Baltinglass -The National School

Baltinglass Heritage Centre

The National School represented Baltinglass’ attempt to deal with the “vice” of ignorance. Before the school opened around half the population of Baltinglass were illiterate. This would have been even more common amongst the cottier families. A new scheme to provide a basic free education for all, regardless of religion, was introduced in Ireland in 1831. By 1841 the National School in Baltinglass was firmly established with Peter Byrne as master and Bridgett Tyrell as mistress.

In the old “Hedge Schools” children had been given personal tuition. In order to deal with the larger numbers in the free school a new system was devised. Within the classroom the teachers taught monitors, who were senior pupils, and these monitors oversaw the work of younger pupils.

Class sizes, known as “drafts”, were between ten and twenty. Children worked their way through a set of five books, covering a variety of subjects, each harder than the last. The school taught only in the English language. This educational system was considered to be amongst the most advanced in Europe. By the time the children left they were expected to have a standard of literacy far higher than that of today. Although this school was open to all, in practice only the Catholic children attended, while Protestant children went to the Church of Ireland Education Society’s School.


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