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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 7: In Retrospect


Chapter 7 In Retrospect It was after the Clare by-election in 1828 that senior politicians in London realized that the ‘Catholic question’ would have to be addressed in some meaningful way. Peel, a central figure at the time, writing his memoirs many years later, recalled the significance of the event: The Clare election supplied the manifest proof of an abnormal and unhealthy con- dition of the public mind – the manifest proof that the sense of common grievance and the sympathies of a common interest were beginning to loosen the ties which connect different classes of men in friendly relations to each other – to weaken the force of local and personal attachments, and to unite scattered elements of society into a homogenous and disciplined mass … through the combined exertions of the agitator and the priest, or rather should I say through the contagious sympathies of a common cause among all classes of the Roman Catholic population, the instrument of defence and supremacy had been converted into a weapon fatal to the authority of the landlord.1 The ‘common cause among all classes’ and ‘a homogenous and disciplined mass’ are the key phrases. As we have already seen, Catholic emancipa- tion itself, while very important in symbolic terms, was not going to have a direct impact on the lives of many individuals. The formation of the Catholic Association, its decision to campaign on a range of issues and the introduction of the ‘Catholic rent’ were all fundamental to the success that followed. The...

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