Journal Volume 4 2004

Lead, Kindly Light? Education and the La Touche Family

By Judith Flannery

The word education derives from the Latin dux, a leader, the verb educare meaning to lead on, to lead out, to lead forward. In context of the La Touche family it is worth contemplating the original meaning as well as the more modern interpretation of training or development.

Lead; kindly Light? No, it is not the text for a sermon, although these words do make up part of the first line of a well-known hymn:


Lead; kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead thou me on.


The hymn was written by John Henry Newman (1801-1890, a Cardinal from 1879), the first rector of the Catholic University of Ireland. And the building chosen to house the new university, which opened with twenty students in 1854, was 85 St Stephen's Green. I mention this because, in the 1820s, 85 St Stephen's Green had been the elegant town house of George La Touche. George was the unmarried son of the first Governor of the Bank of Ireland, the Rt Hon David La Touche and it is, of course, the La Touche family which is the focus of this paper. Or, to be more precise, the La Touche family in relation to education.


The first La Touche to arrive in Ireland, David Digges de la Rompieres La Touche, was a leader in the military David  La Touche I ( a lieutenant in General Caillomotte's division fighting for William of Orange and Protestantism in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 against the Catholic James II. It is worth noting that the La Touche actions over the years were coloured, in part at least, by the family's Huguenot background and experiences in France before David ever set foot outside that country. Another factor was the situation first encountered by him in Ireland and subsequent developments in the course of the following 200 years or so (by which time the fortunes of the La Touche family had waxed and virtually waned). Religion and politics, the two inextricably linked, have had a direct bearing on the development of education in Ireland.

The first David had lived in France until the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, a ruling which ended nearly a hundred years of relative freedom for and tolerance of Protestants in that country. Thousands fled. Faced with a choice of having to change their religion if they wanted to hold on to their land, or suffer certain persecution, they preferred exile. In Ireland it was the Catholics who suffered.

Cromwell's plantation and transplantation more than forty or so years before the Battle of the Boyne had effectively driven most of the Catholic Irish owners off the most productive land. As Maire and Conor Cruise O'Brien once commented:

The most important effect of the transplantation was not a movement of population, but a great change in the ownership of land, and in the distribution of political power. What had been established over most of the island was in fact a landed ruling class, mainly of English and Scottish origin, professing some form of Protestantism and dominating a native Roman Catholic and still Gaelic-speaking peasantry. This was the Protestant Ascendancy which lasted, in its essentials, into the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Only land-owning Protestants were allowed to sit in Parliament. Penal Laws prevented Catholics from owning land, from holding office, from keeping a school, from attending school or university, from sending children abroad to be educated, even from speaking their own language. What the Penal Code did was “to perfect and maintain a system of class domination”. Might the refugee David La Touche have concurred that Protestants in Ireland were going about things in the right way because of his experience of the way Huguenots had been treated at the hands of Catholics in France? It is possible, but there is no evidence of this even though it is known that many first-generation Huguenots in this country in the late 17th and early 18th centuries were very bitter and anti-Catholic as a result of their own experiences.

In 1703 David was granted citizenship. He went into the silk weaving business in Dublin and in 1716 into partnership with Nathaniel Kane, with whom he opened one of the earliest and certainly the most successful and respected of private banks in Ireland. At its height most of the Irish nobility, gentry and statesmen banked there, among them several earls including those of Antrim, Cork, Leitrim, Meath and Wicklow. David was certainly a leader in banking and an elder of the French Church group in Dublin, many of whom used to meet in what is now the Lady Chapel of St Patrick's Cathedral. David I died in 1745, providing for his sons by leaving his interest in the bank to his elder son David (II) who was already a partner, and the silk weaving business to James who kept the family name of Digges. Where Digges is seen as part of the family name in later years it usually refers to James' descendents.

David II (1703-1785) and his brother James, whose mother was of Dutch extraction, were educated in Holland, their father having been free to make a choice regarding their schooling. But it was a very different story for the majority in Ireland.


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