Memoirs of Captain Rock, the celebrated Irish chieftain

Chapter II.

Attention of the Government to the education of the Rocks.-Institutions for that purpose.—Charter Schools.—Royal Free Schools.—Some account of them.—Activity of the Church in the same laudable cause.—Diocesan Schools.—Parochial Schools.—Present state of them.—Some account of the different educating Societies.—Kildare Street, London Hibernian, &c.

We have seen with what care the Government, during the last century, provided against any degeneracy in our family, by never letting us rise, on the scale of property, higher than zero.

Rockism, indeed, like the malaria, only acts to a certain distance from the ground,—those who stand erect, are in little danger from it, and the prostrate alone take the infection properly. Guided by this experience, our rulers, landlords, clergy, &c. have cooperated successfully even to the present day, in keeping down the great mass of the people to that exact pitch of depression, at which the contagion of Rockism is always found to be most malignant.

With such skilful provisions on the subject of Property*, as I have endeavoured to give an idea of in the preceding chapter, it would have been inconsistent not to connect some equally provident measures, with respect to Education. Our statesmen well knew that an early culture of the mind alone

Emollit mores nec simit esse feros:
or in other words,

Learning alone the heart with virtue stocks, And hath, like music, power to “soften Rocks.”

Accordingly they set about reducing us to as minute a minimum in Education, as we had, under their wise laws, attained in Property; and a brief review of the principal steps taken for this purpose, both by Church and State, down to the present time, will show with what a steady eye to the interests of the Rock family, this impoverishing and benighting system has always been pursued. The principal mediums of education through which the Government had to act upon the people, were the Charter Schools and Schools of Royal foundation.

“With respect to the former of these Institutions, it might have been possible, perhaps, to manufacture the same number of rebels and bigots at a somewhat less expense-but the perfection of their machinery for the purpose is now, I believe, acknowledged on all sides.

*In the Second Report of the Deputation sent by the Drapers’ Company of London, to visit their estates in the County of Londonderry, in the years 1817 and 1818, there are the following sensible and liberal remarks on this subject:-Observing upon the great proportion of poor individuals belonging to the Roman Catholic church, the Reporters say—“This circum.#tance must arise from some cause which does not imediately appear; Roman Catholic faith does not induce poverty, neither does poverty lead to the creed of the church of Rome; the poverty of the Roman Catholics is too general to be accidental, and it should seem that it can only have arisen from the deprivations of property to which the Catholics in Ireland have, at different times, been subjected, and the discouragement which the laws till lately have offered to the accumulation of property by Catholics, and which discouragement is not yet wholly removed. If this be correct, it seems to result as a duty to those who have to form economical arrangements of a public nature, not to make any distinction between their dependents, who are equally loyal, though they may entertain different creeds, and that every encouragement which is held out to persons of one religious persuasion, should be equally held out to persons of every other religious persuasion; that every man should look to his neighbour’s opinion with a consideration that, perchance, his neighbour may be right, and he himself in error.” These two Reports do the highest honour both to the persons who drew them up, and to the Company by whom such enlightened persons were employed. Let Irish landlords and Irish Secretaries read them, and blush!

These Charter schools under the general name of the Incorporated Society, were founded under George II, in the year 1733, for the professed object of “teaching the children of the Popish and other natives;”and, had they suffered us youth of the Roman faith to drink at the same spring of instruction with our little Protestant fellow countrymen,without insulting or interfering with the religion we brought from home with us, there is no saying to what an alarming degree of amity the two religions might have been brought in time. Nay, there was even an opportunity for trying the experiment, whether a Catholic could be turned into a Protestant without the employment of actual force.

But our Irish rulers have always proceeded in proselytism, on the principle of a wedge with its wrong side foremost. It was soon found by the Catholic parents, who had entrusted their children to this Protestant institution, that hatred to their religion was the chief actuating motive of its directors; and that, like Wathek, when he seduced the fifty little ones to the brink of the chasm, in order to hurl them in as a sacrifice to the Giaour, the Incorporated Society but took possession of their children, for the purpose of plunging them headlong into Protestantism—a creed, unknown to them but by the Spirit of persecution that dwelt in it, and by the voracity for fresh victims with which that Spirit, like the Giaour, had always cried out from the chasm, “more, more!”

It may easily be imagined with what horror this design was regarded, by a people who looked upon their faith as the only treasure and consolation left them, and whose tenacity in that faith had been tried by sword, famine, and fire for centuries. Too indigent, however, to procure instruction in any other way, and the laws forbidding persons of their own persuasion to teach, some wretched parents, anxious at all risks to educate their children, continued to let them drink at this dangerous source—with the sametrembling apprehensions, with which the people of the East visit those fountains, supposed to be the haunt and ambush of banditti, and on some of which are inscribed the warning words “Drink and away!”

In proportion to their fears, their hatred, of course, increased—while the children, compelled to act the part of converts while at school, took revenge for this forced hypocrisy of their youth, by a life of open bigotry and disaffection ever after.

Still, however, the association with Protestant play-fellows gave a chance of future friendships and connections, which, if they did not end in conversion, at least would lead to tolerance; and encouraged, at a time of life when the heart is most impressible, that familiar collision by which asperities are smoothed away, and the exclusiveness of the sectarian is lost in the fellowship of the man.

But even this chance, which let in a gleam of light, too strong for the eyes of the Incorporated Society to bear, was shut out by a Resolution* of that body in the year 1775, declaring that none but the children of Papists should thenceforth be admitted to the schools**—and how delicately they accommodated themselves to the prejudices of these chosen and exclusive pupils, will appear by the following extracts from a Catechism, which they continued to use to as late a period as 1811, when the recommendation of the Board of Education induced them to relinquish it:
“Q. Is the church of Rome a sound and uncorrupt church?
A. No; it is extremely corrupt in doctrine, worship, and practice.”
“Q. What do you think of the frequent crossings, upon which the Papists lay so great a stress?
A. They are vain and superstitious. The worship of the crucifix is idolatrous.”

*The same policy was pursued with respect to the institution at Maynooth, where it was the wish of the Catholics that Protestants should be admitted on the same footing with themselves; but, this not suiting the good old views of the Protestant interest, it was refused.

In the same manner, in the reign of Henry V.“the Irish students,” says Leland, “of the English race who resorted to England for education, were disdainfully excluded from the Inns of Court, by a shameful policy which precluded them from such an intercourse, as would have erased their prejudices and conciliated their affections to England.”

**This Resolution was rescinded in 1805.

The courteous address of Launcelot to the young Jewess, “Be of good cheer, for truly I think thou art damned,” seems to have been the model upon which the Protestant Church has founded all its conciliatory advances towards the Catholics. It may easily be supposed that it was only the poorest and most worthless part of the population, that, with such an insult meeting them on the threshold, would suffer their children to enter these schools; and the few proselytes of any standing that they could boast,—like those low-caste converts of our missionaries in the East, whom their fellow Hindoos in derision call “Company’s Christians,”—were rare andmarked enough among their countrymen, to be pointed out, in the same manner, as Charter-school Protestants.

So difficult was it at last to get up a decent show of pupils—such as might furnish a pretext for those enormous annual grants, by which the Government kept this machinery of demoralization in motion—that it was the practice, at one time, to buy, and even steal little Catholic children, in order to swell the number of recruits for Protestantism, and return annually the proper complement of converts to Parliament.

It will hardly be believed that the Imperial grants to these long-tried nuisances, (whose chief produce of late years has been, according to Mr. O’Driscol, “Prostitutes* and Orangemen,**) amounted for the first sixteen years after the Union, to more, on an average, than thirty thousand pounds per annum; and for the present year 1824, the aid to them from Government, exclusive of their property in lands and funds, is twentyone thousand pounds***.

*The privileges of the Ascendancy are, of course, asserted as proudly among this, as among all other classes of the community—according to the precedent established by “the wisdom of our ancestors,” in the case of Nell Gwyn. “When Nell Gwyn,” says Grainger, “was insulted in her coach at Oxford by the mob, who mistook her for the duchess of Portsmouth, (another mistress of that king’s but a Papist,) she looked out of the window, and said with her usual good humour, ‘Pray good people be civil, I am the Protestant W———e; and this laconic speech drew upon her the blessings of the populace, who suffered her to proceed without further molestation.” Biograph. Hist.

**See the Appendix to this gentleman’s eloquent work, “Views of Ireland,”—in which there is a mixture of sound sense with rich fancy, of philosophic views with poetic feeling, which realizes fully the precept of La Fontaine: “Que le Beau soit toujours camarade du Bon.”

***We are assured by the Fourteenth Report of the Board of Education, that a considerable improvement has taken place in the Charter-schools; but the remembrance of their Catechism, and the occasional stretching out of their old claws of proselytism, will long make them too odious to be any thing but mischievous.

The Schools of Royal foundation are so far more innocent than these “Chartered libertines,” that, instead of endeavouring to convert the Catholics, the reverend Honourables and Baronets who held the masterships of them, were chiefly employed in converting the funds allowed for the schools, into convenient and profitable sinecures for themselves. Some of these cases of embezzlement were reported to the Government in the year 1796, but the only effect of the discovery was to put a stop to an Act, then in progress, for the improvement of the system of Public Education—the persons detected in this misappropriation of the public funds, being of that privileged class, into whose pockets, however filled, it has been at all times profanation to pry. Under the administration, however, of the Duke of Bedford (who was not equally inclined to subscribe to that first of the thirty-nine articles of Irish Protestantism—Jobbing,) the enquiry was resumed, and a Commission established, which has had the singular felicity of being in some degree useful.

These Royal Free-schools are, it seems, endowed with estates, to the extent of thirteen thousand six hundred and twenty-sevenacres; and—so well had the Honourable and Reverend masters succeeded in appropriating the chief benefit of the Fund to themselves—that, according to the House of Commons’ Report, in 1809, out of the small number of children educated in these schools altogether, there were not above thirty who did not pay as much for their education, as if the thirteen thousand six hundred and twenty-seven acres were wholly out of the question.

From the Report of last year upon the state of these Schools, they appear to be at present rather schools of litigation than of learning—as their returns relate almost wholly to the progress of their law-suits with their tenants, which seem as numerous and as successful as those of Sir Condy Rack-rent, who “lost every one of his suits but seventeen.” The Commissioners, however, tell us consolingly, “we look forward to the period when this Board shall be enabled to give its undivided attention to the system of education, without being embarrassed with subjects of finance.”

We now come to the share which the Church has taken in the instruction of the people.

Whatever motives the Government may have had, for exhibiting Education always in the shape of either a bug-bear or a job, it might have been supposed that the Clergy, at least, would wish to see a humanized population around them; and that those Free Schools—one of which every Diocese is by an Act of Elizabeth bound to maintain at its own expense—would have been cherished with a care and liberality of contribution, even beyond what the provisions of the statute enjoin.

But, unluckily, from some occult cause (for the Commissioners say it must not be attributed to “the backwardness or inattention of the Bishops or Clergy”), the contributions of the Church to this truly sacred purpose have been almost nothing. Indeed, such is the mysterious incapacity of contribution under which they labour, and which might tempt malicious persons to suppose that the “Nolo” of an Irish bishop is reserved for occasions of charity alone, that, at the time when the Report which I have just cited was made, the whole number of effective schools in all the Dioceses together was only 13.— And, lest even this should prove too heavy “a tax upon the clergy,” the Government has, in pursuance of the recommendation of these same Reporters, caused, in several instances, two or more Dioceses to be formed into one district, and appointed but one School to be maintained by the entire Clergy of the Dioceses so united.

Thus,—as in the instances of Raphoe, Kilmore, and Clogher, which are by the new regulation consolidated into one district—three Bishops to one School is considered not more than a fair and orthodox allowance; and (though somewhat resembling, in its division of labour, that scene of O’Keefe’s, where “four French porters enter carrying a band-box,”) is held to be an abundantly adequate return from the Church to the People, for the two millions of acres, and the tenth part of the produce of all the other acres which it derives from them.

But even under this light labour, the powers of the Bishops and Clergy seem to have sunk. In the accounts of the Free Diocesan Schools, laid before the House of Commons last year, neither from the Archbishoprics of Tuam and Armagh, nor from several of the other Dioceses, have returns of any School whatever been forwarded; and an item or two of the account, as it stands, will show how impenetrably closed the purses of the Clergy are, even to the “Open, Sesamé” of the Law.

In the Diocese of Ardagh, the amount of annual income for the maintenance of a school is thus stated:–“twenty-seven pounds, most difficult to collect, by reason of the numbers liable to pay it; part is never paid.”

In the Diocese of Elphin, the annual income is stated to be fifty-five pounds, and the fund from which it arises is thus described:—“An annuity by bequest, and a charge on the Bishops and Clergy, some of the latter in arrear, from non-payment of tithes, and the pressure of the times.”

In the rich Diocese of Derry, where the income required for the school is near nine hundred pounds, all that the Bishop and Clergy can muster up among them towards that sum is one hundred and ten pounds—the remainder being contributed by the Irish Society and London Companies.

In addition to this establishment of Diocesan Schools which the law provides, and which the Church thus frustrates, the parochial Clergy are also, by the 28th of Hen. VIII. charged with the instruction of the poor; and every incumbent appointed to a living in Ireland, takes an oath to the following effect;—
“I, A.B. do solemnly swear, that I will teach or cause to be taught within the said vicarage or rectory, one school as the law requires.”

Oaths, however, are just as inefficient as Acts of Parliament. “No school—no scholars” was the return made to the House of Commons last year from the great majority of the parishes; and, even where parochial schools do exist, they seem by these accounts to be supported by every body and by any body but the Clergy—who while they impute to Catholics a laxity in the observance of oaths, exhibit a well-bred indifference about their own, which is, at least, equally edifying.

It must have been a consciousness of the immoralinfluence of such an example, thatinduced the Commissioners of Education, in their Eleventh Report, to suggest that “it might deserve consideration, whether the oath should continue to be administered, or whether the Clergy ought not be relieved from the obligation thus imposed upon them.”

There is one mode, indeed, by which these Reverend Gentlemen quiet their consciences, which is too characteristic and amusing not to be noticed. It seems that the sum required as the annual contribution of the clergyman to the parish school, was rated in the time of Henry VIII. at forty shillings. Without any regard, therefore, to the change which has taken place in the value of Money since, they consider themselves perfectly acquitted of their obligations, in devoting two pounds out of their large incomes to the same important purpose now; and we find, in numerous instances, among the items of the fund from which the school is maintained, “Two pounds per annum paid by the rector.” Even from such a benefice as that of Maghera, the certified value of which is one thousand eight hundred and seventy-five pounds per annum, the overflowings of clerical benevolence do not exceed the antient modus of forty shillings; and the remainder of the fund for the support of the school is made up of donations from different institutions, and the annual contributions of the scholars themselves.

In the great majority of parishes, however, there are, as I have already remarked, no Free-schools at all. In the Diocese of Cloyne, in which there are fifty-eight benefices, valued, according to an accurate return in 1809, at forty thousand pounds a year, there are only twenty schools; and the Archbishopric of Tuam, in which there are twenty-four benefices, comprising eighty-nine parishes, has not been able to contribute to the cause of education more than six schools.

In the mean time, the Incumbents of these neglected parishes may be found at Bath and Cheltenham, effacing the remembrance of their oaths in those Lethean waters, and whiling away the time in prospective dreams of better benefices—like those souls on the banks of the ancient Lethe, whom Virgil describes as waiting for the fresh bodies, into which they were to be inducted,—

——animae, quibus altera fato
Corpora debentur, Lethaei ad fluminis undam
Securos latices et longa oblivia potant.

From all this, it will be seen, that if the poor of Ireland had only the Government and the Clergy to trust to for education, their ignorance would have been as complete as even a philosopher like Mr. Bankes could require—and the reader of the foregoing statements will, I have no doubt, agree with me, that never did Church and State, those inseparable companions (so aptly compared to the twins of Heraclitus, that wept and laughed, waked and slept, and performed all the functions of life together, exhibit in any other instance such a perfect co-operation and sympathy, as in this one, uniform, and consistent task of strengthening the interests of the Rock family in Ireland, by benighting, beggaring, and brutalizing the Irish people, under every reign, and in every possible way, that their joint Excellencies, Reverences, and Graces could devise.

Within these few years, some charitable and well-intentioned persons, observing how ill our education prospered in the hands of the Government and Clergy, have associated themselves in various plans for our civilization and improvement—and the consequence is, I have, at this moment, arrayed against me, the Kildare Street Society, the London Hibernian Society, the Irish Society, and a host of other minor Societies, all armed with bibles, religious tracts, &c. determined to put down the Rock interest, and to repair the mischief so elaborately brought about by our rulers, both lay and spiritual.

To “unwind a wrong knit up so many years,” is no such easy matter; and there is, in some of the prominent features of this new generation of Societies, a family resemblance to the old Charter-school system, which prevents me from feeling any considerable alarm as to their success.

As if we wanted any assistance in perpetuating national differences, one of these Societies has kindly taken the Irish language under its protection; and the old Milesian vocabulary, which used to be hanging-matter some sixty years since, is now—as a preparation, I presume, for the re-enactment of the Penal Code—to be made a chief part of our national education, and to “speed the soft intercourse” of Rockism in future, under the special patronage of “the Irish Society.”

The “Kildare Street Society” is also, I find, assisting my interests. Out of the public funds, granted to this institution for the purposes of education, the greatest portion, it seems, finds its way to the favoured region of Ulster,-that being (according to the usual rule for appropriating money in Ireland) the part of the country where such assistance is least wanted. By their own Report, indeed, it appears that one northern county, Antrim, has shared twice as much of their assistance as the whole province of Connaught; and, in conformity with this system, we find, out of a list of one hundred and twenty-seven schoolmasters appointed by them, no more than forty-nine Catholics.

But the “London Hibernian Society” promises to be the most useful to me of any—as the following specimens of their success in proselytism, extracted from the Appendix to their Report of last year, will prove.

In a letter from one of the travelling agents employed by this body, we find the following description of a little fourteen-year-old Protestant, which he had just succeeded in making:—“Her demeanour and conversation has gained the attention of her parents to the word of God; and although her dissent from the prevailing religion has subjected her to some obloquy and reproach, she is generally respected by her neighbours, and at an age little above fourteen, is found the avowed advocate of christianity in its scriptural character, in opposition to the corrupt glosses and traditions of men.”

It appears by the following extract, that proselytes are sometimes promoted into schoolmasters—in the hope, no doubt (from a London estimate of the Irish character), that such tame converts will act as decoys to catch others:—“B———, master of our school in E———, had some time since informed me, that he found in the conversation of a shoe-maker in that neighbourhood, much to strengthen and animate him in his Christian course, and that they were mutual supports to each other, beneath the trials to which their apostasy from popery exposed them.”

We have afterwards a story, from one of these agents, of a Catholic, who, in going through some act of penance with about “fifty fellow-sinners,” was suddenly struck with the conviction, that “he was, in the exercise in which he was engaged, adding sin to sin-idolatry to his other crimes.” Beneath this impression, adds the agent, “he sunk to the earth nor could proceed, when as with the rapidity of lightning, a certain text of scripture struck upon his recollection. For some time he was motionless with delight and astonishment: believing, he rejoiced with exceeding great joy: when recollecting the situation in which he was placed, regarding its idolatry with abhorrence, he sprang off his knees and fled from the chapel, never again to visit it or bow to a priest.”

Such are the inducements held out to Catholics, to be educated in the Schools of the “London Hibernian Society.”

The old Charter school plan of alienating children from their parents, may be traced pretty clearly in the following dialogue between one of the Inspectors of this Society, and “a little girl”. “My dear,” said I, “Where did you find this text?” “Indeed, Sir, I have a good Testament, and can read a bible.” “Is your father a Roman?” said I. “Indeed, Sir, he is, and believes every thing the Priest tells him.”

Little children, as might be expected, act a considerable part in these cases of conversion. “I will relate an instance,” says one of the Schoolmasters of the Society, “of a child no more than six years old, who, on receiving a Testament this quarter, threw himself on his knees, and thanked God for the gift he bestowed on him, through the means of the Society.”

If any further proof be wanting of the bemefits which these well-meaning persons are likely to confer upon the Rock cause, one more specimen will amply suffice: the convert in this case is “a weaver by trade.” “It is manifest that God, who calleth men from darkness to light, hath abundantly blessed the reading of that precious gift to him. He spends all his hours in reading that valuable book; which was the instrument of awakening him out of the deep sleep of sin. His nearest friends are become his greatest enemies: his wife and brother-in-law say that he is religiously mad.”

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