Irish hedge school heritage

The hedge schools in Ireland were founded under the penal laws in Ireland in the 17th century. No Catholic could teach, no building could serve as a school, under penalty of law.

Outlaw teachers

So it began that outlawed teachers taught children and traveling "strangers" in the open air. One child might serve as a lookout for the authorities. The teacher might get paid in butter or with a few shillings.

Classes taught included Latin, Greek, Arithmetic, Reading and Writing. Originally it was all done in the Irish language. The Irish language was one thing that the authorities wanted to eradicate.

The end of the schools

As time went on, laws would allow for a school building, and the Irish actually got their own schools in the 19th century. Some hedge schools continued, but they faded from view and disappeared for the most part by the time of the famine.

Student responsibilities

If necessary, each student was required to carry a brick or two of turf to school when it was cold outside. The turf would then supply heat during the school day for everyone.

You might ask someone in the old days if they could read and write. The answer would be obvious if they answered you with: "I never carried the sod."

Michael Donaghue

My great grandfather, Michael Donaghue, was a hedge school student from Glenflesk, in County Kerry. His hedge school education was one thing that was passed down into family history, and it almost went unnoticed. His love and appreciation for education was carried on in the family.

The hedge school today

When I began our 6th podcast series along with Peter Reilly Adams, I voted to name it "Irish Hedge Row History" in his memory. (One of Peters ancestors was a teacher in Ireland as well.)

The series is dedicated to Irish History, and folk history, and has just been launched at: and is also on iTunes here.

We'll be talking more about Hedge Schools, Brian Boru, the Famine, and Politics at our own Hedge School from now on.

But I thought it was time I said thanks to the Hedge School teacher who taught Michael Donaghue. He did a good job.