History: A Tour of the “Hedge Schools” of Eighteenth-Century Dublin
The suggestion of “hedge schools” in Dublin might sound odd, since the term usually calls to mind informal, rural, Catholic pay schools meeting in barns or other humble structures on the margins of legality (particularly in the eighteenth century). As the seat of British government in Ireland, Dublin was more urban and Protestant than most of the country, and thus one would think an unwelcome environment for illegal hedge schools. Nevertheless, as the demand for both practical and classical education grew over the course of the century, most of the schools in Dublin and the surrounding area—Protestant and Catholic alike—operated on the hedge school model: no funding other than student tuition and a curriculum tailored to popular demand.
This presentation will provide a brief “tour” of Georgian Dublin from the perspective of the schools that educated many of the city’s most (and least) notable citizens. Many of the city’s most recognizable landmarks—Grafton Street, St. Stephen’s Green, Marion Square, the Four Courts, Leinster House, Dublin Castle—were constructed or updated during this period of rapid growth and relative prosperity. As schools relocated from one part of town to another, they help us see how the city expanded into the surrounding areas that are today part of greater Dublin. And as they tried to attract and retain students, they left a record of newspaper advertisements that provide often amusing insights into the personalities and educational priorities of students, parents, teachers, and the Irish reading public.
Wade Mahon is Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point, where he teaches Rhetorical Theory, British Literature, and Composition. He spent March of 2018 in snowy Dublin, as part of a sabbatical researching Irish education in the eighteenth century.