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Irish Education and Catholic Emancipation, 1791–1831

The Campaigns of Bishop Doyle and Daniel O’Connell

Brian Fleming

The restrictions applied to Catholics in the early eighteenth century to curtail their political and economic power in Ireland were gradually removed by the British government in response to changing circumstances. By 1800 the remaining restrictions related to membership of Parliament and a few senior judicial positions. The removal of these, while important symbolically, could have direct implications for very few people, given the limited franchise. Yet the campaign for their abolition, known as Catholic emancipation, presented successive British governments with serious problems and led to one prime ministerial resignation, one government collapse and many crises.

How did Daniel O’Connell use this situation to create a successful mass movement, broadening the emancipation campaign to include the issue of education? How did the area of educational provision become a sectarian battleground, and what part did Bishop James Doyle play in forcing a reluctant government to become involved in setting up a state-run education system, a highly unusual step at the time? Does his vision have a message for us now, when school patronage is such a contested issue in Ireland? This book provides an intriguing new perspective on a critical period in Irish history.

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Chapter 6: Progress

Extract

Chapter 6 Progress With emancipation secured, attention turned to other grievances, par- ticularly education. Doyle continued to campaign for reform, while, at the same time, implementing huge improvements in educational provi- sion within his own diocese, despite the limited resources at his disposal. O’Connell used his bargaining power with the new government of Lord Grey to press for change. Eventually the impact of numerous reports on education in Ireland, and Doyle’s detailed critique, persuaded the govern- ment that change was necessary. O’Connell ensured that state support was withdrawn from the Kildare Place Society in August 1831. Doyle drafted a petition on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy, in early 1827, which was submitted to the House of Commons by James Grattan MP on 19 March. In the petition, the bishops claimed that the number of Catholic children who were attending schools supported by the Kildare Place Society was relatively low. In situations where some were attending it was because of the absence of an alternative. The petition requested Parliament to reform the system. During the course of the resulting dis- cussion, Grattan, Spring Rice and Sir John Newport repeated the familiar criticism of the Kildare Place provision. Peel claimed that the allegations against the society were grossly exaggerated. He then referred to the ongo- ing work of the Commission of Inquiry. Following the publication of their first report, the commission carried out in-depth analysis of different types of provision and produced eight further reports. While a lot more informa- tion was...

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