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athgarvan

HEDGE-SCHOOL TEACHERS

This being National Teacher Week in the US, I am reminded of that courageous, but little-known group, the Irish hedge-school teachers who sacrificed comfort and security for the sake of truth, goodness, and beauty in seventeenth-century Ireland.

From very early days, classical education was highly valued in Ireland. By the seventh or eighth century, Ireland had a fully developed written language with an elaborate grammatical structure.  It had also become known as a bastion for learning in Latin and Greek. Some believe these classical languages were brought to Ireland by learned people, mainly monks, fleeing Gaul in the fifth century when barbarism was sweeping the continent of Europe. But, however Latin and Greek came to Ireland, they remained and were taught here for centuries long after these languages had fallen out of favour throughout the rest of Europe. As with all lands in medieval times, the masses of the Irish people remained mostly uneducated. Yet, a solid classical education was possible. Irish, Latin and Greek were the common languages.
That Ireland’s commitment to classical and religious education was strong is evidenced by the fact that there were so many laws in the Penal Code attempting to quash it.

Acts of parliament (1695) required every incumbent of each parish to keep a school to learn English and provide that a public Latin-free school be constantly maintained within each diocese. “No person of the popish religion shall publicly teach school or instruct youth, or in private houses teach youth”. The native schoolmasters were treated as criminals and shipped off to the West Indies. These laws however, usually had not the desired effect .

Despite all of this, the people of Ireland maintained a quiet rebellion. They were determined to keep classical education and Catholic tradition alive through what was called the “hedge school”. A hedge school was what it sounds like. Lessons were sometimes conducted in secret by Irish teachers out in the country side, often behind hedges or large rocks or in barns. The students would take turns keeping watch for the authorities. Throughout those dark days the hunted schoolmaster, with price upon his head, was hidden from house to house by local people. They were hunted like animals, half-starved and in danger, yet these men devoted their lives to the continuation of classical education in Ireland. They kept their own language, literature and religious tradition alive in the minds and hearts of their pupils, along with the classical languages. The pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty could have cost them everything they had. It is because of these courageous teachers that it was often boasted that “in the mountains of Kerry, cows were bought and sold in Greek”.

Must we bring back hedge school teachers to keep a classical and Catholic education alive today in Ireland? Political correctness has pretty much done away with Catholic education and a sound education in general. Our history is a sad reminder that the faith and truth which our ancestors fought for with their lives we today are throwing it away with little or no resistance.

Best wishes to American teachers as they celebrate “their” week.


 

Comments

Persecution in Ireland and the measures to stamp out the Catholic faith is well known.
The courage and heroism of those who carried the rebellion both in education and politics is a shining beacon.

However, times have changed.
Here in the USA we have public schools that are religion free by law.
There are a variety of religious schools maintained by almost every faith and denomination.
Those who wish their children to learn in a religious environment are free to do so.
But by law no one religion may control public education.

In America the Catholic church set up a network of parochial schools because the dominant Protestantism prevailed in the public schools. When the population became diverse this was no longer the case. Parochial schools have closed. Many of those which remain often have many children who are not Catholic.

Ireland may have a Catholic heritage but it now has a diverse population. Is it fair to those not of the faith to have public education clothed in an atmosphere uncomfortable to them? Perhaps it is time for a separation. Those who want a Catholic atmosphere could form their own schools.

The fate of a classical education has fallen to the need of a scientific one. Math and Science are the new Greek and Latin. Yes, something is lost by that. Hopefully, a few will still persevere and prevail.
Is classical education "practical"? JP Getty hired classicists to run his oil empire because, he said, they sold more oil. We are producing too many technicians who know how to produce the "right answer" in every field of endeavour without however knowing why or even if it is the right answer.
What an awe-inspiring story.
Never heard of this. Thanks for an introduction to hedge schools.