interest groups
in the education system.(29)
RELIGION AND THE RELIGIOUS ETHOS OF THE IRISH SECONDARY
SCHOOL CURRICULUM, 1922-1962
From 1922 to 1962, the Catholic Church in Ireland was
well positioned to ensure that a religious ethos permeated the secondary
school curriculum. It staffed its schools primarily with priests, religious
brothers, and religious sisters. In 1926, for example, there were 963 religious
teachers and only 498 lay teachers in the secondary schools.(30)
By 1961 this ratio had changed only slightly in favour of lay teachers.
Throughout the period the great majority of secondary schools were schools
of the Christian Brothers, the Mercy Sisters, and the diocesan authorities.
Accordingly, there was a significant degree of uniformity in the nature
of the religious ethos of the schools.
Those in religious life gave daily teaching of religion
in classes lasting about 45 minutes. They imparted dogma, morals, and Church
history, and further taught senior pupils apologetics to help them defend
their faith through systematic argumentation. Such teaching was normally
didactic, Catholic doctrine being viewed as received truth handed down
From the early years of the new State, public figures
emphasized the importance of the schools in this enterprise. In 1928, Deputy
(Member of Parliament) T. Sheehy from West Cork argued in the Dail (Parliament)
that schooling should be concerned primarily with imparting "The Commandments,
Christian Knowledge and The Catechism."(31)
A Fr. Denis Fahey(32) made a case for the
introduction of scholastic philosophy in the secondary schools, arguing
it could lead to a foundation in the principles of Catholic ethics, while
a certain N. Umis(33) expressed regret
that the Irish Constitution was not as explicit as its counterpart in Poland
on the role of religion in education.
These positions, however, were not representative. In
the Pastoral Address of 15 August 1927, the Catholic bishops expressed
satisfaction with the primary position of Catholic doctrine in the secondary
school curriculum.(34) Similar sentiments
were expressed over the next three decades. For example, in 1933, Rev.
John C. McQuaid, Chairman of the cha, while representing Ireland at the
International Congress of Catholic Education at the Hague, was able to
report enthusiastically on "the freedom of Catholic secondary studies within
the national plan of the Irish Free State."(35)
Similarly, the Council of Education established by the Minister for Education
in 1950 to examine the curriculum of Irish schools, reported secondary
schools were "strongly religious in character, religious motives having
led to their foundation and religious bodies being, in the main, their
trustees, patrons and managers."(36)
The Church was adamant that the teaching of religion as
a school subject should be reinforced by adoption of a Catholic position,
wherever possible, in the teaching of the other subjects on the curriculum.
Rev. T. J. Corcoran,(37) the main architect
of the secondary school curriculum,(38)
strongly endorsed this view in 1923, arguing the teaching of history in
the new secondary school curriculum should embody a Catholic spirit and
a Catholic outlook.(39) Six years later
he opined that all Catholic schools should provide a course in history
"wherein the Church will have its fullest place as the directing force
in all civilizations and progress."(40)
He adopted a similar approach in his treatment of the place of science
in the new programme, arguing that the work of Lord Kelvin, in particular,
should be emphasised as "He stood for reverence on the part of science
towards God, the Creator, and he openly proclaimed it,"(41)
while Pasteur's work was also worthy of extensive treatment because of
his religious convictions.
Corcoran's position was echoed by Catholic lay observers,
who argued the amount of time devoted to religion in schools should be
increased,(42) that "Catholic expansion,
Catholic civilisation, and the history of Catholic thought applied to social
action" should be given a prominent place in the teaching of history,(43)
and that a graded set of "Christian geographies" should be produced for
the purpose of dealing with geography from the point of view of "the great
Encyclicals on Labour, on Property, on Social Order, from 1894 to 1934."(44)
These arguments were in line with Pope Pius XI's The
Christian Education of Youth of 1929 and Quadragesimo Anno of
1931. The prescribed programme never became biased to the extent proposed
in these arguments. However, the majority of secondary teachers were priests,
religious brothers, and religious sisters, and had great freedom in running
their schools and in their teaching. There was nothing to prevent them
from adopting such an approach in the classroom, and many of them did so.
The Church ensured a religious ethos was all-pervasive in the curriculum,
thus contributing to the development of a loyal middle class, reinforcing
the view that Catholicism was a uniquely true religion.
Women, despite exclusion from decision-making in the Church,
were viewed as central in perpetuating allegiance to the Church. As mothers,
they had major responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the members
of their families and for encouraging their children to enter religious
life. To safeguard their children against the temptations of modern life,
girls were told that when they became mothers they should bless their homes,
dedicate them to the Sacred Heart, and pray for the protection of the Virgin
Mary. Domestic science, a school subject taken by most girls, had a special
place in their education. Through the 1940s and 1950s, in particular, annual
Conferences of the Convent Secondary Schools stressed that a woman's role
in life was to be a good wife and mother, and that the curriculum should
prepare girls for this role, particularly through the teaching of domestic
The Church pursued its interests by eliminating content
at odds with Church beliefs. On church-sponsored schools in general, King
and Brownell(46) remarked in the 1960s
on elimination of content portraying ways of life repugnant to the church.
Consider the controversy over the Mother-and-Child Health Scheme of The
First Inter-party Government of 1948-51. Dr. Noel Browne, new Minister
for Health, sought to make radical changes in the area of public health.
The previous government had passed the Health Act of 1947 as a basis of
a national health scheme. Browne now sought to give effect to some of its
provisions. In particular, he was anxious to provide maternity and medical
care for children up to sixteen years of age free of charge, partly out
of concern about high infant mortality in Ireland.
The Irish Medical Association, protecting its own vested
interests, condemned Browne's scheme,(47)
referring to "the dangers" of socialized medicine and political interference
in medical affairs. Catholic bishops objected as well, vigorously denouncing
a proposal that local medical officers give Catholic girls and women sex
education lest it lead to family planning and abortion. The bishops opposed
also a related clause enabling health authorities to cooperate with the
schools to "safeguard and improve" the health and physical condition of
children"and to provide for their education in matters relating to health."(48)
Browne's abandonment of the scheme has been variously
attributed to the pressure of the Irish Medical Association; to his poor
relationship with Sean MacBride, the leader of his party; to the doubts
of his colleagues as to its economic feasibility; but, above all else,
to episcopal influence. The bishops outlined their objections to the health
and physical education clauses as follows:
The right to provide for the Physical Education of the
child belongs to the family and not to the state. Experience has shown
that physical education is closely interwoven with important moral questions
on which the Catholic Church has definite teaching.(49)
In fairness to Dr. Browne, the limited correspondence
available suggests that he contemplated only restricted provision of health
education.(50) His views extended only
to health education of youth, personal cleanliness, care of teeth, training
in carriage and deportment, and remedial exercises for those with deformed
limbs. Girls were to receive instruction on diet and the avoidance of certain
types of work and recreation during pregnancy.
Catholic bishops were more worried by the absence of a
legal guarantee that instruction would be in line with the teaching of
the Catholic Church. They were also, of course, anxious to reduce to a
minimum any sex education in the schools lest it divert attention from
the great emphasis on encouraging entry to religious life.
It was considered necessary to include health and physical
education clauses in the Mother-and-Child scheme because these areas were
neglected in the school curriculum. However, the position taken by the
bishops was sufficient to destroy Browne's scheme to deal with the situation.
When a new government took office in 1951, complex and discrete consultations
took place with the bishops. The result was the passing of a Health Act
in 1953 which excluded the controversial clauses. By now the Church had
secured a promise from the new Minister for Health, James Ryan, that the
Act would not contain provisions concerning the health examination of pupils
attending secondary schools lest they be given advice on sexual practices
contrary to Church teaching.(51) Many years
would pass before anyone again dared to raise the question of the need
for sex education and health education in Irish secondary schools.
Saturating the curriculum with a religious ethos and excluding
content at odds with Church teaching were not, however, the only ways the
Church maintained an environment conducive to continual recruitment to
their ranks and to the development of a loyal middle class. The training
for religious life conducted by many religious orders and diocesan authorities
ensured the development of teachers who did not promote any questioning
of the Church amongst pupils. This "formation," as it was termed, was organized
on a uniform programme. Inflexible rules regulated every detail of daily
life under an authoritarian internal government.(52)
It would be wrong to underplay the system's success in
developing teachers who valued order, attended carefully to the preparation
of school work, and worked hard for their students. Yet these same teachers
might prove unable to engage in any but superficial personal relationships.(53)
Indeed, a significant rule of religious orders held that friendships were
not permitted to develop. This rule grew out of the notion that spirituality
could only be built up by laying aside one's sensitivity and one's need
for love and affection, although also necessary to assure chastity.
The religious life presented difficulties for religious
teachers who felt that knowledge should be presented in a personalized
way. Cloister or monastery experience was limiting. McElligott has described
the life of priests who taught in diocesan colleges as follows:
A priest in a diocesan college may enter college as a
boarder at the age of twelve, remain on after the age of seventeen or eighteen
as a clerical student and, after ordination, continue to live within the
walls of the college until released by the bishop to take up a curacy.(54)
Members of religious orders were bound by rules forbidding
them to discuss everyday dimensions of their lives, tensions of communal
living, their reactions to instructions they did not agree upon, and other
strains of religious life. Furthermore, they were discouraged from curiosity
about happenings in the neighbourhood and instructed to avoid reading magazines.
Discouragement of reading for pleasure amongst the religious
had a special impact on schooling. Author John McGahern,(55)
reflecting on his own secondary school education, stated that reading a
book was considered "dissolute, a waste of time" unless it was to help
pass examinations in order to get a job. In the diocesan colleges pupils
were long subject to a rule which forbade them even to read newspapers
or periodicals. Several papal and consistorial instructions at the beginning
of the twentieth century laid particular stress on this rule,(56)
and were relaxed in the 1940s only to the extent of allowing Catholic weekly
newspapers and magazines into school libraries.
Overall, then, preparation of priests, brothers, and nuns
discouraged questions about their way of life.(57)
Teachers who underwent such a religious formation would, in turn, discourage
the development of a questioning approach towards life amongst pupils.
Although a few pupils were educated by more intellectually-oriented
orders, such as the Jesuits and the Dominican nuns, the great majority
were discouraged from critical debate. Poet Thomas Kinsella, who attended
O'Connell's School run by the Christian Brothers in Dublin, has argued
that although the teaching process was efficient, "inspiration was not
necessarily inherent in the system...it was a matter of running into exceptional
people."(58) Fellow artists Thomas Murphy,(59)
Charles Harper,(60) and Robert Ballagh(61)
also attest to a lack of encouragement for the development of any questioning
attitude to religious beliefs. As academic and poet Professor Brendan Kennelly
puts it, "Catholicism introduced me to the notion that everything was answerable."(62)
Textbooks did little to compensate. They contained plenty
of information but lacked illustrative material which might have appealed
to the creative and imaginative powers of pupils. The texts for Irish were
traditionally grammatical and held to the notion that selections of prose
should be committed to memory, then drawn upon in the writing of letters,
essays, and descriptive passages.(63) Geography
texts were geared towards questions of the "name," "state," and "describe"
type that demanded rote learning. The Christian Brothers' Outlines of
Geography(64) published in 1925, gave
list after list of facts and covered the whole world, yet had only one
map and no pictures, while J. Dennehy's Ideal Geography(65)
provided definitions, descriptions, and long lists. Eleanor Butler's Structural
Geography of Ireland was unusual in its narrative structure, encouraging
student imagination. None of these works suggested personal investigation,
handling of sources, or development of powers of empathy.
The standard history texts of the time, namely, Hayden
and Moonan's A Short History of the Irish People from the Earliest Times
to 1920(66) and Stephen Gwynn's The
Student's History of Ireland(67) were
equally content-dominated. They presented history as an accumulation of
facts and "correct" interpretations of "revealed" knowledge. This "closed"
approach to knowledge and the promotion of the view that "certainty" existed
served the Church well.
Various rituals in the secondary schools played a part
in developing a loyal Catholic middle class. Rules decreed the manner of
daily prayer. The Directory and Rules of the Christian Brothers
stated that on entering the classroom in the morning the Brother had to
kneel and recite privately the "Prayer before School,"(68)
with each pupil following suit. Likewise, every hour the clock struck in
school, the pupils had to stand and say the Hail Mary. In similar vein,
the Presentation Sisters required pupils to engage in spiritual recollection
at noon each day.
Boarding schools were even more intense. Thomas Kilroy,
in 1945 a first-year student at St. Kieran's Diocesan College, Kilkenny,
describes how the school week was punctuated with prayer, how each day
began with morning mass, and how weekends were "dominated by Sunday's religious
Students in secondary schools were required to partake
in religious ceremonies and processions, and to take the Sacrament of Confession
regularly. The preparation ritual for Confession consisted of a systematic
examination of conscience in which pupils considered their behaviour with
regard to God, their neighbour, and themselves. They asked themselves whether
they had prayed negligently, disobeyed their superiors, spread rumours,
yielded to sensuality, or put off devotions to "unseasonable times."(70)
In this way expectations were reinforced that a good Catholic was obedient,
compliant, and devoted to the habits of the institution.
The strictness and order of the religious way of life
were embodied in the routine of school life. In turn, this routine served
to soothe conflict and support harmony amongst students, bind them together
as members of the greater Catholic community, and protect them from outside
influences or thinking at odds with Church teaching. An environment conducive
to the Church's pursuit of its interests through the secondary schools
was thus maintained and cultivated.
Loyal Irish Catholic middle-class minds were shaped also
through religious icons and symbols. As McLaren has put it, religious symbols
are a form of concretizing the transcendent qualities of God; "they provoke
students to 'take notice'--to apprehend reality in a special way."(71)
Novelist Maeve Binchy shows how secondary school students in Ireland were
led to view reality in this special way through her characterisation of
the classroom world of statues, holy pictures, and little altars to the
Sacred Heart and the Little Flower in her novel Light a Penny Candle.(72)
Cards carrying images of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin, and the saints were
used as prizes and encouragement awards.
Schools had rituals specifically designed to encourage
pupils to become priests, brothers, and nuns. The annual school retreat
was particularly important in this regard. It generally lasted about three
days, during which students immersed themselves in prayer, religious reflection,
spiritual exercises, and the reading of religious works. Pupils were introduced
to the lives of the founders of the religious orders whose schools they
attended and to the history of the religious orders themselves. In all
of this, there was, as Blanshard has pointed out, "constantly a favourable
portrayal of the celibate priestly life."(73)
Schools invited guest lecturers from time to time to speak
on "vocations," and each year many religious orders sent representatives
to schools to encourage pupils to become priests, religious brothers, or
religious sisters, a campaign much assisted by the fact that most schools
were single-sex institutions. Throughout the period the Church insisted
on segregation except in a few rural areas where low enrollments made it
unviable. A special meeting of the bishops in May 1926 declared: "Mixed
education in public schools is very undesirable especially among older
children."(74) The following month the
Minister for Education concurred, stating that there was a very strong
objection "to having boys and girls taught in the same school." Segregation
remained in force.
Titley has characterised a major component of the motivation
behind this policy as follows:
The segregation of the sexes in church-controlled secondary
schools was directly related to their principal function-the recruitment
of clergy. It was only by deliberately limiting opportunities for the development
of relationships between the sexes that the constant flow to cloister,
monastery, and seminary could be maintained.(75)
Church policy was galvanised with the publication of Pope
Pius XI's The Christian Education of Youth in 1929. Emphasizing
"modern aberrations," the encyclical criticised "co-education" as "a promiscuous
herding together of males and females on a completely equal footing."(76)
Twenty years later a specially convened committee of the Department of
Education to consider possible reforms to primary, secondary,and vocational
education, recommended "co-education should be avoided as far as possible."(77)
The system of recruitment of personnel for the religious
life in segregated schools was successful. Besides supplying priests, religious
brothers, and religious sisters to meet needs at home, the Church in Ireland
became the second largest per capita contributor of missionaries
in the Catholic Church, Holland being the largest.(78)
Pupils raised money through concerts and bazaars, while school magazines
appealed to their idealism with photographs of missionaries in Africa,
Asia, and Latin America, and with accounts of heroic activity in foreign
lands. Pupils enrolled in school branches of such organizations as the
Legion of Mary and the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, which encouraged
regular prayer and the value of "good works." School journals regularly
published photographs of enrolled pupils coupled with laudatory accounts
of their activities.
Some former pupils have argued that in their experience
the religious ethos of schools created an environment of contentment rather
than repression and anxiety.(79) Writer
Mary Lavin recalls her love for the retreats, the incense, and all the
ceremony associated with religion:
The rituals of the Child of Mary medal...had all kinds
of sentimental things about it. You asked somebody to pin it on for you.
I went for all of that. The holy pictures and the chapel; they were lovely.
And we would perhaps go to Rathfarnham to see a veiling--a nun being received.(80)
Similarly, poet John Montague recalls pleasant memories
of devotions and processions.(81) Travel
writer Dervla Murphy states she was happy as a boarding student at the
Ursuline Convent, Waterford in the mid-1940s, enjoying "the anonymity of
it all."(82) Both Maeve Binchy(83)
and Edna O'Brien(84) have made similar
claims. O'Brien stresses that she is not the central character in her novel
The Country Girls, and that although the bleakness of the convent
and the regimented life as portrayed in this novel illustrated life at
the boarding school she attended in County Galway, she was happy there
and "keen on learning." Others found the authoritarian approach to schooling
claustrophobic. Professor Thomas Kilroy, for example, contends that "rigid
codes of behaviour coupled with a moral code which operated on a level
of guilt and fear rather than reason or love"(85)
were damaging. Similarly, poet Eithne Strong argues that although she got
a good education at Scoil Mhuire in Ennis, County Clare, there was "not
enough space for contact with the outside world" and the "religious ethic
was much too closed and narrow and crushing and stuffy and limiting."(86)
Only toward the 1960s was there criticism from the rank
and file among the clergy of various aspects of Catholic education in Ireland.
Corporal punishment in Irish schools was queried(87)
and fresh questions raised about the need for sex education.(88)
Rev. Dom. Matthew Dillon, examining relations between home and school,
....it is hardly possible to understand the children and
their problems unless one knows their parents and their homes. He [the
teacher] must discuss the progress of the child frankly with the parent
suggesting modifications of the home life and welcoming suggestions for
improvements in the school regime.(89)
Such questioning reflected a movement towards critical
self-consciousness which was developing in the Church. This arose from
....a series of decisions and initiatives which were not
inspired by any new theological vision of Irish origin, but which implied
a new concern for the quality of Irish Catholic life.(90)
Two Catholic journals, The Furrow and Doctrine
and Life, became focal points for the new movement. The Furrow,
for example, published articles criticizing Catholic boarding schools for
taking young pupils who would be better off at home with their parents,(91)
and questioned the legalistic morality and religious formation promoted
in boarding schools. It was not until the ecumenical movement in the wake
of the Second Vatican Council, however, that self-questioning became more
In accepting Catholic influence over secondary school
education, Irish governments demonstrated between 1922 and 1962 that they
did not espouse revolutionary and secular republicanism. It was not their
intention to found secondary schools or to finance the building of them,
nor to confront the Church on curricular matters.
The secondary school curriculum for the privileged minority
showed a concurrence between the interests of Church and government. Each
favoured reinforcement of the Catholic world-view through the teaching
of religion as a school subject, the promotion of the Catholic position
in the teaching of the secular subjects on the curriculum, and the permeation
of school life with a Catholic ethos. Great emphasis was placed on the
certainty of answers, strict discipline, and unquestioning obedience, while
critical thinking was neglected. Other educational interest groups, particularly
the lay teachers and parents, were unable to contribute to the development
of curriculum policy and practice. Church actions were motivated by fear
of a new curriculum unsuited to development of a loyal middle class or
recruitment of priests, brothers, and nuns.
The effect of the Church and State combination in education
in this way has been characterised thus by Hornsby-Smith:
....the religious socialisation of young Catholics was
ensured, differentiation from Protestants and an ethnic sense of identity
reinforced, the threat of secularising influences countered, hierarchial
clerical control over the laity maintained and the power of the church
to define morality extended. In exchange the church provided legitimation
for the state.(92)
Church and State combined to maintain a political culture
which, in its constant stress on Catholic nationalist uniformity and homogeneity,
"proved quite hostile to any notion of politicizing internal social divisions."(93)
Only after 1960 were educators to change attitudes towards the curriculum
in the interest of meeting social and economic needs, helped by a more
open-minded outlook in the wider society--a matter for another study.
1. See J. Whyte, Church and State
in Modern Ireland (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1971), 16.
2. Ibid., 3.
3. D. W. Miller, Church, State and
Nation in Ireland 1898-1921 (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1973), 10.
4. E. B. Titley, Church, State and
the Control of Schooling of Ireland, 1900-1944 (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan,
1983), p. 5.
5. Ibid., 5.
6. The Executive of the Teaching Brothers
Association, "Teaching Brothers," in 'Studies', Post-Primary Education:
Now and in the Future (Dublin: The Talbot Press, 1968), 58.
7. J. Whyte, Church and State in
Modern Ireland, 7.
8. J. Duffy, The Lay Teacher (Dublin:
Fallons, 1967), 27.
9. E. B. Titley, Church, State and
the Control of Schooling of Ireland, 1900-1944, passim.
10. Investment in Education--Report
of the Survey Team (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1966), 51.
11. S. Dunn, "Education, religion
and cultural change in the Republic of Ireland," in W. Tulasiewicz and
C. Brock, eds., Christianity and Educational Provision in International
Perspective (London: Routledge, 1988), 95.
12. See J. Coolahan, "Church and State
in Irish education 1900-20," in V.A. McClelland, ed,, The Churches and
Education (Leicester: History of Education Society, Conference Papers,
13. SPO. Dublin. Cabinet Files. File
S.3092 entitled "Intermediate Education Commissioners' Order, 1923."
14. Report of the Department of
Education for the School Year 1924-25 and the Financial and Administrative
Year 1924-25-26 (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1926), 7-8.
15. Department of Education, Rules
and Programmes for Secondary Schools for the Year 1924-25 (Dublin:
The Stationery Office, 1924), and subsequent years.
16. R. Foster, "History and the Irish
question," in C. Brady, Interpreting Irish History: The Debate on Historical
Revisionism (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1994), 138.
17. Daniel Murphy, Education and
the Arts: A Research Report (Dublin: Trinity College Dublin, School
of Education, 1987), 107.
18. Rules and Programme for Secondary
Schools for the School Year 1924-25, 7-8.
19. See T. J. Corcoran, "The new secondary
school programme in Ireland," Studies, 11, December 1922, 559-70.
20. T. J. Corcoran, "How English may
be taught without anglicising," The Irish Monthly, 51, June 1923,
21. T. J. Corcoran, "Education through
Anglo-Irish literature," Irish Monthly, 51, June 1923, 242.
22. The objections raised on the introduction
of the requirement that a pass in Irish would be necessary from 1928 onwards
for passing the Intermediate Certificate examination overall provide a
good illustration of the criticism. See the cais Papers, Trinity College
Dublin, Minutes of the 1924 agm. Here it is argued that the regulation
went against the spirit of freedom which informed the rest of the curriculum.
This argument was taken up by the Warden of St. Columba's College, Dublin
and the Headmaster of The High School, Dublin in the Irish Times,
June19, 1924. Here the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cashel argued also that
the introduction of the regulation was unjust and not very sensible since
the promotion of continental languages would be more advantageous in the
development of trade and commerce. See also the
Times Educational Supplement
for a report on representation made by Dr. Gregg, Church of Ireland Archbishop
of Dublin and the Right Rev. Hanna, Moderator of the Presbyterian General
Assembly, to seek a compromise with the Minister for Education on compulsory
23. Times Educational Supplement,
December 8, 1924.
24. Irish Times, June 15, 1926.
25. See Times Educational Supplement,
January 7, 1933.
26. Irish Times, May 18, 1936.
27. See Irish Press, December
21, 1936; Irish Press, January 19, 1937.
28. A copy of the cha's position dated
January 20, 1938 was forwarded to the Christian Brothers' Education Committee
and is in the Christian Brothers" Archives, Dublin.
29. National Library of Ireland. Minutes
of the Commission on Vocational Organisation. Ms. 923, 2, 596-614;
Ms. 928, 2197-221; Ms. 935, Memo No. 59; Ms. 939, Memo No. 160.
30. Duffy, The Lay Teacher,
31. Dail Eireann Debates. Vol. 23,
Col. 2480 (May 31, 1928).
32. D. Fahey, "The introduction of
scholastic philosophy in Irish secondary schools," Irish Ecclesiastical
Record, 22, August 1923, 177.
33. N. Umis, "Poland-schools," Irish
Monthly, 57, July 1930, 352.
34. "Pastoral Address," Irish Ecclesiastical
Record, 30, November 1927, 536.
35. T.J. Corcoran, "The International
Congress of Catholic Secondary Education at the Hague," Studies,
22, September 1933, 497.
36. Department of Education, Report of the Council
of Education: The Curriculum of the Secondary School (Dublin: The Stationery
Office, 1962), 80.
37. T.J. Corcoran, "The chapel and the classroom,"
Irish Monthly, 57, September 1929, 454.
38. Joseph O'Neill, "Father T.J. Corcoran: An Appreciation,"
Studies, 32, June 1943, 153-62.
39. T.J. Corcoran, "The new secondary school programme
in Ireland - the teaching of history," Studies, 22, June 1923, 258.
40. T.J. Corcoran, "Advanced schoolwork in history,"
Irish Monthly, 57, December 1929, 626.
41. T.J. Corcoran, "The place of science in general
education," Studies, 22, September 1923, 416.
42. C. Malone, 'School and university," Catholic
Bulletin, 25, November 1936, 904-5.
43. A. O'Meachair, "Secularised school subjects,"
Catholic Bulletin, 26, December 1936, 902.
44. A. O'Meachair, "Teaching real geography," Catholic
Bulletin, 26, December 1936, 992.
45. See the various reports in the ccss Archives,
unison Offices, Dublin, including Rev. H.J. Farrell, "The girlhood of Ireland
and the Christian marriage," ccss Report 1941, 79; Archdeacon McMahon,
"Education in a changing world," ccss Report 1949., 25.
46. A. R. King and J. A. Brownell, The Curriculum
and the Disciplines of Knowledge, (New York: John Wiley, 1966), 26.
47. See J. Whyte, "Church, State and society," in
J. J. Lee, Ireland 1945-70 (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1979),
48. See J. Whyte, Church and State in Modern
49. Ibid., 421. For Brown's own views on this and
other objections see N. Browne, Against the Tide (Dublin: Gill and
Macmillan, 1987), 141-55.
50. The correspondence which took place on the issue
was published in full in the Irish Times, April 12, 1951.
51. See cha Minutes. Letter from Seamus O'Riain,
Minister for Health, to the secretary of the cha, April 18, 1953.
52. L. Ryan, "A case study on social change-the
changing direction of Irish Seminaries," Social Studies, 2, No.
3, June-July 1973, 252-3.
53. K. Burke, "An analysis of open and closed belief
systems in a religious community," unpublished DiPsych Thesis, Department
of Psychology, University College Dublin. 1970; F. Cole, "A study of factors
related to interpersonal relationships in a religious community," unpublished
MPsycSc Thesis, Department of Psychology, University College Dublin. 1970;
M.B. O'Mahony, "The adolescent: His environment and priestly vocation in
Ireland," unpublished MA Thesis, Department of Psychology, University College
54. T. J. McElligott, This Teaching Life: A Memoir
of Schooldays in Ireland (Mullingar: The Lilliput Press, 1986), 52.
55. Daniel Murphy, Education and the Arts: A
Research Report, 139.
56. See J. Corkery, "The origin, foundation and
development of the Catholic Diocesan Boarding Colleges in Ireland," unpublished
MEd Thesis, University College Cork, 1977, 344.
57. T. Inglis, "Legalism and Irish Catholicism,"
Social Studies, 7, Winter 1982-83, 37.
58. S. MacSweeney, 'Poetic perspectives on education,"
unpublished MEd Thesis, Trinity College Dublin, 1982, 59.
59. L. Finnegan, "Dramatic perspectives on education,"
unpublished MEd Thesis, Trinity College Dublin, 1986, 94.
60. J. Ryan, "Artistic perspectives on education,"
unpublished MEd Thesis, Trinity College Dublin. 1984, 122-3.
61. Ibid., 36.
62. S. MacSweeney, "Poetic perspectives on education,"
63. See, for example, D. M. Lynch, Free Composition
in Irish (Dublin: Gill, 1923); O'Dalaigh agus S. O'Suildhubhain, Blatha
na Gaedhilge (Dublin: The Educational Company of Ireland, 1924); O'Suilleabhain,
Pros agus Filidheacht (Baile Atha Cliath: Thom, 1924); B. Oireachtaigh,
Treoir ar Aistibh Gaedhilge (Baile Atha Cliath: Brun is O'Nuallain,
64. Christian Brothers, Outlines of Geography
(np., The Christian Brothers,1925).
65. This text is analysed in D. Langridge, "The
development of geography teaching in Irish post-primary schools," unpublished
PhD Thesis, University College Cork, 1973, 112.
66. M. Hayden and G. A. Moonan, A Short History
of the Irish People from the Earliest Times to 1900 (Dublin: Talbot
67. S. Gwynn, The Student's History of Ireland
(Dublin: The Talbot Press Ltd., 1925).
68. The Christian Brothers, Directory and Rules
of the Congregation of the Brothers of the Christian Schools of Ireland,
(Dublin: The Christian Brothers, 1927), 294.
69. L. Finnegan, "Dramatic perspectives on education,"
70. Loreto Sisters, Loreto Manual, Compiled for
Use of Pupils Educated by Religious of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin
(Dublin: The Loreto Sisters, 1927), 62.
71. McLaren, "Making Catholics: The ritual production
of conformity in a Catholic junior high school," Journal of Education,
168, No. 2, 1986, 66.
72. M. Binchy, Light a Penny Candle (Sevenoaks,
Kent: Hodder and Stoughton, 1987), 108.
73. Blanshard, The Irish and Catholic Power
(London: Verschoyle, 1954), 12.
74. Quoted in S. O'Buachalla, Education Policy
in Twentieth Century Ireland, (Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1988), 429,
75. E. B. Titley, Church, State and the Control
of Schooling of Ireland, 1900--1944, 157.
76. Pope Pius XI, The Christian Education of
Youth (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1970).
77. State Paper Office. "Final report of the Departmental
Committee, June 27, 1947," Irish State Papers, S 13638.
78. J. Duffy, The Lay Teacher, 3.
79. See the evidence of John McGahern and John Broderick
in J. Andrews, "Education through the writer's eye," unpublished MEd Thesis,
Trinity College Dublin. 1984), 28;164.
80. D. Murphy, Education and the Arts: A Research
81. Ibid., 59.
82. See J. Quinn, A Portrait of the Artist as
a Young Girl (London: Methuen, 1986), 124.
83. Ibid., 67.
84. Ibid., 151.
85. See L. Finnegan, "Dramatic perspectives on education,"
86. See S. MacSweeney, "Poetic perspectives on education,"
87. School-Children's Protection Organisation, Punishment
in Our Schools (Dublin: School-Children's Protection Organisation,
88. F. Von Gagern, Difficulties in Sex Education
(Cork: The Mercier Press, 1953).
89. Dom M. Dillon, The Schoolmaster-Past
and Present (Dublin: Clonmore and Reynolds Ltd., 1949).
90. D. Fennell, The Changing Face of Catholic
Ireland (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1968), 29.
91 See The Furrow, 7, No. 12, December 1956.
The essays have no titles. They were written by Fr. J. MacLoughlin, Principal
of McDevitt Institute, Glenties, Co. Donegal, 729-32; W. Hederman, St.
Patrick's College, Armagh; J. Cunnane, St. Jarleth's College, Tuam.
92. M. Hornsby-Smith, "Social and religious transformations
in Ireland: A case of secularisation?," in J.H. Goldthorpe and C.T. Whelan,
The Development of Industrial Society in Ireland (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1994), 275.
93. Mair, "Explaining the absence of class politics
in Ireland," in J.H. Goldthorpe and C.T. Whelan, The Development of
Industrial Society in Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994),