TOPIC 1. Background to the introduction of the Intermediate Education Act (1878) on girls' education in Ireland.

TOPIC 2. Attitudes towards second level education for girls.

TOPIC 3. A case study of two convent boarding schools 1878-1899.

TOPIC 4. Overall effects of the Intermediate Education Act on girls' schools.



The Intermediate Education (Ireland) Act of 1878 as a landmark in girls' secondary education in Ireland.

Preparatory exercise

That students may:



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Worksheet 1



There was no state system of secondary education in Ireland before the Intermediate Education Act of 1878.

Small privately-owned schools existed in many Irish towns.

A few religious orders with European traditions ran fee-paying colleges for middle class boys.

The Irish Christian Brothers catered for poorer boys.

Endowed schools catered mainly for Protestant boys, but there were some schools who had begun to train Protestant girls as governesses.

European religious orders of women ran fee-paying boarding-cum-day schools for girls, while the Sisters of Mercy and Presentation Sisters started day pension schools for girls who could only afford to pay low fees.

Endowed Schools Commission


The Endowed Schools Commission (1854-8) was the first commission to include a report on girls' endowed schools in Ireland. It showed that, with the exception of two or three convent national schools, the majority of endowed girls' schools in Ireland were Protestant charity institutions. The best of these were the Quaker School at Mountmellick, Pleasant's Asylum in Dublin, Rochelle Governesses' Seminary in Cork, and the Irish Clergy Daughters' School in Dublin. Significantly the majority of these were preparing girls to be teachers or governesses.

The Commission commented on the lack of opportunities generally for young girls to educate themselves as teachers, the results being 'painfully apparent in the low state of instruction in many schools for girls'.

It was the need to provide some kind of fixed standards and better teacher training facilities for such pupils that marked the first stage in the reform of girls' secondary education in Ireland.

Ladies Seminaries

There were numerous ladies' seminaries or small privately-run schools especially in Dublin and Belfast. Newspaper advertisements suggest that Dublin had over 50 of these by 1860 and that great importance was attached to the accomplishments of Music, Singing, Dancing and Drawing, which were always charged as extras. In almost every case Masters of the 'first eminence' attended in these schools. This was very similar to the situation in England.

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Convent Boarding Schools

These were seen as the most exclusive schools for Catholic girls and there were 62 of them in Ireland by the end of the nineteenth century. The most prestigious were those run by European religious orders with long-established French traditions such as:

The Sacred Heart Sisters (1842)
The Faithful Companions of Jesus (1844)
Sisters of St. Louis (1859)
St. Joseph of Cluny (1860)
La Sainte Union des Sacres Coeurs (1862)
Sacred Heart of Mary (1870)
The Marists (1873).

They joined two other European teaching orders of women already at work in Ireland:

The Dominican Sisters (1644)
The Loreto Order (1822)

Only six convent boarding schools were run by Irish religious orders:

A Mercy school in Ennis,
A Holy Faith school in Glasnevin
Four Brigidine schools at Tullow, Mountrath, Abbeyleix and Goresbridge.

Those French orders which came to Ireland during the nineteenth century did not have to alter their tradition or educational system to any great extent prior to 1880, because, by coincidence, they corresponded with the views of Catholic Ireland on women, their role in society and their education. This French convent tradition was based on the view that girls' second level education should be different from that of boys as their future lay in different directions. The girls' future role was seen within the family context of wife and mother or within the convent, with a resultant emphasis on the accomplishments and social graces. It was Madeleine Sophie Barat, the founder of the Sacred Heart Order who is credited with the maxim that 'to educate a boy means an educated man, to educate a girl means an educated family.'

While French ideas and culture had spread to girls' education in Ireland and England by the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was not until the period 1840-1880, when the majority of French religious orders were introduced into Ireland, that French influence on girls' secondary education became a factor of major importance. The French Orders spread to English-speaking countries to gain novices and Ireland was seen as a most suitable spot from this point of view. In coming to Ireland they brought their system of education with them and with little adaptation installed it here.

(See case study below in TOPIC 3. A case study of two convent boarding schools 1878-1899 for information on two of these convent schools).

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Convent Pension Schools

The only new initiative on girls' second level education to come from within Ireland during the nineteenth century was the fee-paying day pension schools of the Mercy and Presentation Sisters. By 1879 there were 46 convent pension schools (37 Mercy and 9 Presentation) in many of the more prosperous towns of Ireland.

Special Report of Commissioners on National Education on Convent National Schools, 1864.

Convent of Mercy, Ardee.

There is a separate school for the daughters of shopkeepers, farmers, etc., having an average of about 50. These pupils are taught French and music (vocal and instrumental), in addition to the usual English course; and on every Sunday the nuns open school for two hours, the first hour and a half being devoted to secular, and the remainder to religious instruction. The attendance, so far as I could learn, varies from 60 to 100, and is composed of servants, girls employed daily in the fields. etc. The secular instruction is confined to reading, writing, and a little arithmetic.

Special Report on Convent National Schools, 1864.

Convent of Mercy, Dundalk.

There is a separate department for the children of the middle classes, in which they are taught music, French, etc., in addition to the usual branches of an English course.There is also a school on Sunday for the servant and labouring classes, in which they are taught reading, writing, the making up of shop bills, and letter writing, the last principally for those who may, perchance, have an opportunity of emigrating; these two departments receive no aid from the State. In all, the great object aimed at is to give a useful secular education, but, above all, a sound moral and religious one.

The fees charged were £2 per annum, with Music and Drawing extra at £2 and £1 respectively.
As this Special Report shows, the girls who attended these schools were usually the daughters of small farmers and small shopkeepers, whose increased prosperity should have ensured their growth. Yet their numbers remained small during the nineteenth century, partly due to the dominance of the National School system in girls' education, and partly to the fact that they were fee paying. This rendered them less popular than the Irish Christian Brothers Schools, which catered for the majority of Irish boys in the towns and cities of Ireland.

Irish Catholic education became very influential overseas. A remarkable feature of both Mercy and Presentation pay schools was the considerable impact they made on the education of Catholic girls abroad. At a time when most of the new ideas on girls' education in Ireland had come from abroad, the convent pension schools of both these orders were providing new educational opportunities for girls in Australia, New Zealand and America. Both the Mercy and Presentation orders had pension schools established in these areas by the 1870s and this continued into the twentieth century.

One very famous and unlikely past-pupil of this educational system was the feminist Germaine Greer, who stated:

The Presentation Order, whose creature I am, was founded in 1775 by an Irish gentlewoman called Nano Nagle, to teach Irish children their faith in defiance of the English ... We were never allowed to forget that Catholic parents paid their taxes for the education of non-Catholic children and then had to pay for their children's schooling, or that our Catholic education was only possible because nuns had no property and lived in communal frugality. As Nano was an heiress, so might they all have been, for every nun had the manners of a queen and strove to impart the same to us all, but somehow the nuns provided for those whose families could not manage and the rest of us never the wiser. Some of the girls were the daughters of rich men but we never knew who. Nobody thought to inquire. A goodly proportion of the high fliers were scholarship girls but the fact was never singled out for comment.

As Greer shows, the sisters were determined to give girls of ability the chance to gain scholarships and to be educated to the highest level:

If it hadn't been for the nuns I might well have gone to secretarial college, had streaks put in my hair and married a stockbroker. Certainly my family never intended that I should do anything else. Throughout my secondary school years the demented parent (the only one of the two who had anything to say to me at all) ranted continually about how I should have learnt typing and shorthand, got some pretty clothes and brought some money into the house. If only the nuns hadn't put ideas into my head ... The nuns picked me out when I was a tad, groomed me for a scholarship to a cramming school run by their community where I was duly crammed to bursting, so that I got the next in the series of scholarships and was wafted to the Star of the Sea Convent, Gardenvale.
Sunday Times, 3 April, 1983.

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First Moves to Reform Girls' Secondary Education in Ireland, 1859-1882


Backgound to Reform movement

Isabella Tod who was Presbyterian, and actively involved in both the suffrage and educational reform movements in Ireland, came from a background of charitable and temperance work in Belfast. She was the only woman witness called to give evidence before the 1868 Select Committee inquiry on the Married Women's Property Bill, and stated that educated women in Dublin and Belfast wanted changes in the law primarily on behalf of poorer women's right to their wages and to property.

In 1872 she helped organise the first of many public meetings on girls' secondary and higher education in Belfast in conjunction with Mrs Grey of the National Union for Improving the Education of Women of All Classes. In 1873 she took part in the first deputation to the Lord Lieutenant on the subject of the defective state of girls' secondary education in Ireland.

New Schools for Girls

Largely influenced by English educational ideas a small number of Protestant institutions were founded in Ireland. These were:

Mrs Byers' Schools, Belfast (1859) later called Victoria College
The Queen's Institute, Dublin (1861)
Alexandra College, Dublin (1866)
Alexandra School, Dublin (1873)
Miss McKillip's Ladies' Collegiate School, Derry (1877)
The High School, Cork (1880).

The basic aim behind this new approach to girls' secondary education was to provide an education for girls similar to that available for boys. Mathematics and Latin were included, the accomplishments were downgraded and great stress was laid on examinations. These institutions were ideally placed to take advantage of the Intermediate Examination system when it was introduced in 1878. Already several public meetings on the need for improving girls' secondary education had taken place in Ulster during the 1870s, the first and most important being organised by Isabella Tod in Belfast in 1872. A year later she took part in the first deputation to the Lord Lieutenant on the defective state of girls' secondary education in Ireland and the need for some State endowment.

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  1. Ladies' Seminaries attached great ______ to the accomplishments of _____ _______ _______
    and _________.
  2. By the end of the nineteenth century there were ______ convent boarding schools in Ireland. The most prestigious were run by _______ orders with _________ traditions.
  3. There were six convent b________ schools run by Irish religious orders in the following towns:
    _______ ______ _______ ________ ________ and __________.
  4. Discuss the contribution of the Endowed Schools Commission to the education of girls in Ireland.
  5. Write a brief paragraph on the style of education of the French religious orders.
  6. Write a brief paragraph on convent pension schools.
  7. What was the basic aim of Protestant girls' schools such as Mrs Byers' School?
  8. What kind of source is Germaine Greer's account of her schooldays?
  9. Find out more about Nano Nagle and her contribution to girls' education.

Evaluation questions

  1. What kind of source is the Report of the Schools Commission of 1854-58, and why is it important?
  2. What does it tell us about the state of girls' second level education at this time?
  3. How reliable is this source, given that it examined only a small number of girls' schools?
  4. Compare and contrast the two extracts on convent pension schools.
  5. What do these sources tell us about the class distinctions at work in Irish towns in the 19th century?
  6. Evaluate Germaine Greer's rememberance of her schooldays with the Presentation nuns which was written many years after the events described. Do you think this is a reliable source?
  7. Give as many reasons as you can why the campaign to reform girls' second level education Ireland began in the 1860s.
  8. In the 19th century the first campaigns to change the laws regarding women were organised throughout the western world. Examine this trend in Ireland, 1872-1878, and evaluate its significance in helping to bring about reform in girls' second level education.
  9. Analyse the role of the women involved in educational reform, 1859-1878, explaining why they were both middle-class and Protestant. How did this affect their campaign?

Group activity

Brainstorming session on girls' second level education in Ireland in the 1860s and 1870s. Class to divide into groups of four. Each group to prepare a short paper (one page) on different aspects of this topic. One student from each group to give an oral presentation lasting three minutes.
Conclusions about the actual state of girls' second level education are going to be tentative at this stage.


Individual activities

  1. Research the history of a female religious order in your area or of one that interests you.
  2. Write a letter to the Irish Times, 30 June, 1878 on the topic of girls' education.

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Attitudes revealed in parliament, in newspapers and by leading members in society.


Exercise for group work or for individual students.


That students may:


Hansard debates 1878 (See document Debate on the Intermediate Education (Ireland) Bill in Parliament, July-August, 1878 below)
Newspaper coverage on inclusion of girls in the Intermediate Bill
Copies of Worksheet 2 on this debate.


  1. Role play exercise in which the students will role play the twelve speakers to the debate in Parliament. For this they will need copies of the actual parliamentary debate. Class could be divided into groups of two to cut down on photocopying. Students who speak must be prepared to keep to parliamentary debating traditions e.g. 'my honorable Lord' or 'my honorable and learned Friend.'

  2. A brainstorming session to find out what the students think of the different attitudes among MPs, both English and Irish.

  3. Worksheet No. 2 giving background to this particular debate which will give students a deeper perspective on this topic and the reasons behind some of these attitudes.
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Worksheet 2


[Attitudes revealed by the Parliamentary Debate on the inclusion of girls in the Intermediate Education Act 1878, by newspaper coverage, and by leading members of society.]


The only groups pressing for the reform of girls' secondary education in Ireland during the 1870s were the various Protestant girls' schools and institutions, mainly associated with Belfast and Dublin.

These small groups were influenced by English educational ideas based on the changing economic role of women in a newly industrialised society.

Although Isabella Tod (Ladies' Institute, Belfast) and Mrs Byers (Ladies' Collegiate School, Belfast) were both major figures in this campaign, they could have achieved little without the support of some of the more influential sections of Belfast society, especially the Presbyterian Church, which came out in favour of the idea in June 1878.

The main purpose of the Intermediate Education Bill, which was introduced to parliament in 1878, was to make provision for the establishment of the Intermediate Education Board for Ireland to promote secular education using the system known as payment by results.

Debate on the Intermediate Education (Ireland) Bill in Parliament, July-August, 1878

House of Lords, July 2, 1878

EARL SPENCER said, he would like to ask a Question ... Whether it was intended that the prizes and studentships should be open to competition by women?

The LORD CHANCELLOR said the Bill, as at present framed, did not contemplate the application of the scheme to female students. Should Parliament at any time be disposed to extend the system to them, a modification of the rules as to the subjects of examination would be necessary, and provision would have to be made for separate examinations. The financial arrangements would also require enlargement.

House of Lords, July 5, 1878

Intermediate Education (Ireland) Bill - Petition.

EARL GRANVILLE presented a Petition from the Ladies' General Educational Institute, praying that female students might be permitted to share the benefits of the Intermediate Education (Ireland) Bill introduced by the Government. It was well known that a strong feeling existed in England on the question of female education, and he believed that a similar feeling prevailed in Ireland. He need scarcely say that he agreed with the principle advocated by the Petitioners; and he should have moved an Amendment in support of that principle; but, as the Lord Chancellor had stated that there was nothing in the Bill to prevent the Board under it admitting women to the advantages provided, he would rather allow the Bill to remain as it stood than now move its re-committal, and thus run the risk of delay.

House of Commons, July 15, 1878

Mr Gladstone, MP for Greenwich.

"There is a great anxiety in Ireland that the benefits of this measure should be extended to young women as well as to young men. It appears to me that is a most reasonable anxiety. We have, upon the whole, done rather less than justice to women as compared with men ... upon the grounds of general justice and policy, at a time when women themselves, quite irrespective of public aid, are making such great efforts for their own advancement, and when so just a feeling has arisen and is shared by those who stop short of supporting their political enfranchisement that they receive less than their due, I am most anxious to press upon Her Majesty's Government that they should make no scruple or difficulty as to admitting them in the fullest manner to share in the advantage of the Bill ... I heartily hope that ...
it may pass as speedily as is consistent with its full consideration; because I think it is a new boon conferred upon the people of Ireland in conformity with justice and right, and one which will tend more and more to attach them to the laws and institutions of the Realm".

Mr O Shaughnessy, Home Rule MP for Limerick.

"Had the Government considered the claims of ladies in reference to the Bill? Deputations, including ladies of every creed, waited on the Lord Chancellor and they received answers which proved daily more encouraging to the demand they made. It had been suggested to him that the wording of the bill already admitted them to share its advantages. If this were so, he should be very glad, but if this were not so, the question was worthy of the consideration of Her Majesty's Government, as it was considered to be of such importance in Ireland that it would certainly be pressed on their attention at no remote time. Were the government prepared to supplement the fund which appeared very narrow as it stood, with something for the benefit of girls? He sincerely hoped they were. The programme set forth in the schedule to the Bill was intended for boys, but he believed that women were entitled to an education as broad and as comprehensive as men received, though he hesitated to say that such education should be absolutely identical with that of men. Had the Government considered what would be a proper programme for women?

Mr Stansfeld, MP for Halifax.

"The ideas entertained with respect to the education of girls and boys had undergone a great deal of change of late years. It was now becoming recognised ... that girls had an equal right with boys to the best and soundest education; and that society was at least equally interested in the soundest and best education being given to girls as well as to boys. It was enough to say that the girls of to-day would be the mothers of a future generation of men, and that the strongest educational influences were exercised over both boys and girls by mothers, in order to satisfy all reasonable people that men equally with women, were interested in justice being done to girls in that or in any other educational measure ...
There was a great movement on foot for the education of girls in Ireland, which was part of the movement of the same character which has been going on in this country. Both the University of Dublin and Queen's University held examinations now for girls, large numbers of whom had passed with credit; and it was also the fact that a large portion of the well-to-do people in Ireland sent their daughters to this country to be educated. He appealed to the Irish members whether they would be satisfied with a measure which left them in this position, that they could not educate their daughters at home, but must send them across the sea".

Mr Cogan, Home Rule MP for Kildare

"He should be glad to see the benefits of the measure extended to women; but the alterations in the framework of the Bill which would be required with that view might endanger its passing. Besides if the Bill were extended to girls, an additional sum would be required. He trusted, therefore that the House might be induced to pass the Bill as it stood.

Mr Butt (Leader of the Home Rule Party) Limerick City

"He had heard questions discussed tonight that would wreck the Bill. For example, the question of the
admission of women to the benefits of the Bill had been raised. Now, unless they wanted to alter the whole of this question before the House, he advised them to leave that question alone ... Every man was as anxious for female education as the right hon. Gentleman (MP for Halifax) was; but they were not all anxious for the kind of female education which the right hon. Gentleman would give. The question of convent schools would be at once raised if the subject of female education were introduced into the Bill, and so would the admission of women to lectures on anatomy. These were questions which might be discussed hereafter, but this bill was brought in to remedy a defect in the education of boys, and next year, if they were anxious to do so they might take up the question of female education, but in the name of commonsense, let it not be mixed up with the present measure".

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Bill considered in Committee, 25 July, 1878

Mr J. Lowther (Attorney General)

"When he moved the second reading of the Bill, he was under the impression that as drawn it did not extend to the education of girls. Since the second reading, this subject has been carefully gone into; and he was now informed that it was a matter certainly open to a good deal of legal doubt as to what the exact application of the present wording of the bill might be ... so far as the Government were concerned, they had no objection whatever to the benefits of this scheme being, in a reasonable way, thrown open to girls as well as boys. He certainly should have objected to raising any question which might give rise to lengthy debates upon women's rights or any topics of that kind ... He would suggest
that ... the following words should be introduced after subsection 3: 'For applying, as far as conveniently may be, the benefits of this Act to the education of girls.' (words taken from the Endowed Schools Act of l869).

Mr Courtney, MP for Liskeard (Ulster)

... as he believed that the benefits of the Bill, as it was at present drawn, were equally open to girls as to boys on precisely the same conditions, it was a limitation of the Bill and not an enlargement of it, to insert a Proviso giving the commissioners power to deal 'as far as conveniently may be' ... with the education of girls. In fact, the Bill, as it stood, did admit girls equally with boys to its full advantages ... This special Proviso clearly pointed to a different style of examination for girls from that of boys."

Sir Joseph McKenna, MP

"It should be borne in mind that the fund to be disposed of under the Bill was not very large, and, indeed, was not sufficient to provide for the requirements of the male youth of Ireland; and, therefore, it would not be expedient that it should be divided equally between girls and boys."

Mr Meldon, MP

"The course which the Government had taken in dealing with the question appeared to him to be most extraordinary. Both in that House and in the other House of Parliament, it had been distinctly stated that the Bill had been drafted with the view that it should not apply to girls; and that, upon that point, the Government would not give way. Why, he should like to know, did they now propose to deviate from that policy? Was it because they were convinced that they were originally wrong? Nothing of the kind. It was simply because a mistake had been made by their draftsman, and that it had been found that girls might obtain some advantages under the Bill as it was drawn. For his own part, he was not one of those who objected to a reasonable provision being made for the education of girls; but he certainly strongly objected to the victory which the proposed Amendment would give to the advocates of women's rights, whose object was not that there should be a limited measure dealing specially with the education of women, but that the same education should be given to girls as given to men ... He would point out that in Ireland the same necessity did not exist for any such aid as existed in the case of boys. Ireland was studded over with exceedingly good schools for the education of girls, but for boys no such provision was made. The result was that while girls could be satisfactorily educated in that country it was found necessary, in many instances, to send boys belonging to the same class for the purpose of education to England. There was only a sum of £1,000,000 available for educating boys under the Bill; and the result of extending its provisions to the education of girls, as was proposed, would be to render it entirely useless and inoperative, as it was, to a great extent, already, seeing that the amount to be disposed of was so small."

Mr O'Shaughnessy, Home Rule MP for Limerick

"... could assure his hon. and learned Friend that the question at issue was not one of women's rights, but simply of their education, and that the object of the Amendment was nothing more nor less than to educate the women of Ireland, that they might be better able to discharge their duties as daughters, wives and mothers. There were in Ireland, it was quite true, already excellent institutions for the purpose of female education, but it could not be justly said that that education stood in need of no stimulus. The hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) would place boys and girls on a perfect level in matters of education. He would have them submitted to the same examination, and for all he knew would establish competitions between them. Now, identity of education might do well in theory in England, though he doubted whether it was found to answer in practice; and the hon. Gentleman, he imagined, hardly supposed that those girls who passed the Oxford and Cambridge examinations, were scarcely representative of the girls of this country. But, however the case be in England or Scotland, Ireland did not want the same thing; and any attempt to establish identity of education as between Irish boys and girls would, he felt satisfied, end in failure."

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12 August, 1878

Mr Courtney, Liskeard (Ulster)

"He believed that as the Bill stood originally, and before these words were inserted, boys and girls stood on the same footing; but those words seemed to suggest that the girls were to wait until the boys were fully provided for. This ought not to be the case. The two sexes should be placed on a footing of perfect equality, and it was principally to elicit from the Government a declaration that that was their intention, that he had moved the Amendment ...Girls were admitted to the local examinations set on foot by the University of Oxford and Cambridge with this result - that the number of girls competing in the senior class was greater than that of the boys, and the same was the case in respect to those who passed with honours ... It was said that it was sufficient if young women were instructed in needlework and cooking. He did not at all undervalue these acquirements in the education of women; but if they were not to be taught anything else then, logically it ought to be sufficient to educate boys in merely carpentry and farming."

Mr Lowther:

"What was intended by the words to which the hon. Gentleman objected was, not that girls should be placed at a disadvantage as compared with boys, but that the Commissioners should make reasonable rules for the examination of girls, and the grant of exhibitions to them."

Mr Butt (Leader of the Home Rule Party)

"The cry for intermediate education which had arisen in Ireland had no reference whatever to girls ... the education of young men, who had to bear the brunt and battle of life, and whose education in that respect was of more importance than the education of girls, ought to have provision made for it. When this Bill passed the House of Lords, there was not the slightest intention of providing for the education of girls. ("No, no!") Whoever said 'No' had paid very little attention to the passing of the Bill. The meaning of the Amendment was to place the education of girls and boys on precisely the same footing; but if that duty were imposed on the Commissioners they would be involved in very difficult questions ... and he could assure the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr Courtney), who, perhaps knew less of public opinion in Ireland than he did, that there was no desire in that country to spend money in order to give exactly the same class of education to girls as to boys".

House divided for the vote:

Ayes 123
Noes 32
Majority 91

Bill read third time and passed with Amendments.
Royal Assent August 16 (41 and 42 Victoria c.66).

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  1. Explain why the Lord Chancellor of England was not in favour of girls being admitted to the Irish Intermediate examination system on 2nd July, 1878?
  2. Write a letter (250 words) to a newspaper explaining why you agree/disagree with these views.

Gladstone's speech

  1. Why were Mr Gladstone's views on girls' education in Ireland of importance?
  2. Gladstone claimed that it was on the grounds of justice that women should be included in this Bill. Can you find any contradiction between this assertion and the refusal of Parliament to give women the vote? Explain why you think this was so.
  3. What evidence is there from other sources to suggest that Gladstone had changed his views on the education of Irishwomen? Give two reasons why you think he might have done so.
  4. How does his speech compare with other views expressed on this subject? Does it seem fair or biased in any way?
  5. What results did Gladstone suggest would come about in Ireland as a result of the passing of this Bill? Do you agree with his conclusions? Explain your answer.
  6. Gladstone was an orator and a very able politician. Can you find any indication of these skills in the above passage?
  7. Research the life and achievements of Gladstone the politician.

Mr O'Shaughnessy's speech

  1. What deputation of ladies do you think was Mr O'Shaughnessy referring to?
  2. Identify the two main concessions for girls in this Bill which Mr O'Shaughnessy wanted from the British government.
  3. Did many of his fellow Home Rulers share his views? Check other sources for evidence on this.
  4. Outline the major difference between Mr O'Shaughnessy's views and those of the English MP Mr Stansfeld.

Mr. Stansfeld's speech

  1. What were the arguments used by the English MP Mr Stansfeld (Halifax) in favour of girls being included in the Irish Intermediate Bill?
  2. Which of these arguments would have been most likely to sway his fellow members in the House of Commons?
  3. Identify any statement in this document which suggests that Mr Stansfield was not fully aware of the realities of girls' education in Ireland.

Mr Butt's speech

  1. Give as many reasons as you can why Isaac Butt (leader of the Home Rule Party) was against the inclusion of girls in the Irish Intermediate Education Bill.
  2. What does this speech tell you about Mr Butt's leadership of the Home Rule Party?
  3. Was Mr Butt in touch with Irish public opinion in regard to this subject? Research all the available evidence from other sources to help answer this question.
  4. Write a letter to Mr Butt explaining why you agree/disagree with his views on this topic.

Mr Meldon's speech

  1. Comment on Mr Meldon's main objection to the inclusion of girls: do you think this was a valid argument? Explain your answer with reference to other documentary sources.
  2. Who provided all these 'good schools' for girls mentioned by Mr Meldon?
  3. Would you agree with his assessment that the sum of money allowed by Government was only sufficient to cover boys' education? Can you think of any solution which would have resolved this problem? Why do you think no attempt was made to alter the financial arrangements?

Mr O'Shaughnessy's speech

  1. Why do you think was Mr O'Shaughnessy at pains to point out that the inclusion of girls in the
    Intermediate Bill was not a matter of women's rights?
  2. Compare and contrast Mr O'Shaughnessy's views on this question with those expressed by the
    other Irish MPS.
  3. Identify one particular point of agreement among all the Irish MPs. in relation to this Bill. What
    particular problems did they see might arise in relation to this issue?

  4. Compare Mr Butt's second statement with his previous arguments against the inclusion of
    girls. Examine the new points which he has introduced at this late stage.
  5. Research Mr Butt's role as leader of the Home Rule Party, 1870-1879.


Class to debate Butt's view:

"That the cry for Intermediate education which had arisen in Ireland had no reference whatever to girls"


"That the education of young men, who had to bear the brunt and battle of life, and whose education in that respect was of more importance than the education of girls, ought to have provision made for it".

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Newspaper coverage on inclusion of girls in the Intermediate Bill

Significantly the only paper to include detailed coverage of the struggle to extend the benefits of the Intermediate Bill to girls during June-July 1878, was the Northern Whig, Belfast.

The Irish Times, 27 June, 1878 considered that:

The chief defect of the Bill was its failure to make any provision for new reasonably cheap schools for the sons of struggling professional or business men.

The Freeman's Journal, 26 June, 1878 was also concerned with the implications of the Bill for Catholic boys and asserted that

This Bill was only being accepted in such a generous spirit because of the government declaration that it was meant as a prelude to a bill on Irish University Education.

Catholic Bishops

Apart from the groups already mentioned there is no evidence of any widespread desire on the part of Irish parents for change in girls' secondary education in 1878. The Catholic Bishops for their part appear to have been content with the status quo as regards girls' second level education. This is confirmed by the negotiations which took place during 1876 and 1877 between the Catholic Bishops and Hicks-Beach, Chief Secretary for Ireland, on the Intermediate scheme of education and which did not even mention girls. When Hicks-Beach presented Archbishop Cullen of Dublin with a second draft of the Intermediate scheme, in which he directly referred to girls being included for the first time, Cullen's reply made it clear that he was totally opposed to this proposal to extend the Bill to Intermediate schools for girls as well as boys. This letter, dated 7 Feb. 1878, is most important as an indication of Dr Cullen's views on the need for a different type of higher education for girls, because of their future roles as wives and mothers.

Commenting on the proposal to extend the provisions of the Bill to intermediate schools for girls as well as for boys, he stated that:

This might do very well for infant or primary schools where children of both sexes learn the mere fundamental rudiments of knowledge, but it should not be extended to higher schools in which the training and teaching separate into diverging channels for the different sexes. In the Intermediate Schools, the boys begin to train themselves for the army or navy, for the bar or the magisterial bench, for the medical or surgical professions, or for other occupations to which men only can aspire; females go in a very different direction and require other sorts of training and teaching.

It appears that as a result of this letter girls were dropped from the Bill.


Last Minute Representations
Deputation led by Isabella Tod to the Lord Chancellor

When it became evident during the debate in Parliament on the Bill in June-July, 1878, that girls were not included, last minute representations were made on their behalf by a small but influential delegation led by Isabella Tod and Mrs Byers of Belfast. Isabella Tod claimed that this deputation was an unusually representative one as it included Protestants and Catholics, Conservatives, Liberals, Home Rulers, and women representing the four provinces of Ireland. Although there were four MPs representing the various political parties there was only one woman (a Mrs Lordan from Kinsale) who had a 'fair experience' of Catholic educational establishments. She considered that the teaching in such schools was conceived on excellent lines and needed little to make it thoroughly effective. If the State could do that little without interfering with the freedom and organisation of these schools, it would, she believed, confer a great service.

According to the Northern Whig, 11 July 1878, the delegation included Miss Tod; Miss Sharman Crawford; Mrs Hallitt (for west of Ireland); Mrs Byers; Mrs Lordan (on behalf of Catholic southern ladies); Maurice Brook, MP, Dublin City; J.P. Corry, MP, Belfast (Presbyterian); Dr Smyth, MP, (Presbyterian); R. O'Shaughnessy, MP, Limerick City; Rev. W. Todd Martin (Presbyterian).

A manuscript account of the life of Mrs Byers (1832-1912) written many years later by her son, Sir John Byers, suggests that it was she who persuaded Lord Chancellor Cairns (MP for Belfast)) to change his mind on this subject. After several speakers had been heard, Lord Cairns asked in rather a sceptical way what evidence there was to support the view that women in Ireland really desired higher education. Mrs Byers was able to put forward, from her own personal experience in preparing girls for the Queen's University examinations for women, and the TCD examinations for women, such 'convincing facts' that Lord Cairns said at once after her statement that he had been converted. However it was another matter to convince the government.

English Influences

The close links between Isabella Tod and the various reformers of girls' education in England now proved extremely useful. On 5 July 1878 a petition was presented to Earl Granville on behalf of the Women's Education Union and this was quickly followed by other memorials from the Governesses Association, the Queen's Institute, Dublin; Alexandra College, Dublin; and one signed by ninety MPs and other influential people interested in girls' education. This latter memorial relied heavily on English precedents to support the claims of girls to inclusion in the Intermediate Bill, and claimed that the exclusion of girls from the benefits of the Intermediate Act in Ireland was completely at variance with the views expressed in the Endowed Schools Act (England) of 1869, amounting to a declaration on the part of the State that the higher education of girls in Ireland was not desirable. Another memorial to Lord Baconsfield came from the Bishops of the Church of Ireland, represented by the Archbishops of Dublin, Meath, Killaloe, Derry and Limerick, most of whom had been connected with Alexandra College through its Council.

On 25 July 1878 when the Intermediate Bill was in the Committee stage in the House of Commons, the Chief Secretary (Mr Lowther) caused general surprise when he suddenly announced that the government had obtained legal advice to the effect that the Bill as it stood did include girls by virtue of the law which made all general Acts apply to women as well as men, unless specifically excluded.

To make sure that women were included he adopted a clause from the English Endowed Schools Act, 1869, stating that:

...provision shall be made, as far as conveniently may be, for extending to girls the benefits of the scheme.

When Mr Courtney (MP for Liskeard) suggested that this amendment pointed to a different style of examination for girls, and that it was therefore necessary to include some proviso which would ensure the complete equality of girls and boys in these examinations, there was sharp disagreement from the Irish MPs. Their attitude on this subject is of particular interest as it suggests that they believed conditions in Ireland were not ripe for complete equality between girls and boys as regards public competitive examinations. (See parliamentary debate documents)


The foregoing suggests that it was English influence which was the crucial factor in obtaining the inclusion of girls in the Intermediate Education Act, and that there was no widespread public demand in Ireland for this concession. No extra provision was made financially now that girls were included. This was particularly unfortunate given the prevailing climate of opinion in Ireland and the lack of any real desire for change.

The attitude of the Catholic Bishops and clergy was conditioned to some extent by their knowledge that the last minute inclusion of girls had limited the financial opportunities for boys in the Intermediate Exhibitions and prize lists. The Catholic Bishops were fully behind the boys' schools taking public competitive examinations as part of their efforts to encourage and foster the growing power of the Catholic middle classes. It took them some time to realise that this equality of opportunity which they desired so much for boys should apply also to girls. It was the competition engendered between schools by the Intermediate and Royal University of Ireland examinations and the job opportunities created for girls which was to be mainly responsible for this change of heart.

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That students may:



1. Copies of Worksheet 3 to be distributed to individual students or to groups.

2. Teacher presents topic to the class.

3. Teacher invites questions and comments.

4. Teacher assigns questions and/or activities that follow.

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Worksheet 3



The effect of the Intermediate examination system on many girls' schools in Ireland was not very marked during the 1880s due mainly to the agricultural depression of the period.

The evidence suggests that the prevailing social and economic circumstances of the time had an immediate impact in reducing the number of pupils in some convent boarding schools, irrespective of whether or not the Intermediate examinations were taken.

Two convent boarding schools which illustrate this are the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, which remained outside the Intermediate examination system during the nineteenth century, and the St. Louis Convent, Monaghan, which became one of the most active participants in this examination during this same period.

The Annual Letters of the Sacred Heart Convent, Roscrea, for 1878-1879 stated that:

During the last two years the number in the boarding school have exceeded 80. We were hoping that the numbers would be even higher this year but the loss of their harvests has afflicted many families who will have to wait for better times before they send their children to us.
Archives, Sacred Heart Convent, Roscrea: Les Lettres Annuelles de la Societe du Sacre Coeur de Jesus, 1852-1882.

This is in line with J. Lee's assessment of the situation when he concludes that:

the decisive factor in both Ireland and America in 1878-79 was the grass roots response to the economic crisis due to the bad harvests of 1877-78 powerfully reinforced by the the threat of actual famine after the disastrous harvest of 1879.
J. Lee, The Modernisation of Irish Society, p.71.

The Annual Letters for Roscrea, 1880-1881, show that the situation had deteriorated rapidly as regards the number of boarders because of the continuing land troubles. It was stated that:

Every family is troubled with insecurity and the convents are seeing the number of pupils in their schools diminishing.

There were then only 60 pupils in the boarding school in Roscrea and even this figure was only achieved by a most unusual departure from custom:

Last year's pupils who would normally have left, at their request have obtained an extra year and returned in triumph to us.

An extract from another contemporary source, the House Journal of the Roscrea Convent, referred also in January 1881 to the land troubles as the major cause of the loss of pupils:

in this country, the revolution called the Land League has filled minds with terror and caused great financial losses. Our Boarding School now numbers only 50 because families can no longer pay the required pension.

J. Lee's account of this period underlines the seriousness of the situation:

Gladstone's immediate response to the accelerating tempo of terror in late 1880 was to introduce stringent coercion ... outrages increased from 2,500 in 1880 to 4,400 in 1881.

The swiftness with which the Roscrea school reacted to social and economic circumstances was once again underlined in the 1882 Annual Letters which showed that with the return of 'relative peace' more than 30 new pupils came in September 1882 to augment the numbers in the boarding school. There were 75 boarders and 40 pupils in the day school by the end of 1882.

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St. Louis Convent Boarding School, Monaghan

Far worse off in terms of numbers was another Irish convent boarding school of French origins, the St. Louis, Monaghan. Their position in an area where there were few well-to-do Catholics meant that they had to rely on boarders from elsewhere for their survival. This may help explain why they were one of the few Irish convents with French origins prepared to conform to the requirements of the Intermediate Board in the 1880s by altering their curriculum.

The fact that they had broken their links with the French mother house in 1861 (coming under the sole jurisdiction of the local bishop) must also be considered. Although French influence remained a factor of some importance in St. Louis, Monaghan,during the 1860s and 1870s, its subsequent decision to enter for the Intermediate examinations in 1880 and its pioneering work for the Irish language during the 1890s suggests that it had achieved a greater degree of assimilation into the Irish educational scene than other French religious teaching orders of women who retained close links with their French mother house. The break with the French mother house was not achieved by other French orders such as the Sacred Heart order, the FCJs, the Sacred Heart of Mary and the St Joseph of Cluny, all of whom sent their Irish choir nuns to France for part of their novitiate during the nineteenth century.

In 1880 when the St. Louis boarding school first entered for the Intermediate examinations the subjects taken were English, French, Arithmetic, Music, Drawing and Mathematics (Euclid, Algebra). Apart from Mathematics which was most unusual for a convent school, its curriculum was very similar to that of other convent secondary schools of the period.

In 1881 Natural Philosophy was added and Latin, Italian and Bookkeeping by 1882. Domestic Economy was taken in 1883, German and Trigonometry in 1885. Yet although the school advertised quite extensively during the early 1880s, highlighting the low fees charged for the boarders and the fact that the Intermediate examinations were undertaken, their numbers still remained very small during the period, varying between 30-34.

A return handed in by the Bishop of Clogher, Dr Donnelly, to the Educational Endowments Commission of 1886-7, showed that despite the school's very successful participation in the Intermediate examinations, the number of pupils did not show any dramatic increase in the period 1880-1886.

Return dated 21 October October 1886* for St Louis Convent, Monaghan

  1880 1881 1882 1883 1884 1885 1886
Total number presented 24 22 23 24 21 25 29
Total number of pupils 30 30 31 34 33 33 32
Passes 24 18 18 19 21 20 24
Honours in one or more subjects 19 17 15 16 16 15 16
Book prizes 9 6 3 5 4 1 2
Silver medals - - - 1 3 3 -
Gold medals - - - - 1 1 -
Exhibitions - - 1 1 5 2 -


Average no. of pupils in the school: 31.6
Average no. of pupils presented: 24
Average no. of successful pupils: 20.4

* Handed in by Dr. Donnelly, Bishop of Clogher to the Educational Endowments (Ireland) Commission, 1886-7. H.C. 1887, XXXI, p. 211.


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The convent now tried to improve matters by adding national school pupils to the special Intermediate class formed each September. The first mention of this came in June 1888 when the Annalist stated that:

19 pupils were presented for the Intermediate examinations, 11 of whom were boarders, and 8 from the national school.

The results showed a dramatic improvement on the previous two years with three Junior Grade Exhibitions. This continued during the 1890s with more national school pupils joining the Intermediate classes.

Another way of ensuring that talent was rewarded in the Monaghan convent was the first competitive examination for two full scholarships to the Boarding School, which took place in 1896. There were eight candidates and the required percentage was 70%. Two national school pupils scored the highest marks and were awarded the two free places. This marked the first real breakthrough being achieved by girls of ability from the national school. While their numbers remained small during the 1890s, it marked the beginning of a break with the traditional view of secondary education as a separate type of education for the middle class.

A typescript by a St. Louis nun, Sister M. Laurentia Stuart, who became a boarder aged thirteen years at the St Louis Monaghan in September 1897, suggests that:

... the main emphasis at this time was on beating the Protestant schools in the Intermediate examinations: it was put to the pupils that they should aim at replacing Protestant supremacy in the Exhibition Lists.

She had been sent to the Monaghan convent from Co. Clare because her father, a farmer, had been advised by the local parish priest that it was the leading convent school in the Intermediate examinations. She remembers that:

the Middle Grade and Senior Grade students got up 'voluntarily' around 5 a.m. for months before the examination. Sister M. Raphael would appear around 6 a.m. with a plate of bread and jam for the students.

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Sister Laurentia took eleven subjects in Middle Grade: Celtic, English, French, German, Italian, Commercial French, History, Geography, Mathematics, Theory of Music and Theory of Domestic Science. These last two subjects were totally theoretical: the girls scored high marks in these subjects thus adding to the total number of marks obtained.

The Monaghan Annals show that for the first time,

In November, 1896, a Professor at the Diocesan Seminary came to the convent once a week (1 to 2 hours on Monday evening) to teach extra Maths to the Intermediate Middle Grade pupils. Likewise in December 1896, Dr Mulhern, President of the Diocesan Seminary, came to give lessons in Latin to the Middle Grade on a once-a-week basis.

By consistently entering for the Intermediate examinations and gaining good results, St. Louis, Monaghan proved that convent schools could dramatically increase their numbers.

The reward for all this effort came in 1899 when St. Louis convent school, Monaghan, achieved its greatest triumph by gaining 36 distinctions, being beaten into second place overall by Victoria College, Belfast (Mrs Byers' Ladies' Collegiate School) in the overall list of prizewinners. 41 pupils were presented, 39 of whom passed and 10 of these obtained Exhibitions. The Annalist noted in September 1899 that this was the first time that a Catholic school had come so close to equalling ' this great Protestant College' in the Intermediate lists.

The measure of this achievement can only be understood by comparing the number of pupils in each school and the number who entered for the Intermediate examinations. Mrs Byers admitted before the Intermediate Education Commission in 1899 that out of a total of 190 students in Victoria College, only 100/110 were in the Intermediate classes, and 61 of these passed in 1898. The corresponding figure for St Louis, Monaghan, was much smaller: there were only 40 boarders in November 1897, and 38 pupils were presented for the Intermediate examinations in 1898. All passed and 8 gained Exhibitions. In June 1899 the number of pupils had changed very little: out of 41 who entered for the examinations 39 passed and 10 gained Exhibitions.

The effect of these good results on the boarding school numbers was immediate: in September 1899 the Annalist recorded that there were now 75 boarders and that this was 'the first time since the school was established that we had so many.'

She attributed this great increase to their successes in the Intermediate examinations of 1899. Once again in February 1900 the record number of boarders (86) was attributed by her to the 'extraordinary success' obtained in the Intermediate examinations of the previous year. By September 1900 the convent was obliged to refuse 'most eligible candidates for the Intermediate due to lack of accommodation.'

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This evidence indicates that the Intermediate examinations did not become a major influence on convent boarding schools under the 1890s. This appears to be corroborated by the records of the Sacred Heart Convent, Roscrea. Unlike the St. Louis, Monaghan, who sought to increase the number of pupils by entering for the Intermediate examinations, the Sacred Heart schools remained outside the Intermediate system during the nineteenth century.

As early as 1880-1881 the Annual Letters (Roscrea) described the Intermediate system as one rewarded financially by the government which had,

... so caught up the attention and interest of young people that the study of their religion is being forgotten or at least neglected. Ambition, it was felt, was ' seeping in everywhere and would bring about the evil results that persecution had never been able to achieve.'

However, it was not until the late 1890s that the refusal to enter for the Intermediate examinations seriously affected the numbers attending the Roscrea boarding school.

The House Journal entry for 4 September 1899 stated:

There were about 40 pupils in the boarding school which even with some expected additions would still be very small by comparison with their numbers in the past. The cause, they believed, was 'the Intermediate Education which draws so many to the schools where it is taught.'

The records available on the Sacred Heart Convent Boarding Schools in Roscrea and Mount Anville, Co. Dublin, underline some of the difficulties facing such schools in preparing pupils for the Intermediate examinations with a strict age limit of under 16, 17, and 18 for the different Grades.

A survey of the Register of the Sacred Heart Convent Boarding School, Roscrea, for the period 1870-1893 shows that 74% of all girls who entered this school were aged 14 and over. This suggests that the majority of girls coming to Roscrea were using it as a 'finishing' school. This is confirmed by the length of time spent at the school: the Register shows that 61% of the total number who entered the school spent two years or less there during the same period. (Source: Boarding School Register, 1842-1966, Sacred Heart Convent, Roscrea).

This general pattern was repeated at the Sacred Heart Convent Boarding School, Mount Anville, Dundrum, Co. Dublin. Their Register for the same period 1870-1893 suggests that the girls were slightly younger entering the school than in Roscrea: 68% were aged 14 and over in Mount Anville as compared with 74% in Roscrea. However the number of years spent at Mount Anville during the same period was very similar to Roscrea: 63% of the total who entered the school spent two years or less there.

The Sacred Heart schools cannot be taken as indicative of trends generally as regards the short period of time spent at convent boarding schools as no comparable figures on such a detailed basis have as yet come to light for other convent schools of the period. There is evidence to suggest that the late age at which girls came to convent boarding schools was a problem faced by the majority of such schools. Both the Dominican and Loreto Orders complained of this problem in their evidence before the Intermediate Education Commission of Inquiry, held in 1899, and stated that a two years extension of the age limit was badly needed in the case of a large number of their boarders who came from the provinces at too late an age to prepare successfully for the Intermediate examinations.

These social and economic influences help explain some of the difficulties involved in preparing boarding school pupils for the Intermediate examinations which were based on strict age limits.

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Evaluation Questions

  1. What kind of source are the Annual Letters of the Sacred Heart Convent, Roscrea, and for whom were they written?
  2. How reliable is this source in relation to the period 1878-1882?
  3. What problems does this document highlight on girls' second level schools during this period?
  4. The Annual Letters (Roscrea) made their first criticism of the Intermediate Examination system in 1881/1882. Do you think the arguments put forward are valid, or are they biased in any way?
  5. What kind of problems do Convent Annals present as documentary sources?
  6. Evaluate the return given by the Bishop of Clogher to the Educational Endowments Commission of 1886/7 on the St. Louis Convent, Monaghan and draw conclusions from this source.
  7. What can the Monaghan Convent Annals, 1888-1896, tell us about the difficulties facing girls' schools in Ireland outside the main urban areas?
  8. Analyse the typescript written by a St. Louis nun on her schooldays and explain why it is an important source on girls' second level education. Does the fact that it was written many years after the events described affect its validity as a historical document?
  9. Using the evidence presented, compare and contrast the Sacred Heart Convent Boarding School, Roscrea, with St. Louis, Monaghan, under selected headings.
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(a) Clearer definition of girls' secondary education
It was in this area that the Act was to make a decisive contribution insisting on certain age limits (under sixteen for Junior Grade, under seventeen for Middle Grade and under eighteen years for Senior Grade examinations). National schools were excluded from results fees and as a result convent national schools began to assume their proper role as feeders to convent pension schools instead of competing with them for pupils. In many cases the junior section of convent pension schools now became detached from the senior part, and either remained as private junior schools or else were amalgamated with the convent national schools.

(b) Widening the range of subjects
While in theory students could select any number of subjects so long as they included two of the following: Latin, Greek, English, Mathematics and Modern Languages, in practice certain subjects were given much higher marks than others. Thus English, Greek and Latin were worth 1200 marks, while German and French had only 700 marks, and Celtic trailed behind with 600 marks.

As the valuable exhibitions were awarded on the total aggregate of marks gained, there was a strong inducement on schools to teach Latin and Mathematics and to present a student with ability in as many subjects as possible.

(c) Growing competitiveness
The money prizes went direct to the students while the schools gained results fees only on each subject passed. The newspapers started publishing the names of the various schools, listing them in order of the total number of exhibitions and prizes won. This created a growing competition between schools and gradually most convent schools were drawn into the fray. From a position where only twenty convent schools featured on the results list of the Intermediate Board in 1892 to forty five by 1898, the growth and change in direction of Catholic girls' education in Ireland was fundamental in nature.


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(d) Touting for clever girl students
This practice of reducing school fees or providing free schooling to clever students was common to many of the smaller Protestant girls' schools especially in Ulster and first surfaced during the Educational Endowments Commission in 1886. Many of those who gave evidence before this Commission claimed that fees were reduced to an absolute minimum in an effort to retain their pupils. One girls' school which was noted for this practice was the Ladies' Collegiate School, Derry, run by Miss McKillip since 1877.

In her evidence before the Educational Endowments Commission of 1886 Miss McKillip admitted that a great many of her pupils who were 'preparing to become teachers' paid reduced fees, but refused to give any further details as to numbers. She considered that competition between schools was very fierce and excessive.
Oral evidence supplied by an ex-pupil of Victoria College, Belfast, claimed that when the Intermediate results came out, Miss McKillip would write to parents that she wished to take the girl as a boarder for very reduced fees on condition that she entered for the Intermediate examinations.

The practice of some schools taking pupils of ability for free to prepare for a high place in the Intermediate examinations, especially in Ulster, gathered momentum during the early 1890s and led the Central Association of Irish Schoolmistresses to finally take a stand on the issue. A memorial signed by 40 girls' schools (18 in Ulster, 22 in the rest of Ireland) was handed in to the Intermediate Education Inquiry Commission in 1898 protesting against this 'evil' whereby heads of schools and colleges offered parents free education or education at very low terms for their children, if they had the ability to win prizes and high results fees under the Intermediate system. It was stressed that in some cases almost the whole endowment which these schools earned in results fees went to the parents and not to the school.

(e) New type of Convent day school
Although the majority of convent schools remained outside the Intermediate system in the latter half of the 1880s, the big change in convent education came with the introduction of Mathematics and Latin to enable Catholic girls to enter university. The Dominican Sisters opened their Eccles St. convent in 1883 and by 1885 had established a college for university education. This collegiate work, which continued in Eccles Street until 1893 (when it was transferred to St. Mary's University College, Merrion Square, Dublin) ensured that Latin and Mathematics were on the curriculum of the secondary school in additon to the more usual convent subjects.

Significantly it was the Eccles Street school which became the first convent school to succeed in defeating its Protestant rivals in 1901. In that year it was placed first in the overall list with 39 distinctions, with Victoria High School (Miss McKillip's) Derry in second place (34); and Alexandra College and School sharing third place with Victoria College, Belfast (29 distinctions).

Another sign of the changing situation in regard to convent schools was the winning of Mathematical medals in both the Middle and Junior Grades by St. Mary's University College, Dublin, and Dominican Convent, Eccles Street, respectively in 1900. These medals for first place in Ireland in this subject had long been looked on 'as the property of Ulster Protestant schools' according to the Weekly Freeman of 7 September, 1901.

Another new day convent, geared specifically to the requirements of the Intermediate and Royal University examinations, was St. Angela's High School, Cork, founded by the Ursulines in 1887. The inclusion of Latin and Mathematics on the first prospectus and the low fees charged (£4 per annum for girls over 12) is evidence of a similar approach to girls' secondary education as the High School movement.

The tremendous demand for such a day school is shown by the fact that within a month of its opening in September 1887, there were 260 pupils present and 40 disappointed parents had to be turned away (Annals of the Ursulines, Blackrock, iii, 1887). This departure from the traditional type of convent school was justified within a year when Mary Ryan, one of its pupils, gained first place in Ireland in 1888 in the Junior Grade Intermediate examinations with a total of 12 subjects: English, French, Arithmetic, Drawing, Music, Domestic Economy, Latin, Euclid, Algebra, Natural Philosophy, Botany and Bookkeeping. She went on to repeat this success in 1890 in Middle Grade, and took second place in Senior Grade in 1891. In her account of the first ten years of this school, Mary Ryan explained why it was so successful in its approach to the examination system. Out of such a large number of pupils a small group soon emerged who were best suited to 'to fit into the system'. The nuns also enlisted the help of a number of highly qualified lay staff. The two headmasters of the Cork School of Art took Drawing classes; the Theory of Music was taken by Herr Smur; Mr Welpy took Mathematics, and Mr Porter took Physics. However it was a woman teacher, Miss M.K. Mahony (who wrote under the pseudonym of Katherine Roche) who surpassed all the other extern teachers in the influence she exerted through an 'original, downright, well-read' mind. She had been trained in the Maria Grey Training College in London and came back 'full of ideas about women's work'.

Help was also extended by the Christian Brothers who had long experience in winning exhibitions in the Intermediate examinations. Three Christian Brothers set test papers for St Angela's, while a priest (Father Richard) would 'question us about Latin'. University classes to prepare for the RUI examinations were started in 1890 and Mary Ryan went on to win a studentship and fellowship of the RUI.

Both Alexandra College and School in Dublin, and Victoria College, Belfast, who were among the most consistent contenders for first place in the overall list of distinctions in the Intermediate examinations were greatly helped by their university work, which ensured a higher standard because of the highly qualified staff of lecturers necessary for this work, and because of the number of able girls attracted to such institutions on account of the special facilities offered. The pattern established by such colleges in entering for the Intermediate examinations ensured that convent schools offering university courses would also follow the same path.

(f) Education for Employment
The career opportunities opening up to Irish girls in the period 1880-1910, including teacher training departments for secondary teachers, woman clerkships, secretarial work in banks and firms like Guinness, gave them and their parents a continuing impetus to strive for a recognised educational level and thereby ensured the full acceptance of the examination system.

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  1. Give three reasons why the Intermediate Education Act was a very significant event in girls' second level education in Ireland.
  2. Was public opinion in Ireland at first generally in favour of such examinations for girls? Explain your answer.
  3. Give details of the valuable money prizes (exhibitions) awarded in the different grades. Would you be in favour of such prizes nowadays? Give reasons for your answer.
  4. Write your own school programme explaining why the subjects you have chosen are most important.
  5. Write a letter to a local newspaper (250 words) explaining why you think it is fair/unfair to publish the names of the various schools and to list them according to the total number of exhibitions and prizes won.
  6. Find out more about the various job opportunities opened up for women in the period 1880-1910.
  7. Write a job application to an employer in the 1890s explaining why the Intermediate examination has given you an advantage over other candidates.
  8. List three advantages and disadvantages of the Intermediate examination system in late nineteenth century Ireland.
  9. Class to divide in two and debate Pearse's view that this examination system was 'a murder machine'.
  10. One witness to the Commission of Inquiry into the Intermediate Education Act, 1898, reported that 'in many schools the vast majority of pupils are passed over, and because of the unlikelihood of their earning results, fees are to a large extent neglected'. What does this tell you about the payment by results policy?
  11. Write a brief note about 'touting' for pupils and explain why this practice was prevalent in Ulster.
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