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Travels in County Clare 1534 - 1911
(extracts from The Strangers Gaze, edited by Brían Ó Dálaigh)

Joseph Lancaster, A Brief Visit to Ennis, 1812

The English educator Joseph Lancaster was one of the developers of the monotorial system of education a system which sought to provide inexpensive mass education, for the poor. While still in his teens, Lancaster had begun teaching children in London. No system of public education existed and as a result large numbers flocked to his schools. To deal with the influx Lancaster developed a system, whereby a monitor or advanced pupil was placed in charge of every ten children. Lancaster’s boast was that he could teach a thousand children in a class and apparently often did. He wrote widely on the subject and raised funds to support his work. Eventually 30,000 pupils were enrolled in thirty five schools in Britain. Lancaster came to Ireland for a brief tour in the winter of 1811-12. He lectured in the main urban centres and on the invitation of Sir Edward O’Brien of Dromoland came to Ennis, where he found a receptive audience for his views. A committee was set up, composed both of Catholics and Protestants, for the establishment of a Lancastrian school. The Catholic bishop of Killaloe, James O’Shaughnessy, was a supporter of the project and before long two schools were in operation, one in Ennis and the other at Corofin. Lancaster eventually went bankrupt and in 1818 emigrated to the United States. He established schools in several American cities before again overspending. He died in 1838 at the age of fifty. Lancastrian schools were the first serious attempt to provide a basic education for all children in Clare regardless of religious persuasion.

In passing through Ireland my whole soul within me was often moved for the poor. The children are interesting children; but they need our help for they are poor indeed.

At the special desire of Sir Edward O’Brien, Bart. of Dromoland, (one of these few ‘owners of the soil’ who can spend an ample fortune in Ireland, promoting agriculture and manufactures, in ameliorating the condition of his tenantry, and giving employment to the poor.) I visited Ennis and lectured to 400 persons in this populous place, receiving from them all the attention and politeness for which the inhabitants of that town are distinguished.

It was at the close of the lecture of Ennis, for the first time, I expressed my love of Ireland. . . The bursts of applause were reiterated and indescribable. Protestants of that place told me afterwards, they never knew such a cementing opportunity in the place during their lives. I had the happiness of seeing a Dean of the Roman Catholic church, venerated for his years and a man much esteemed, lifting up his hands over me and praying for blessings on my head and on my progress, as if he had never heard of an heretic being in the world. These instances of liberality cheered my mind to arduous labour, lightened the fatigue of my exertions and literally helped to make hard things easy and rough ways smooth.

A school is to be immediately established in Ennis; at a meeting of the gentry of the county held during the assizes under the title of ‘Friends to the Lancastrian System’; a sum was raised by sub- scriptions, amounting to £250; and an annual grant amounting to £36, have been ensured for the support of the institution.

Sir Edward and Lady O’Brien have a Lancastrian school in great perfection at Dromoland, and I have the further pleasure to add, that a late Ennis Chronicle acknowledges the receipt of ‘a sum of £50 by the Rev Fredrick Blood, from Sir Edward O’Brien, for assisting the establishment of a Lancastrian school in the village of Corrofin’. The long room over the market house, (the property of Sir Edward,) is to be made the theatre of instruction; and the patriotic Baronet has, in addition, given an annuity of £10 to assist the maintenance of a school master.

Taken from Joseph Lancaster, A Brief Report of a Tour in Ireland in the Winter of 1811-12 (Tooting 1812), pp 11-12.

Rambles in Clare, 1810
William Reed


Tour of East Clare, 1812
Rev James Hall