For this week’s writing prompt, Back to School
, I’m going back to the early to mid-1800s in Ireland. First, it’s important to understand a little bit about how children of the poor began to get educated in Ireland.
The Commissioners for National Education (National Board of Education) was established for the purpose of administering funds for education of the poor in Ireland. The Board was empowered to make grants to existing schools for the payment of teachers and the provision of equipment and to provide for the building of new schools, to appoint and pay inspectors and to establish a model school for the training of teachers.
|Prison East and school location|
It was through such a grant that the Prison School (also spelled Prizon School) was built. The name actually has nothing to do with any prison, but is derived from the townland in which it is located - Prison East. Located in County Mayo, Prison East is in Civil Parish of Manulla. The building of the school began around 1823, according to letters written by Father Patrick Nolan who helped to establish the school. The original dimensions were listed as 40 feet by 20 feet. In 1937 a new building erected on the same land just to the west of the old school. At some point the original building was torn down. The 1937 building is still standing today, but the school closed in 1970.
The earliest records on the school are found in a report by the National Board of Education (NBE) from 1850. It mentioned that the Prison School had a male teacher and received funding of 10 pounds from the NBE that year. Both boys and girls attended the school, with the total number of pupils ranging from 56-65 during the school year.
Slates and chalk were the writing tools, and while some books were supplied to the school, it is unclear whether each student had their own or needed to share. The school had a timber floor with a large open fireplace for heating the space. Each student was required to bring a sod of turf each day to keep the fire burning.
Subjects studied at the school included reading, writing, spelling, grammar, arithmetic, music, geography, and history. For girls, sewing and needlework were added, and for boys, agriculture and book keeping. It was originally forbidden that students speak Irish in school. Those who did were punished. From that it would seem that a child who did not speak English would not be allowed to attend the school.
Attendance at the school fluctuated depending on the time of year. The older boys and girls would stay at home to help with the planting or harvesting of the crops. During winter months, attendance was higher.
According to a website on the history of Prison School, the first teacher at the school was a man with the last name of Carlos. He was followed by a man named Colgan from Bailefaidirin, who had been trained as a gardener. Colgan, it is said, had a very beautiful garden around the school. In 1864 Edward Colgan was listed as the teacher for the boys school, and Bridget Colgan (his wife) was shown as the teacher for the girls school. The one room school was split in half with a partition separating the boys from the girls. The website states that Colgan was a Fenian and was dismissed by the NBE, so he and his family emigrated to America.
Edward Colgan was my maternal 2nd great-grandfather. He was born 31 December 1834 in Drumadoon, Balla, County Mayo to Thomas Colgan and Catherine (Carroll) Colgan. On 26 December 1863 he married Bridget McHugh in Balla. They had eight children, with the first three (Catherine, Anna Marie, and Edward) being born in Prison. Children Charles, Barbara, Clara, John P., and John A. were all born in Cincinnati, Ohio.
As noted above, Edward and Bridget were both teaching at Prison School in 1864. I am guessing that Bridget only taught for that year (and perhaps only part of the year) as daughter Catherine was born 27 December 1864.
In our family it had been discussed that Edward was a member of the secret society Fenian movement, a band of warriors dedicated to overthrowing British rule in Ireland. They staged an unsuccessful revolt in 1867. Was Edward an active participant in that? Is that why he lost his teaching post at Prison School?
While I have not located any emigration or immigration documents for Edward, I did find information on Bridget Colgan. She was 23 when she arrived in New York on 19 November 1868 aboard the ship S/S Minnesota
. With her were 2-year-old Ann and 1-year-old Edward. Also listed above Bridget on the ship’s manifest was 17-year-old Catherine McHugh, Bridget’s younger sister. Where were Edward and their 4-year-old daughter Catherine? Did they travel to the United States earlier to get a home established in Cincinnati before the rest of the family came over?
Life in the new world was not easy for the Colgan family. Little Edward died 9 December 1868, a month after arriving in America. One has to wonder if he contracted something onboard the ship. Anna Marie died in 1869 at the age of 3, Clara was only 9 when she died in 1872, John P. was less than a month old when he died in 1876, and John A. just a year old when he died in 1881. Only three of Edward and Bridget's eight children lived to be adults.
Edward continued to teach, at least initially, at a Catholic school in Cincinnati. The 1870 Cincinnati Directory lists him as a teacher, but by 1873 he was working as a bookkeeper. It would be so interesting to know what he thought about the educational system in Cincinnati versus what he left behind in his old country school.
The 30 September 1870 issue of the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer
contained an article stating that 40 Irishmen met the previous evening to organize themselves into a section of the United Irishmen. Edward Colgan not only attended but was appointed temporary Treasurer. I wonder if he was again dismissed as a teacher due to his Fenian affiliation?
Bridget died 30 March 1886, and by 1910 Edward was living with his daughter Barbara and her family. He died 20 October 1921. Most of the family is buried in New St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Cincinnati.