How could fee-paying hedge schools, which had emerged during the Cromwellian era, and spread during penal times, come to dominate Irish education for 130 years? What attraction did they hold for impoverished parents? What prompted hedge schoolmasters to teach during parlous times, and to continue to do so subsequently? Reviled by the Westminster Government and tolerated by the Catholic Church, the establishment of the national education system in 1831 transferred control of Irish education. Parents, however, continued to support the hedge schools, and it was a natural disaster – the Great Famine of the 1840s - that marked the beginning of the end of the hedge schools.
Dr. Antonia McManus is formerly of the School of Education, Trinity College, Dublin, where she taught the History of Education for two decades. She was the first Director of the pioneering primary teacher education programme at Hibernia College, Dublin. She is author of The Irish Hedge School and Its Books, 1695-1831 (Four Courts Press, 2002); Irish Education: The Ministerial Legacy, 1919-1999 (History Press, 2014); and a biography of T.J. O’Connell (1882-1969) Labour Party Leader, Trade Unionist, Senator and INTO Stalwart The best Minister for Education Ireland never had (Umiskin Press, 2022).