The Tudor policy of bringing Ireland under effective English rule and Anglicising the community had produced an educational blueprint that still lay, largely unimplemented, on the statute book. This policy was outlined in the 1538 statute of Henry VIII and the 1570 statute of Elizabeth I. These decreed, respectively, the erection of a school in every parish and every diocese to be controlled and supported by the Established Church of Ireland. The Henrician parochial system remained largely inoperative, although attempts were made to implement it in 1725 and again in 1755, and the diocesan scheme of Elizabeth was scarcely more successful. There was, however, one great legacy: the foundation of Dublin University. It charter is dated 3 March 1592 and it was expected to develop on a collegiate system with Trinity College the first of a number of colleges, like Cambridge University. It was the first of the English overseas universities, predating all the great North American foundations.
Concern over education continued throughout the eighteenth century, towards the end of which it was being regarded as a possible antidote to terrorism.64 In 1787 the Irish parliament, at the instigation of Chief Secretary Orde, was once more considering a far–reaching plan which included revitalising both the parish and the diocesan system. Orde's plan was aimed not only at implementing the 1538 Act by actually establishing a school in every parish, but also at increasing the number of vocational and secondary schools. Finance was, as in earlier schemes, to be provided by the Established Church. The clergy and landlords holding impropriated, or alienated, tithes were to contribute on a sliding scale according to their incomes. When the religious question was raised Orde declared that all were to receive education regardless of their denomination, but that only those of the Established Church were to be maintained at public expense.65 Shortly afterwards the viceroy died, Orde returned to England and, although the resolutions outlining the plan had been given parliamentary approval, the scheme remained unimplemented as political tension rose in the late 1780s and circumstances altered radically in the 1790s.
While the comprehensive schemes of the Tudors made little real impact on Irish education, the more restricted schemes of the Stuarts were more successful. Within a limited sphere the royal schools founded by James I, Charles I and Charles II provided secondary education for the Protestant gentry. Seven schools, mainly to serve the new Plantation of Ulster, were endowed by Orders in Council of 1608, 1612 and 1614. Disrupted by the Interregnum, at the Restoration they were confirmed by act of parliament in 1662. Under the terms of this statute the schools that had been at Mountjoy, Mountnorris and Donegal Town were removed to Dungannon, Armagh and Raphoe respectively, while the other four remained at Enniskillen, Cavan, Banagher and Carysfort.66 Secondary education, as a training for a future public career or the basis for further academic studies, could be acquired through the best of the government–endowed royal schools, private foundations, private academies, and in some towns there were hedge–type secondary schools. Under the terms of their charter the royal schools were to provide education free for a large percentage of their pupils. In fact this injunction had a very limited application. In 1788 only 38 of the 211 boys attending the royal schools were free scholars, and although in 1808 the total number of pupils had risen to 360, the Commissioners noted that 'of these very few are instructed gratis, there being a general reluctance to accept of such a favour'.67
Many of the major schools were entirely or partly boarding schools, and often at least some of the pupils boarded with the master, who was therefore continually on duty. 68 The eighteenth–century schoolmaster often had a difficult task imposing discipline on his pupils, for the behaviour of the schoolboys reflected the violence and the privilege of the age. Quite serious and destructive riots were not unknown in even the best schools; there were notorious examples of rioting in Eton College, Armagh Royal School and Belfast Academy. It was not unknown for students to have and use firearms on these occasions: for instance, Mrs Bruce, the wife of the Rev. Dr William Bruce of the Belfast Academy, had a pistol pointed at her and fired behind her back.69
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Commissioners of the Board of Education estimated that their total endowments amounted to £5,800 p.a. and there were about 360 pupils being instructed in these schools.70 During the eighteenth century the quality of education offered in the royal schools varied considerably from the excellent public school education available at Armagh to the poor primary instruction given at Carysfort. The two most successful royal schools were Armagh and Enniskillen, better known as Portora.
The Royal School Armagh was probably the equal of any school in the British Isles: 'No school in this country,' wrote the Commissioners in 1809, 'maintains a higher reputation than that of Armagh.' Many of the sons of prominent northern families, including Robert Stewart,later Viscount Castlereagh (2009 ), were educated there. In his first letter home, Stewart's ambition and determination were already evident: 'I am highest in my class – no boy shall get above me. I am resolved to study very close when at my books and to play briskly when disengaged.'71 In January 1804 the school had 116 pupils, 87 boarders and 29 day boys.
The richest of the royal schools was probably Enniskillen. De Latocnaye, who visited it during his famous walk, declared that: 'the place of the schoolmaster at Enniskillen had become a sort of bishopric; it brings in about two thousand pounds sterling per annum ... the person who occupies the situation at present, Dr Stock ... is a very highly educated man.'72 As the schools were endowed with lands, it is difficult to estimate their incomes precisely, as much depended on the way the lands were let. Certainly the headmaster enjoyed a very considerable income, as the Commissioners concluded a decade later that 'the endowment of this school is unquestionably much too large to be enjoyed by the Master alone.'
At the other end of the scale the royal schools at Banagher and Carysfort appear never to have had a school house, let alone a residence for the master. In 1807 the Commissioners reported that it did not 'appear that any school has been kept at Banagher for several years'. Carysfort had an absentee schoolmaster, Sir Thomas Foster, who 'has two church livings, one in the diocese of Armagh and the other in the diocese of Dublin, contiguous to the school lands of Carysfort, but does not attend the duties of the school in person nor reside in Carysfort' – a situation that the Commissioners strongly deplored. The school, which had about 50 boys in summer and 'not above a dozen in winter', met in an old schoolroom and obviously offered a very basic education.73
The 1809 Commissioners listed 14 schools as 'classical schools of private foundation' and, although the quality of education varied from school to school, these can be equated with public or grammar schools.74 All were financed by a mixture of private endowment and fee payment. Most of these private foundations were small; for instance, the Viscount Limerick Grammar School at Dundalk had only 16 pupils in 1788 and 36 in 1809. There were two boarders in 1788 and 14 in 1809. Sons of aldermen paid reduced fees, and in 1809 14 day pupils in this category paid only two guineas a year: normally boarders paid 24 guineas, with five guineas entrance fees. The Earl of Cork had established schools on his estates at Lismore and Bandon as early as 1610.
Some of these schools had degenerated into sinecures. For instance, the schools at Navan and Ballyroan, founded by the Dublin alderman Joseph Preston in 1667, had by the end of the eighteenth century become simply an additional source of income for his descendants. In 1807 the Commissioners noted that the Rev. Joseph Preston 'has never discharged the duty of the school himself any more than his predecessor'.75
The most famous of these private foundations was Kilkenny College, known as the 'Eton of Ireland'.76 It was founded or refounded by the Duke of Ormonde in 1682 and at the end of the seventeenth century its pupils included Swift, Berkeley and Congreve. In 1712 it was attended by the three sons of the Earl of Abercorn, and in 1745 by the two sons of the Earl of Tyrone: George (0113 ), later 1st Marquess of Waterford, and John (0115 ), the future First Commissioner of the Revenue. Throughout the eighteenth century it was indisputably the foremost school in Ireland and many prominent Anglo–Irish aristocratic families sent their children there for at least part of their education. During the 1770s the school was rebuilt with the assistance of parliamentary grants amounting to £5,064. In the middle of the century its headmaster, Dr Pack, enjoyed a formidable reputation.77
For those who did not aspire to Armagh Royal School or Kilkenny College there were a number of smaller schools where pupils were prepared for the university. For example, there was a school at Drogheda where Lord Chief Justice Singleton (1924 ), the son of a Drogheda alderman, was educated in the 1690s. John Foster and R. L. Edgeworth (0688 ) were educated at Drogheda under the guidance of Dr Norris, who appears to have been a firm but humane schoolmaster.78 Grattan (0895 ) and Fitzgibbon (0749 ) attended Mr Ball's school in Great Ship Street, and their conflicting views may have dated from their school days as Grattan, much to his father's displeasure, was a supporter of the radical Lucas (1276 ). Grattan later attended Mr Young's academy in Abbey Street, which he may have found more congenial as it was the school of the Malone family (1336 ) and Hussey–Burgh (1059 ).79
Women of rank were usually taught at home. Carr comments that 'the ladies of Ireland are generally elegant and frequently highly educated.'80 He remarked on their linguistic accomplishments, particularly in French and Italian, adding that many displayed a genuine critical knowledge of literature. Middle–class protestant women were often sent to various schools for specific instruction. For instance, 'girls were sent for a time to a sewing and again to a knitting school.' Mary Ann McCracken, Henry Joy McCracken's sister, also went to a school for English, another for writing and, as there was no French teacher in Belfast, she learnt French from an old weaver.81 Mary Ann was an able and energetic woman who during her maturity busied herself with innumerable good works on behalf of the citizens of Belfast.82 Throughout the century there were convent schools for girls, particularly in the major towns;83 Catholic girls were taught in many of these supposedly non–existent convents.