Journal Volume 4 2004
Lead, Kindly Light? Education and the La Touche Family (continued/7)
The National School system
In 1831 a National School system, meant to be non-denominational, was set up by the Board of Commissioners of National Education appointed by the Whig government of the day. For the first time, the State was to provide free education for the poor. There was much opposition at first because religious instruction was to be separate from the secular and to be confined to specific times. To begin with many Church of Ireland clergy opted out of the new plans and maintained a voluntary school system in their parishes as was the case in Delgany.
Delgany: a “new” parish school
The “old” school-house (as it is called today) in Delgany dates from 1839, built on land ceded by Peter David La Touche for a period of 999 years for a yearly rent of one shilling “if asked”. The school-room, still used for parish activities, was then considered large enough to accommodate 156 pupils, presumably possible only because a similar way of placing the children was used as that already described at Whitechurch. But the daily attendance was lower than estimated, averaging only thirty boys and twenty-five girls in the first year. An inspector's report for the same year made it clear that instruction at the new school was “not satisfactory”.
The school was categorised as endowed because Mr La Touche gave a yearly grant towards running costs. So most children were educated free but, if parents could afford to pay a fee, an annual charge of four to five shillings was made. The school was not put into the hands of the National Board until the 1880s.
Greystones: St David's
In 1906, two years after the death of Peter La Touche, the last in the male line at Bellevue, his sisters provided land for a school in Greystones to meet the needs of an increasing number of Catholic people moving to the district. The transaction had its price. The Holy Faith Sisters proposed opening a “Private School for Young Ladies” and “Junior School for Boys and Girls”. The land was sold to them on the condition that the school, St David's, was fee-paying, so as not to “lower the tone of the locality” (Seery).
Brannockstown: a Baptist school
The village of Brannockstown lies beyond one of the entrances to the estate of Harristown in Co Kildare. Harristown was the country home of John La Touche (1734-1805) grandson of the Huguenot and brother of David III, and his descendents. At Harristown's other entrance lies the hamlet of Carnalway, with its old Church of Ireland church and La Touche vault in the adjoining cemetery.
John's grandson, also called John, but known as The Master (1814-1904), was Harristown's owner for sixty years. Father of Rose who was much admired by Ruskin, he himself was much influenced by Spurgeon's writings. The Master was received into the Baptist Church and soon set about trying to convert others to the Baptist way of thinking. He opened a day-school at Brannockstown for his tenants in 1880. Being in favour of the National system of elementary schools, he organised the building of a new school-house with the aid of a State grant, near “his” Baptist church in Brannockstown in 1884. To help cut down costs, he gave permission for the old Portlester Castle opposite Harristown station tobe pulled down for recycling as building materials for the new building. Not everyone agreed with his actions. One man wrote objecting to the destruction of the castle: “In this way many a historic relic of the past has been destroyed by those who should have thought less of their pockets and more of their country's history”. A year later, the school was placed under the National Board. The Master, keenly interested, visited frequently and described the teachers, Mr and Mrs Hilton, as “thoroughly efficient”. The school prospered and quickly acquired a good reputation. Each summer, the annual school fete was held jointly with Carnalway Church School in the grounds of Harristown. The two schools had a fine reputation for their singing: at one stage they could put up a combined choir of 146 children.
Brannockstown School, attended mostly by the children of Harristown's tenants, who had been persuaded to convert to the Baptist faith, functioned for twenty years. Then in 1904, Percy (1846-1921), inherited Harristown on the death of his father. Not interested in the Baptist way of thinking, he refused to appoint a new manager to the school and was instrumental in having the pupils and grants transferred to the private church school at Carnalway, the Trustees not being prepared to “cross him” (Dunlop). The Baptist minister was concerned that the religious needs of the children in his congregation would not be met in the Church of Ireland. The matter was investigated, an inspector reporting the necessity for only one school in the district and Carnalway had the more pupils while the numbers on the Brannockstown register had dwindled. So that school was closed down. It did reopen in 1968, however, this time under Roman Catholic management.