Recollections of Mother M.M. Dunne   Pre-Intermediate Convent Curricula

Recollections of Mother Margaret Mary Dunne,
Brigidine Convent Boarding School, Tullow.

Not many farmers of this period could afford to give second level education to their daughters. Preference was given to the boys of the family who were likely to develop a vocation to the priesthood or who aspired to some lucrative position. Diocesan and Intermediate schools catered for these ...

Occasionally senior pupils were sent to a French convent to acquire fluency in the spoken language and to teach English. Should any be blessed with a vocation for the religious life they returned after a couple of years to enter the Brigidine Novitiate and take up the teaching of French. In this way a high standard of efficiency in the teaching of the language was maintained in the school ... so that while preparing youth for positions in the world they were also taught to love and practise their religion ...

In those far off days, moral and religious instruction were helped considerably by the study of the subjects that make for refinement and taste ... Piano, violin and cello were taught by accomplished musicians, plain and ornamental needlework got devoted attention, and at the end of the school year, some beautiful Mountmellick work - embroidery and crochet - as well as hand made personal garments were exhibited on the annual concert day. Painting in oils and water colours, drawing and crayon work were favourite subjects. It was the ambition of every girl to bring home some scene in oils or a picture of animals in crayon work. A lasting memorial of the days when aesthetic culture was fostered in the schools. An hour was given each evening to drill, dancing and recreation, the dances taught were the Lancers, Quadrilles, Polka, Waltz, etc. A dancing mistress visited the school every year, to give lessons in drill, and teaching some fancy dances such as a Minuet, Mazurka, Fan Dance, Spanish, etc.

In our Boarding School, at this period, it was not 'all work, and no play'. At least two hours were given to recreation each day and on important feast days. Many of them occurred during the school year. Class work was suspended and a free day granted to the pupils ... Reading from a well stocked library was a favourite pastime on such free days ... The game 'Hide and Seek' was a favourite one and gave ample exercise to the whole party.

During the winter months, well organised indoor games afforded plenty of diversion for the many girls who lived at a distance and who spent Christmas and Easter holidays in the Convent. The school year ended in mid July with a fine musical performance and a distribution of prizes to which the parents and friends were invited. Prizes were awarded for good conduct, for amiability and for every branch of learning. A senior pupil might carry off as many as five or six beautifully bound books, which provided a great literary feast for the summer holidays.

With the opening of the new century came a revolution in the system of education in our Brigidine convents. Public examinations and specialized training were introduced to keep in step with the requirements of the Intermediate Board of Education. English examinations such as were carried on by the Kensington and Oxford Colleges were first introduced into the school. These gave place later on, to the examinations held under the Intermediate Board, and as early as 1900 the nuns undertook to prepare pupils for University examinations. Being the Senior of the school I had the honour of being the first Brigidine pupil to be presented for the Matriculation examination held in the old Royal University ... To the great joy of the nuns I succeeded in securing my matriculation certificate. Encouraged by the success, and believing I had a vocation, the nuns advised that I prepare for First Arts. After two more years of school life and with the help of proficient teachers in the Convent I took the examination in June 1902.
Mother Margaret Mary Dunne, Recollections of seventy years, Dublin, 1959, p.7.

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  1. What does this document tell us about the difficulties of access to second level education for girls in rural areas?
  2. Why, according to the author, was preference given to the boys of the family?
  3. What educational influences were at work in the emphasis on taste and refinement?
  4. In this boarding school, recreation lasted for at least two hours every day. Compare this with other evidence showing very little recreation under the Intermediate Examination system.
  5. At the end of the school year prizes were awarded for 'good conduct, for amiability and for every branch of learning.' Do you agree with these categories? Explain your answer.
  6. What, according to the author, were the revolutionary changes brought about in Brigidine convent boarding schools at the beginning of the twentieth century?
  7. When were Brigidine pupils first prepared for University examinations?
  8. What aspects of the French convent tradition continued in this Irish convent boarding school up to 1900?

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Pre-Intermediate Curricula of Convent Schools

Prospectus (1848)
Brigidine Convent Boarding School, Tullow, Co. Carlow. (Source: Catholic Directory, 1848).

English, French, Italian, History, Geography, Use of the Globes, Needlework, Writing, Arithmetic.

Fees: 25 gns. p.a.

Extras: Music, Singing, Dancing, Drawing (4 gns.).

Prospectus (1849)
Brigidine Convent Boarding School, Abbeyleix. (Source: Catholic Directory, 1849).

English, French, Music, Drawing, Dancing, Needlework.

Fees 20 gns. p.a.

Extras: Music 1 gn. per qtr.; Drawing 1 gn. per qtr.; Dancing 1 gn. per qtr.

Prospectus (c.1850s)
Sacred Heart Convent Boarding School, Armagh. (Hand written in the Cullen Papers, Dublin Diocesan Archives).

English, French, Italian, History, Use of the Globes, Writing, Arithmetic, Needlework.
The languages are taught by natives and French is the habitual language of the school. Particular attention is paid to the carriage and manners of the pupils.

Fees £30 p.a.

Extras: Music Masters £1.10s.0d. per qtr.; Drawing 15s. per qtr.; Dancing 10s.0d. per qtr.

Prospectus (1859)
Dominican Convent Boarding and Day School, Galway. (Source: Dominican Annals,Galway, 1859).

English, French, Italian, German, History, Geography, Use of the Globes, Writing, Arithmetic, Drawing, Music, Needlework.

Fees 30 gns. p.a.

Extras: Music and Drawing when taught by Masters.

Dominican Day School programme: English, French, History, Natural Philosophy, Arithmetic, Music, Drawing, Painting, Woodcarving, Bookkeeping, Singing, Needlework.

Fees: 6 gns.

Prospectus (1864)
Dominican Convent Boarding and Day School, Sion Hill, Blackrock, Co. Dublin. 

English, French, Italian, History, Geography, Use of the Globes, Arithmetic, Epistolary Correspondence, Natural Philosophy, Botany, Needlework, Music, Drawing, Dancing, and other accomplishments necessary to complete the education of a young lady, receive attention proportionate to their importance in a polished and fashionable education.

Prospectus (1871)
In the archives of the Ursuline Convent, Blackrock, Cork.

English, Writing, Arithmetic, German, French, Italian, History, Astronomy, Use of the Globes, Botany, Conchology, Mythology, Sciences, Architecture and the elements of Geometry, Flower and Landscape Painting and every description of useful and ornamental work.

Fees: 32 gns. p.a.

Extras: Music, Singing, Dancing, Duelling.

Prospectus (c.1872)
In the archives of the Convent of Mercy Pension School, Athy, Co. Kildare.

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, English Grammar, History Geography, Use of the Globes, Astronomy, the French and Italian Languages, Vocal and Instrumental Music, Drawing, Plain and Fancy Needlework.

Fees: English 15s. per quarter.

Extras: French (5s. per qtr.); Italian (10s. per qtr.); Drawing (Outline 2s.6d. Shading and Colouring 5s. per qtr.); Instrumental Music £1 per qtr.; Vocal Music 5s. per qtr.; (Special lessons 10s. per qtr.). A course of Lessons on the Sewing Machine, 10s.

Prospectus (1875)
St. Louis Convent Boarding School, Monaghan. (Source: Catholic Directory, 1875).

English, French, Bookkeeping, Music, Singing, Drawing, Dancing, Needlework.

Fees £20 p.a.

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  1. What evidence of French influence can you find in these curricula?
  2. What does 'epistolary correspondence' mean?
  3. Can you find any differences between the various programmes? Explain your answer.
  4. Is there any particular aspect of these prospectuses which surprises you? Explain your answer.
  5. Find out more about the study of Conchology and Mythology.
  6. Can you find any evidence that the curricula of these convent schools remained unchanging for much the nineteenth century?
  7. Why do you think there were separate programmes for the Dominican Day and Boarding Schools in Galway in 1859? Find out more about this topic.
  8. Compare these school programmes with your curriculum to-day.
  9. Why do you think that the Irish language was not included in any of these nineteenth century convent curricula? Research this topic.
  10. Can you find any evidence to suggest that these convent schools might find it difficult to adapt their school programmes to those of the Intermediate Board?

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