Historical background to education in Ireland
In the early years of the nineteenth century, there were numerous schools in Ireland but many were in poor condition and were badly conducted. The Province of Ulster, for example, had 3,449 schools in 1821 -- Counties Antrim and Down had over 1,000 schools between them -- but they were fragmented in structure with numerous types of schools, including 'charter' schools, schools of the London Hibernian Society -- to which Roman Catholics did not want to send their children because they were all of a proselytising character -- and 'pay' or 'hedge' schools.
It was against this background of haphazard educational provision that the Irish system of National Education was founded in 1831 under the direction of the Chief Secretary, E.G. Stanley. Some 2,500 national schools were established in Ulster in the period 1832-1870, built with the aid of the Commissioners of National Education and local trustees. The records that have survived for schools in Counties Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone are held in PRONI.
A Guide to Sources available within PRONI both genealogists and local history researchers will find these records very useful. In many ways, the information contained in the registers for this period can compensate for the lack of census records for Ireland in the 19th Century. There is an alphabetical list of all the schools for which PRONI holds records available in the Guide to Educational Records, available on the shelves of the Public Search Room. The National Schools records that have survived for Counties Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone are held in PRONI in two main series.
The most extensive of these records are the Grant Aid Applications (ED 1) which record basic details such as the date of establishment (including a note of the date of establishment if the school was in operation before it became a national school), name of the teacher, size and condition of the school house, the number of enrolled pupils and the daily average attendance. They were made on printed questionnaires, but are often accompanied by inspectors reports and correspondence. Applications for further funds for extra teachers, equipment, etc, are also included. Inspectors' ReportsThe inspectors reports can be particularly revealing to the local historian as they can include details of the standard of education in a particular area; the attitude of the local landlord and of local people to the state control of education; and the rivalry between neighbouring townlands. The attitude of the local clergy towards the national school system is also of interest.
Due to the fact that the newly established primary school system was to be non-denominational, all of the main churches were united in their dislike of the separation of the religious from the academic. On occasion this clerical opposition resulted in the establishment of rival schools in the area. Reference ED.1. Commissioners' RegistersAlso of interest to local historians are the Commissioners' Registers which exist in an almost complete series from 1835 to the early 1850s. These are not the registers of pupils but volumes summarising the Commissioner's dealings with particular schools. They give details of where the school was located, when it was established and when it first came under the authority of the Board. The names and religious denominations of the patrons and of any clerical or lay correspondents are given.
Reference ED.6/1. Education DistrictsFrom 1855, Ireland was divided into 61 Education Districts and the old school correspondence registers were reorganised into 'district books'. In addition to the information in the original series, the books often provide information on the standard of instruction of the schools and the state of repair of school buildings.
Reference ED.6/2 In addition, PRONI possesses the registers of some 1500 national and public elementary schools (Reference SCH). These registers generally date from the 1860s and they record information about each pupil: their full name, date of birth (or age on entry), religion, occupation of father and address of parents, details of attendance and academic progress, and the name of the school previously attended.