Memoirs of Captain Rock, the celebrated Irish chieftain

Chapter III.

Education of the Captain.—Hedge Schools.—Abduction of a Schoolmaster.—Catalogue of a Rock Library.

It may easily be supposed that my Father was too good a Catholic, to risk the orthodoxy of the young Rocks within the proselytizing vortex of a Charter School. Our education, therefore, was imbibed in one of those ancient seminaries, which, like the academies of the ancients, are held in the open air, and which, from the sheltered situation they occupy, are called Hedge Schools.

That particular Hedge School which had the honour of educating me, deserved rather, perhaps, to be called a University—as the little students, having first received their rudiments in the ditch, were from thence promoted, in due time, to graduate under the hedge

When I was between 13 and 14 years of age, our old schoolmaster died; and as I still continued, in those intervals of leisure which my early initiation into my father’s calling allowed me, to avail myself of the instruction of this worthy pedagogue, his death was to me, as well as to all the other little Rocks, a serious inconvenience. We soon, however, contrived to fill up his placeand by an expedient which, as it is characteristic of national manners, I shall, in as few words as possible, communicate to my reader.

A few miles from our village, on the other side of the river, there was a schoolmaster of much renown, and some Latin, whose pupils we had long envied for their possession of such an instructor, and still more since we had been deprived of our own. At last, upon consulting with my brother graduates of the hedge, a bold measure was resolved upon, which I had thé honour of being appointed leader to carry into effect.

One fine moonlight night, crossing the river in full force, we stole upon the slumbers of the unsuspecting schoolmaster, and, carrying him off in triumph from his disconsolate disciples, placed him down in the same cabin that had been occupied by the deceased Abecedarian*. It is not to be supposed that the transfluvian tyros submitted patiently to this infringement of literary property—on the contrary, the famous war for the rape of Helen was but a skirmish to that which arose on the enlévement of the schoolmaster; and, after alternate victories and defeats on both sides, the contest ended by leaving our party in peaceable possession of the pedagogue, who remained contentedly amongst us many years, to the no small increase of Latin in the neighbourhood.

*Lady Morgan mentions a similar circumstance in her amusing “Sketches of Ireland.”

By the following statement from the Accounts relating to Education, laid before the House of Commons last session, it appears that schools are sometimes stolen in Ireland, as well as schoolmasters.—“There are two parish schools in the parish of Rathcool, one protestant, and the other papist. The papist schoolmaster obtained a licence thirty years ago under pretence of being a protestant. By this mamoeuvre he got possession of the parish school-house and its annexed glebe, and retains it in defiance of the parish minister, and will yield to nothing but force. His name is Daniel Brady.”

Such, gentle reader, is the unceremonious way, in which matters of love, law, and learning are settled among us. Whether the desired object be cattle, young ladies, or schoolmasters, Abduction is the process resorted to most commonly. Our rulers having, through a long series of centuries, by indiscriminate confiscations, transportations, and executions, set us the example of a total disregard to persons or property, we have followed in their footsteps with a “desperate fidelity,”and there is not, perhaps, in the history of the world, another instance of a Government and a People going on so long together, with so little observance of law on either side. It is, however, a great mistake to say that the Irish are uneducated. There are many, it is true, among us, who might exclaim, like Skirmish, “If I had handled my pen as well as I have handled my bottle, what a charming hand I should have written by this time!”—but there is no doubt that the faculty of reading and writing is quite as much diffused among the Irish as among the English peasantry.

The difference is not in the quantity, but the quality, of our education. The Charterschools having done their utmost to sicken us against Catechisms, and our own Priests not suffering us to read the Bible*, we are driven, between both, to select a course of study for ourselves; and the line of reading most usually adopted is as follows:-

In History,—Annals of Irish Rogues and Rapparees.
In Biography,—Memoirs of Jack the Batchelor, a notorious smuggler, and of Freney, a celebrated highwayman.
In Theology,–Pastorini’s Prophecies, and the Miracles of Prince Hohenloe.
In Poetry,–Ovid’s Art of Love, and Paddy’s Resource.
In Romance-reading,—Don Belianis of Greece, Moll Flanders, &c. &c.

such being the leading works in that choice Catalogue, from which, according to the taste of the parties, is selected the chief reading of the Cottagers of Ireland.

So educated**, and so governed, is it won-derful that the Rock Family should flourish?

*The arguments of the Roman Catholic Clergy against the use of the Bible, as a class-book, are well founded; but the length to which some of them carry their objections to a free and general perusal of the Scriptures, is inconsistent with the spirit, as well of Civil as of Religious liberty.

**Sir John Newport, with whom originated the former Board of Education, has just gained another of those triumphs, which the country owes to his homest zeal, by inducing the Ministers to consent to a new Commission for the same important purpose. EDITOR.

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