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Kildare Place Society

Kildare Place Society

The Kildare Place Society, known officially as the Society for the Promotion of the Education of the Poor of Ireland, was the most successful of all the voluntary educational agencies founded in the years before the establishment of the National Board of Education in 1831. Set up in 1811 explicitly to cater to the demand for education among the Catholic poor, it aimed to provide a Bible-based but nondenominational education that would be acceptable to Catholics. In 1816 the society petitioned Parliament and was awarded 10,000 pounds, an amount that was greatly increased over the following decade; this money allowed it to spread across the country and to establish the rudiments of a national system of primary education. The society aimed to modernize the teaching profession with a training college and an inspectorate, decent schoolhouses, and regular salaries for teachers. It also produced reading material aimed at a popular audience, which competed very favorably with the much-derided chapbooks that were the staple of popular reading material at the time.

Despite the commitment of the founders (many of whom were members of the Society of Friends) to respect denominational differences, and despite the allocation of seats for Catholics on the board of trustees, during the second decade of the century the society was increasingly drawn into quarrels over the use of the Protestant Bible for educational purposes. Particularly significant was the influence of the evangelical members of the board, especially Chief Justice Thomas Lefroy, who insisted on the compulsory use of the Bible "without note or comment" in the Kildare Place schools. This measure was openly and stridently criticized by the Reverend John MacHale in the famous Hierophilus Letters of 1820 and was the immediate cause of the resignations of Daniel O'Connell and Lord Cloncurry from the society's board in 1821. This gesture was followed in short order by directives to Catholic parents to withdraw their children from the schools. The substance of O'Connell's and MacHale's attacks on the Kildare Place Society was that its policies were in line with the more overtly proselytizing societies associated with the "Second Reformation" and were therefore unsuitable for Catholic children. The society did not survive the challenge. As a result of the ideological conflict over education, the government inaugurated a series of inquiries to determine what kind of educational system would be acceptable to the different denominations in Ireland, and the outcome was the setting up of the National Board of Education in 1831. Although the Kildare Place Society continued its work into the 1830s, its school system suffered an inevitable decline with the spread of the new national system.

SEE ALSO Chapbooks and Popular Literature; Education: Primary Private Education—"Hedge Schools" and Other Schools; Education: Primary Public Education—National Schools from 1831; Literacy and Popular Culture


Kingsmill-Moore, H. An Unwritten Chapter in the History of Education, Being the History of the Society for the Education of the Poor of Ireland, Generally Known as the Kildare Place Society, 1811–1831. 1904.

McGrath, Thomas. Politics, Interdenominational Relations, and Education in the Public Ministry of Bishop James Doyle of Kildare and Leighlin, 1786–1834. 1999.

Irene Whelan

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