Penal Times: Charter Schools

From: ‘The Penal Laws, 1691-1760, by Maureen Wall. Irish History Series, No. 1 published by the Dublin Historical Association, c/o Department of History, University College, Dublin.

The Charter Schools –
But since all of them paid lip service to the policy of promoting the Protestant interest, they did agree to provide financial assistance for one such scheme. Primate Boulter, an Englishman, and virtual governor of Ireland for a considerable period, showed more enthusiasm than the members of the Irish parliament for the spread of Protestantism. In 1731, finding as he said, that “instead of converting those that are adults, we are daily losing many of our meaner people, who go off to popery,” he founded a society for establishing a system of primary schools for “instructing and converting the younger generation,” throughout Ireland, and applied for a royal charter, which was granted in 1733. The objects of the scheme, according to the charter, were “that the children of the popish and other poor natives … may be instructed in the English tongue and in the principles of true religion and loyalty in all succeeding generations.” The scheme was at first financed by a royal bounty of £1000 a year and by benefactions of land and money from interested persons in Ireland and England, but in 1745 the Irish parliament agreed to vote it, as an additional income, the proceeds of a tax on hawkers and pedlars. From 1757 on the parliamentary grants were considerably increased. Finding that the conversion through day schools of Catholic children living with their parents was impossible, it was decided that they should be removed to schools remote from their homes and afterwards apprenticed to Protestants. On marriage to a Protestant they were to receive a gift of £5. Apart from promoting Protestantism, the schools had a second aim which was the training of the children “in labour and industry in order to cure that habitual laziness and idleness which is too common among the poor of this country.” Special attention was to be paid to training them in the linen manufacture and in agriculture with a view to promoting the prosperity of the country in general. The children admitted were to be between the ages of six and ten years, but since there was no law for removing children forcibly from their homes, and since few Catholic parents could be induced to send their children to the schools, nurseries were set up which took in infants between the ages of two and six -many of them orphans and foundlings- and these nurseries served as feeders for the charter schools. There were nurseries in York Street in Dublin and in Monasterevan in Kildare to supply children to the Leinster schools; one in Shannon Grove in Limerick for Munster, and one in Monivea in Galway for Connacht. Because of lack of supervision and the neglect and peculation of those placed in charge of the schools, the children were ill-treated, dirty, overworked, badly fed and clothed, and the mortality rate was exceedingly high. Although up to fifty of these schools were established throughout the country their success in carrying out their aim can be gauged from the report of the royal commission on Irish education in 1825, which states that in the ninety years during which the scheme had been in operation, 12,745 was the total number of charter school children apprenticed, and 1,555 had received the marriage portion of £5 given to those who married Protestants. By no means all of these had been the children of Catholic parents, for the supply of Catholic children not being enough, children of Protestants had been freely admitted to the schools. However, the charter schools salved the consciences of those who regarded the conversion of Irish Catholics to Protestantism as a desirable objective, and session after session the Lord Lieutenant’s speech from the throne called on parliament to pay due attention to these schools. Nevertheless, Prirnate Boulter’ scheme can hardly be deemed to have been an unqualified success.