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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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I have received significant assistance in producing this book. Those who work in the National Library, the James Joyce Library at University College Dublin, Seamus Haughey in the Oireachtas Library, Siobhán McCrystal and Linda Donnelly in the local library services (SDCC and Fingal) have all been extremely helpful. The same applies to people looking after archives, including Noelle Dowling (Dublin Diocesan Archives) and Bernie Deasy (Delaney Archives), those who work in the National Archives of Ireland, the UK National Archives, the Public Records Service of Northern Ireland, the Church of Ireland College of Education, Durham University, the British Library and the British Museum. As always, my daughters Ciara and Aoife resolved all difficulties which arose as a result of my lack of IT skills with great patience and understanding.

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