School St near Thomas St probably sees more tourists than you’d expect. It’s now a short stretch of nondescript buildings that many visitors to the city wander by on their way to the entrance to the Guinness brewery just beyond. But the street was home to a significant part of our education history. George Newenham Wright, a man Wicklow people know well, tells us in his Historical Guide to Ancient and Modern Dublin (1821) that on March 7th, 1808, a school was opened on this site. The school was funded by Guinness, La Touche and Bewley families, all of whom would soon establish the Kildare Place Society in 1811 (See post: An Education at Kildare Place)
There was substantial demand for the school. A Sunday School had opened in St Catherine’s Parish on Love Lane (Donore Avenue) in 1786, supposedly the first in Ireland. To attend the school, prospective pupils only needed a recommendation from a housekeeper (who these mysterious gate keepers were is unclear) and numbers quickly swelled. While Sunday Schools came with obvious religious overtones, they taught pupils how to read and write. Parents didn’t mind too much what the words were, more that their children were able to read them. If there is one thing most commentators agree on with regards to our early education history, it is that the Irish had a great anxiety for education. Such was the demand that the accommodation being used (the parish house for girls and the court house for boys) was unsuitable, and subscriptions were raised among the parish, and predominantly Quakers in the parish, for a school house. Once matching funding was obtained, it is likely that Guinness et al stepped in and the school house was built. Wright describes the building:
This building, which is of brick, is 156 feet in length and 37 in depth; the two upper floors are occupied by the schools, four in number, two for the boys and two for the girls; the children of each sex are quite distinct and the entrances for each are at different extremities of the building. In the centre of the building and between the male and female schools are the committee room and master’s apartments, the room of the supervisor of all the schools is so circumstanced that he can command a perfect view of all the four schools by standing up and sitting down successively.
The building was thus quite substantial, and as can be seen from the OSi map of the late nineteenth century, the school was about half the length of the street. In 1820 when Wright visited, 840 pupils were on the rolls. Girls usually completed some sewing work which was used as a source of income for the school.
Pupils were educated by the Lancaster system. This involved the master having a large class, which was sub-divided among a series of monitors. These were older children who had proved their merit, and who in turn taught groups of children in the class. The method meant that a large number of children could be educated with payment required just for the master and some allowances for monitors. Monitors usually became masters and mistresses.
At its peak, the school had 1000 pupils on the roll, and employed nine teachers. The masters were paid 2/6 per week, while the mistresses were paid 2/ per week. The school closed in the 1920s (Wilson Power, 1998) and was evidently demolished some time after that.
- Irene Wilson Power (1998) To School in the City, Dublin Historical Record, 51(2), 141-158.
- G.N. Wright (1820) An Historical Guide to Ancient and Modern Dublin.