The story so far - - -
It is generally accepted that the notion of `popular
education' came to Ireland with the advent of the Plantation during the
The two gentlemen who had responsibility for the Plantation
in this part of Co. Down, namely James Hamilton, subsequently Viscount
Claneboye, and Hugh Montgomery, later to be known as Sir Hugh Montgomery,
were themselves students in Glasgow, and as historians relate, were "not
unmindful of the cause of education." Viscount Claneboye, in his will dated
16th December, 1611 stated:
|. . . for such profits as shall be made of my
two parts or parsonage I do appoint the schoolmasters to be maintained as
now I have appointed them ... and five pounds a year to be given to every
one of them, out of the said Parsonage tithes, besides such monies as they
shall have from the scholars for their teaching . . . "
A survey carried
out in 1618-19 by Pynnar, recorded that:
|" ... the people in quite a few
of those districts planted by Scottish undertakers took a lively interest in
education and included a school in their building programme."
not education had a foothold in Drumbo in these early days it is impossible
to say, but there is ample evidence to suggest that the colonization of this
area brought with it popular schools fashioned on the Scottish model. These
would have been private pay schools and would not have received any
encouragement or support from the civil authorities.
In the 1630s, owing
to the influence of the Bishops, the control of the Established Church
became much more rigorous and the co-operation which had existed between it
and Presbyterians all but disappeared. By 1636 all ministers had to declare
openly their conformity to the Established Church and by 1639, on the
imposition of the Black Oath, all ministers were asked to report on the
Presbyterians in their parishes. This was not an encouraging time for
education or its development, as even after the 1641 rebellion and during
the Twelve Years War, the period was described as a time when "all learning
and convenient means for teaching the young had ceased."
mid-1640s an ordinance establishing Presbyterianism was ratified by
Parliament and during this period parish schools began to flourish again.
This development of education lasted until about 1661 when Charles II was
restored to the throne. At the time of Charles II restoration the
Established Church regained its former powerful position in the government
of the country. The Irish Parliament passed the Act of Uniformity in 1665
which indicated that "every schoolmaster keeping any public or private
school and every person instructing or teaching any youth in any house or
private family as a tutor or schoolmaster shall subscribe the declaration or
acknowledgement following." The penalty for non-subscribing was the loss of
|"I A.B. do declare that it is unlawful upon any pretence
whatsoever to take arms against the King
. . . and that I will conform to
the liturgy of the Church of Ireland as it is now by law established."
above is followed by another section of the Act which required every
schoolmaster or tutor to take the oath of allegiance, and supremacy, before
permission to teach would be given by the Bishop.
It is a matter of
historical fact that at this time, Presbyterian ministers supplemented their
income by starting, or continuing, a school in their parish. The
Presbyterian minister, in Drumbo, at the time, was Henry Livingstone who was
an avowed critic of the Established Church. He had been evicted from his
church in Drumbo in 1661 for not submitting to ordination by a Bishop. There
is no evidence which suggests that there was a school in Drumbo as early as
this but, looking at the evidence from other areas it is more than likely
that there was. If this were the case, the school would have been lost
because Livingstone. or any Presbyterian teacher, would certainly not have
subscribed to the Act.
Presbyterians have always clung to the necessity of
maintaining an educated ministry and because of the persecution they were
experiencing at this time classical schools or academies, sprang up
throughout the country. The first of these schools was founded by the Rev.
Thomas Gowan in 1670 in Antrim. Mr. Gowan was the father of the Rev. Thomas
Gowan (Jnr.) who was minister in Drumbo Presbyterian Church from 1706 to
Two reasons can be given for suggesting that there could have been a
school in Drumbo at this time. Firstly, Gowan would have had first hand
knowledge of the benefits of education, seeing his father at work in the
school at Antrim. Secondly, the ministerial profession in the 18th Century
was more respectable than lucrative and payment of stipend often fell in
arrears. It was little wonder that ministers had to supplement their living
by farming or teaching. Most of the schools they operated were conducted in
the Session room or in the minister's own house. These little schools, or
academies as they were sometimes called, were necessarily fleeting, but
valuable work was done in them.
Probably the earliest reference to
education and to there being a `school' in Drumbo was made in 1785. The Rev.
James Malcom who was minister in Drumbo Presbyterian Church had a son by the
name of Andrew, and among the Malcom MSS there is a reference to Andrew
Malcom and to the fact that "he was educated privately in the neighbourhood
of Drumbo and Lisburn." Whether or not his father was the teacher is not
It is more than likely that any education that had been
available up to this time in Drumbo was conducted in the Session House
connected with the Presbyterian Church in the village. Certainly the
following advertisement for a teacher for Drumbo school, in July 1796, would
advertisement for a teacher in Drumbo in 1796.
||Second Report of the
Commissioners of Irish Education Inquiry 1824
The 18th Century,
witnessed rigorous enforcement of the laws against education and rendered
teaching a dangerous calling. This would appear to be the reason why popular
education, through Hedge Schools, became prominent. The Hedge School owes
its origin to the laws against education and its name to the practice of
keeping school under the sunny side of a hedge. These were pay schools and,
in many cases, through their great love of learning, parents were prepared
to pay for the education of their children more than their limited
circumstances would permit.
Because the law forbade schoolteachers to
teach they were compelled to give instruction secretly. The law also
penalised householders who allowed teachers to use their premises, so the
teacher was forced into a remote spot out of doors, weather permitting.
Therefore, the sunny side of a hedge or bank, which hid the school from the
eye of a passer-by, would have been chosen. Sometimes a pupil was put on the
look out for the approach of a stranger or of a person who might be judged
to be an informer. If such a person appeared, the school dispersed for the
day; but it would always meet in some place else the following day. In this
way the Hedge School became the recognised channel for surreptitious
education in country districts where:
|" . . . crouching `neath the
sheltering hedge, or stretched on mountain fern, the teacher and his pupils
met, feloniously to learn."
During the winter months the schoolteacher
moved from place to place living upon the hospitality of people, earning
some money by turning his hand to farm work or, if he dared, by teaching the
children of his host.
Later, when the laws against education were somewhat
less strictly enforced, school was held in a cabin, a barn, the home of the
schoolteacher, or any building that might be given or lent for the purpose,
but the name "Hedge School" still remained until well into the 19th Century.
The first official reference to a Hedge School in Drumbo can be found in the
Second Report of the Commissioners of Irish Education Inquiry. This census
of schools was taken in 1824 and reported on in 1826-27, and gives the
following information about the school in Drumbo.
We know, from church records, that the Session House was not very spacious.
It would only have been designed for about twenty men in which to hold
meetings. To have forty or more children in it all day would have been very
cramped, although, attendance was not compulsory and was very irregular.
Even though the census return gives an average attendance of forty children
it can be assumed that there could have been up to twice this number on the
register. However mean the school building, and however great the bodily
discomfort of both teacher and pupils, the atmosphere in the Hedge Schools
was very much work related. The people wanted education for their children
and they ensured that they got it.
|Sketch of the session
House in which the first school was held.
The willingness of the people to make sacrifices for the education of
their children, and their co-operation with the schoolteacher were
undoubtedly factors which helped the Hedge Schools to flourish. The
schoolteacher had to take what he could get; any shelter was better than
none, and what was obtained was usually given freely.
are no records to inform us where James McKee, the teacher at the time, came
from, but the surname McKee is a name with a long history in this area.
Whether he came from the area, or to the area, is unclear. The position of
the hedge schoolteacher was very tenuous and he was liable, at any time, to
be deposed by a younger and and more able teacher. When a pupil had learned
all that his local teacher had to give, he issued a challenge to the teacher
to meet him in a contest of knowledge before competent judges. If defeated,
the pupil would remain under his old teacher, but if victorious, he would go
on to another school where he would continue his studies. Again a contest
would take place with his new teacher; and once again, if victorious he
would move on to another school. In this way the pupil increased his stock
of general information, acquired real knowledge, and became more subtle in
the art of argument and debate. After a year or two the pupil would return
home to his old school and again challenge his first teacher. If victorious,
the pupil would then take over the school and the teacher was compelled to
move on to another district. This may well have been how James McKee arrived
in Drumbo! From all accounts McKee must have been held in fairly high esteem
by the people, because records show that he was also the teacher in the
school at Carr at the same time. Whether McKee had assistants to help him
run the two schools or whether they were only open on certain days of the
week cannot be said with any degree of accuracy. His social standing among
the people whose children he taught would have been remarkably high. The
people would have regarded him as one of themselves, but different in the
respect that he was a man of some learning. They regarded him as a friend
whose counsel was sought in difficult circumstances and whose decisions in
important matters carried weight. No function of consequence, wedding,
baptism or harvest home took place at which he was not a prominent figure.
Although his social prestige was immense, his income from all sources was
small. At this time, James McKee had an annual income of 20 pounds from the
children in Drumbo. He would have been charging parents about 2 shillings
per quarter for reading lessons, Is. 8d per quarter for spelling and between
4 shillings and 7 shillings for arithmetic for the same period. In the
majority of Hedge Schools at that time reading, writing and arithmetic were
the only subjects taught and, for the children who attended them that was
about all they needed.
Very little is known of the system of teaching in
the Hedge Schools, although, a member of the Commissioners of the Board of
Education in 1825 complained of the "mechanical and laborious methods by
which the memory is exercised" adding that "the understanding and moral
powers of children" seem to have no claim upon the teacher's attention.
However, the kind of text-book used in the schools is a fairly good
indication of the teaching methods employed. In some text-books which have
survived there are examples of lessons in `The Elements of Spelling' which
cite "the most common and general sounds of the letters, which children
should be habituated to, before they enter into the various changes of sound
which the same letters should have." The books also advance the theory that
"spelling came before reading. It is a fine thing to know how to read; but
we must know how to spell first! We cannot read until we can spell." After
the children had recited long lists of words and which they were expected to
master came the hope "now that I have learned to spell better; I hope I
shall be able and may read better now." Much of the work done was by oral
repetition, or rehearsing, and reading was done by what might be termed the
individual method for each child. This meant each child reading to the
teacher from whatever book was available; there was no such thing as an
individual reading book. Some of the books read were simple stories, fairy
tales and some were full blooded biographies of highwaymen and others that
were not at all suitable for children or young people to read. Children
brought from home whatever book they could find or was given them; and any
alleged harm these books did to the children was more than compensated by
their success in learning to read.
The teaching of arithmetic appears to have been more structured and
systematic. Text-books of the time indicate - rules being clearly given,
followed by two sets of examples; the first of which consisted of carefully
graduated problems while the second contained more difficult questions. The
books also showed correlation of arithmetic with other subjects such as
Chronology, History and Mechanics. The author of the book had much faith in
its application as he concluded: "I rely upon the event of any trials that
may be made upon boys of the higher and lower classes in Ireland, in which I
am certain it will be found that not only the common, but the higher parts
of arithmetic are better understood and more expertly practised by boys
without shoes and stockings, than by young gentlemen riding home on
horseback, or in coaches, to enjoy their Christmas idleness."
was thought to be severe in the Hedge Schools. "The obligation to silence,
though it may give the master more ease, imposes a new moral duty upon the
child." James Nash who was an old hedge schoolmaster told his friend Thomas
Meagher: "My school is below there, and I flog the boys every morning all
round to teach them to be Spartans." The extent of the punishment which Nash
administered is not known, but, like most other schoolmasters of his day, he
would evidently take no excuses for the neglect of study.
The working of
the Hedge Schools at that time is described in records kept by a teacher of
his day's work: "Our school begins precisely at ten o'clock in the morning
for we cannot begin earlier, as many of the children come from a distance.
Every child must be in his seat by that time. I then open the school by
reading a Psalm or Hymn. After that, they all repeat a task to me, of
grammar or spelling, and then a lesson in classes, for I have them all
classed together according to their several abilities. About twenty of the
children write on paper with quills, twenty on slate and twenty on sand.
After writing they all have a lesson, and a task of scripture verses which
they commit to memory. The labour of the day is concluded by reading a Psalm
and making a few remarks of a religious nature, suitable to the subject, and
adapted to their capabilities, to which they listen with great attention."
This fairly unstructured form of education continued in Drumbo up until
1840; despite the introduction of a National Education Board throughout
Ireland in 1831 and the building of a new schoolhouse, in 1836 in Drumbo, at
a cost of 97 pounds paid by local subscription.
The Ordnance Survey
Memoirs record the attendance of 63 pupils in Drumbo in 1836; 40 of whom
were male and 23 female; and all Protestant. 23 of the pupils were under ten
years of age, 1 was over fifteen and 1 over forty. The "master" was a
It may be that this new school was a replacement of a
previous one. Evidence for this comes from an Ordnance Survey Map of 1834,
which clearly shows a National School in Drumbo on the site of the proposed
school to be built in 1836.
The National Education Board, set up in 1831,
was an attempt to co-ordinate the education of young people and one "which
requires that all teachers henceforth to be employed be provided from some
model school, with a certificate of their competency, will aid us in a work
of great difficulty, to wit, that of suppressing Hedge Schools and placing
youth under the direction of competent teachers, and of those only." The
salaries of the teachers were to be paid by the Board who were also to be
responsible for the compiling and publication of school books. Grants were
also to be given for the building of school houses, and combined
denominational applications were to receive preference. There was to be no
reading of the Scriptures during the time set apart for secular instruction,
and the clergy were encouraged to instruct the children of their
denominations at suitable times.
Sketch of the National Schoolhouse in Drumbo which was built in 1836.
The National Education Board was strongly opposed by members of the
Established Church who regarded proselytism as a duty. They objected to "the
exclusion of the Scriptures and the admission of a priest" into the schools
to give religious instruction; and they accused the Board of "establishing
Popery and promoting infidelity."
Presbyterian opposition was even
greater. They held that the whole Bible, and not just extracts from it,
should be the basis of National education; they objected to the Board's
control over schools and teachers, and their restrictions as to school
books; and they highly disapproved of allowing separate religious
instruction to be given to Catholics. They even resorted to violence to
close National Schools and they sought to make the education problem a
political issue. As soon as the new system was announced by Lord Stanley,
meetings were held in almost every town and village in Ulster. The people
were led to believe that the Government were about to send round the police
to take possession of their Bibles. Soon after these meetings gun clubs were
established for the purpose of "furnishing the peasantry with the guns to
defend their Bibles." The opposition in the North was particularly vigorous.
Ministers who connected their schools with the Board were persecuted by
their congregations and were nicknamed `New Board Ministers'. Schools were
damaged both inside and outside. Crosses and `Ps' were painted on doors and
windows and many ministers were exposed to violence.
As a consequence,
many schools, including Drumbo, were withdrawn from the Board and the
Presbyterians proposed setting up a system of Scriptural and Presbyterian
education for themselves.
The continued opposition to the National
Education Board on the part of Anglicans and Presbyterians soon obtained for
them a number of concessions, among which were that no clergyman of another
denomination could enter their schools and, that no child should be excluded
from religious instruction should that child wish to attend. In 1840, the
Presbyterians withdrew all opposition to the National Education Board
because by this time all their demands were conceded; they were then to
become the most ardent supporters of the Board. So on 9th April, 1840 the
following application was made by the Rev. Adam Montgomery, Patron of Drumbo
School, for readmission to the National Board of Education.
|"The name of this school is Drumbo. It is situated in the townland of
Drumbo and is adjoining a place of worship. Post town Belfast. Distance five
miles and a half to the North. It was founded in eighteen hundred and thirty
six (6) and build by private subscription. The house is twenty seven feet by
seventeen in the clear, and nine feet high on the side wall; it is built of
stone and lime, roofed with slates and well fitted up with desks. It is all
in one room and wholly employed for the use of the children. It is held by
lease, rent free - I may mention that our lease is in preparation only as
the ground was held by a subtenant and he had arrangements to make. The
school is under the management of a committee - chosen by the parents of the
children. Patron the Rev. A. Montgomery.
The times for reading the
Scriptures and catechetical instruction are so arranged as not to interfere
with or impede the scientific business of the school and, no child whose
parents or guardians object is required to be present or take part in these
exercises; and no obstruction shall be offered to the children of such
parents receiving such instruction elsewhere as they may think proper.
The school opens at ten and continues till three - summer and winter. In
both summer and winter it is held during six days of the week. The school is
open on all days of the week to the public of all denominations, who have
liberty to inspect the registry, witness the mode of teaching and see that
the regulations of the school are faithfully observed - that no persons
except members of committee and officers of the Board are permitted ex
officio to interfere in the business or management of the school.
books used are provided by the children and of the usual character employed
in teaching; and the Scriptures and Westminster Catechisms are used also.
The number of children in attendance is forty one - of which twenty-three
are males and eighteen females. There is a register kept in the school and a
report book will be kept. The children pay for reading 3d per week; for
writing and accounts at the rate of three and nine pence per quarter, and
for English grammar and geography at the same rate. A number of poor
children (8) are also in attendance and taught gratuitously and others at
The aid requested is in addition to a grant of books the sum of
�8-0-0 per annum to pay for the education of the children of poor parents,
many of whom are unable to send their children to school; and whatever
gratuity the inspector of the Board may report the teacher so deserves."
Signed on behalf of the school.