Journal Volume 4 2004

Lead, Kindly Light? Education and the La Touche Family  (continued/6)

The Sunday School Movement (ii)

In 1822, The Sunday School Society had claimed to have 1,395 schools attended by nearly 145,000 people. Almost all of them were children and among them many Catholics in spite of “fierce opposition from their clergy”. But the Emancipation of Catholics in 1829, and the introduction of a National state-supported system of non-denominational education two years later, increased their independence and served to deprive the “education provided by the bible schools of whatever appeal it may have had for Catholic families” (Coolahan). The Sunday Schools had offered free education and food at a time when there were 4,000 - 8,000 fee-paying hedge schools, including the one near Marlay.

Marlay near Rathfarnham

Marlay House ( Marlay branch of the La Touche family was involved with education in their own parish in the 1820s. The Rt Hon David III, the first Governor of the Bank of Ireland, had bought Taylor's Grange in the parish of Whitechurch in the 1760s. He renamed it Marlay, after his wife Elizabeth Marlay, daughter of the Bishop of Down and Dromore, and carried out extensive renovations to the house, making it his country home. Marlay was mentioned in Archer's Statistical Survey of Co Dublin in 1801, which remarked on the quality of the ploughing there and reported its owner to be “ranked among the foremost of the potatoe (sic) cultivators”. David III and his sons, partners in the private La Touche Bank, acted as Treasurers of many charitable organisations including schools in Dublin, as mentioned already.

The “Whitechurch Schools”

David III's son, John David La Touche (1772-1838) inherited Marlay on the death of his father in 1817. In September 1823 John David chaired a management committee meeting for the new local school in their parish. The new building had been made necessary by the influx of people to the parish, probably brought about by the opening of several paper and cloth mills in the area along the Owendoher river. £100 of the building costs had been met by the Kildare Place Society (see above) and a further £125 granted via the Lord Lieutenant, the Rt Hon Henry Goulbouren, on condition that the total cost would be not less than £250 and that the La Touches gave the necessary land for the project. They did. John David provided a corner on the edge of the Marley estate, sited conveniently near the church.

It was resolved that the building would be called The Whitechurch Free School and that lessons would be held from Monday to Friday each week, from ten o'clock until half-past three. The school was to be for the “general instruction of children of all religious persuasions” and the New Testament was to be read, without comment, by all those who had a sufficient proficiency in reading. On Saturday mornings the school would be open for religious instruction by local Protestants. In addition to the 3 Rs, for which instruction the fee would be 1d a week, the committee recommended that parents should be offered “higher branches” including history, geography, geometry, navi-gation and mensuration. It was suggested that fees for pupils taking these subjects should be in the range of 2d - 6d weekly.

John David acted as Treasurer to the building project for the new school which opened in the autumn of 1823. The earliest ledgers noted:

21st October 1823

John Digges La Touche Esqr applies for Requisites - Granted £2 10s 3d

4th August 1824

John Digges La Touche Esqr sends Cert of Expenditure for building the School house, amount £430 - there are from 80 to 90 Scholars in attendance

£430 was more than four times the recommended average cost of a parish school at that time! But then, the exterior of this school-house (now put to other use by the parish) has a look of elegance about it that is clearly above average. Facing the road was the teacher's residence, on either side of which were gracefully-curving walls. There was a door set into each, being the boys' and girls' entrances respectively. The large schoolroom was at the back. The boys sat in one half of the long room, the girls in the other, facing in the opposite direction (hence the words “Whitechurch Schools” on the wall above the teacher's residence). At each end there was a reading “shelf” on the wall, around which pupils would gather in a semi-circle for lessons, “toeing the line” painted on the floor. One of the shelves has survived intact on the wall.

The school-house's very attractive facade was designed by John Semple. He was the architect of the Round Room (created for George IV's visit in 1821) in the Mansion House, Dublin, and of many churches including the one at Whitechurch, also built in the 1820s. Again John David granted the required land. It was part of a worked-out quarry, amounting to “1 rood and 26 perches” from that part of the Marlay estate which bordered Whitechurch Road. But research by a local historian, Ernie Shepherd, found that a William Caldbeck had paid the price of it! In return, Caldbeck was given the free use of a pew in the new church. Whatever the reason for John David not donating the land free, he was one of the two churchwardens when the new church opened. The building was in use as a school, on and off, until the late 1980s. Then new housing estates resulted in increasing numbers of children to be educated and a new school was built in the parish to meet their needs.


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