Cos. Tyrone, Donegal, Londonderry & Fermanagh Ireland Genealogy Research

Official Website of the Mailing List


Ardstraw Parish, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland Education 1780-1860

Extracted from Ardstraw: Historical Survey of a Parish
Rev. John H. Gebbie (Strule Press, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, 1968)
Transcribed, compiled and submitted by Len Swindley, Melbourne, Australia

With the approach of the nineteenth century, and men’s interest in national affairs, in political and economic matters and contemporary issues, provoked and stimulated by the events of the 1780s and 90s, desire for education was new-born and widespread. The National Education’s System did not come until 1831-32, but from 1790 church schools and private schools increased rapidly. In 1773 in the West and South-West parts of Ireland there were only eight schools: in 1816 in the same area 800, in 1824 – 1,222. A night school for 16 boys was established at Rash in 1783. It operated from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. from October to February each year. And in 1800 a new school for girls was built at Rash. 24 girls were there instructed by Lady Mountjoy, in sewing, spinning and ethics. From 1814 there was a private school in Newtownstewart, taught by a parish schoolmaster. The fees per quarter varied from four shillings to five shillings and fivepence for spelling and reading: with a guinea for writing, arithmetic and book-keeping. None of the Erasmus Smith foundation of Endowed schools came to Newtownstewart, but “Lord Mountjoy has granted an acre of ground near Newtownstewart for the purpose of erecting one and the governors of Erasmus Smith’s schools hope to build and endowed one shortly.”From 1800-1825, £600,000 had been voted by the Parliament for endowment of Charter Schools. By 1810 the number of schools in the parish came to 23, and scholars to 807; 608 of them Protestant, 199 Catholic; 611 male and 196 female. In those days children of the poorer classes were sent to school until they could read and write. But such literacy was exceptional. Often parents could not afford the very modest school fees and so the children could not attend. Or their use in the fields was indispensable. Even after attendance at school. The children must work at night at weaving, or in business or trade. Though generally the latter was regarded as somewhat degrading and to emigrate was socially more acceptable. By 1844 Lewis estimated the parish had 21, 212 inhabitants, with 16 public schools embracing 1,600 children, and 17 private schools taking another 780 children. That means schools with an average of 70 children, and 9 per cent of the population at school! In addition, 35 Sunday Schools were in operation in the Parish.

In 1856, the following schools under the Commissioners of National Education were operating in the parish (the “National Schools” Education Act was passed in 1831.)

Beltony had 34 boys and 10 girls and was Roman Catholic.

Newtownstewart Roman Catholic school had 85 boys and 44 girls

Corrick Roman Catholic school had 27 boys and 28 girls

Birnaughs Roman Catholic school had 52 boys and 28 girls

i.e. 272 Roman Catholics on roll in the parish


Douglas with 60 boys and 32 girls

Killymore with 66 boys and 25 girls

i.e. 183 Presbyterians on roll

Established Church:

Legfordrum, 33 boys and 29 girls

Lisnatunny, 64 boys and 53 girls

Crosh, 40 boys and 23 girls

Moyle Evening School, 30 boys and 8 girls

Beaghs, 36 boys and 21 girls

i.e. In all, 339 Established Church children.

Some particulars of the last school may be taken as characteristic of all. It was built at a cost of £40 by public subscription. The stones required for building were carted voluntarily by neighbours. The roof was thatched. One storied, of course, and only with one room. There were forms and desks. The sole teacher may be male or female, Established Church or Roman Catholic. At a period in mid-century he was a man who walked each morning and evening over the mountains from Glenmornan, too poor, of course, to possess a horse, the only conveyance of the times. Attendance of pupils was extremely irregular. Each brought two turves daily to fuel the fire. Many scholars went barefoot. Boys, like girls were dressed in “calico frocks” until teen-age or until the acquired a pair of cut-down, cast-off trousers. An old man told me his experience was common: “I went to school when I was four years of age and left when I became a “wee herd” at 7: hired and living away from home. (Patrick MacGill in Children of the Dead End describes autobiographically, a hiring fair, for children as well as adult, not far from Newtownstewart.) The salary of the Beaghs teacher was made up of £20 from the Rector plus five shillings per year from each child that could afford it. The teaching given was confined to the “three Rs” and in addition, the Bible without doctrinal comment. The National Commissioners provided such text books as were required for secular education: and four books for Religious Instruction were recommended, but not obligatory. Viz. two consisting of Selections from the Bible, one volume of Sacred Poetry and a volume of Archbishop Whateley’s work On the truth of Christ. In 1824 the Roman Catholic bishops voiced their complaint that teaching of the Bible, which they

Had not sanctioned, was being given in schools erected by public money. So in 1831 an “escape clause” was drawn up and a set of approved Readers became the common means of Dissemination of knowledge for the children of Ireland.

Priests and Ministers of all churches were to have access on one day of the week to instruct the children of their persuasion. Later, on a Presbyterian objection, this right of access was withdrawn, and reserved only for the clergyman having a majority of the children attending. This brought about the circumstance that schools under the National Commissioners could become entirely Roman Catholic, or Presbyterian, or Church of Ireland, in fact. By 1850, one in thirteen of all children in Ireland were receiving this national education. In the 1851 Report of the Commissioners the numbers of schools was 4, 704, and of children 520. 401. Of these there were 147 in the hands of the Established Church, in Roman Catholic control 2,778, Presbyterians had 475, Dissenters 7, of mixed management 11. Thus three-quarters of the schools had come under Roman Catholic patronage.

Some of these schools in this parish were of considerable quality and at least one other of surprisingly high standard. This being the Wood End Grammar School, Lisnatunny. It was kept by “DOMINIE” DONNELLY. His son kept the National School. The Grammar School was situate on the farmstead belonging to the Hood family (later JAMES S. HOOD and now MRS. M. FULTON’S.) The dominie was of that type of schoolmaster, not uncommon then, whose learning lay in Latin and English of classical construction. He had an abiding faith that outside of the Gaelic, the Latin tongue embraced all knowledge worth knowing. Amongst his pupils was THOMAS MELLON, uncle of ANDREW W. MELLON who later rose to very great eminence in American and in world finance. Thomas emigrated to America in 1808 and founded a distinguished dynasty.

In Newtownstewart itself, education had in the person of Rector DR. JAMES McIVOR one of Ireland’s authorities. He contended unceasingly for improved facilities and higher standards. Not only was he interested in acquiring a Model School for the town (1861) but he was personally responsible for a quite remarkable list of educated men in the parish during his life here from 1847-86. In a pamphlet he published, in advocacy of his aims, he gave the names of nearly 400 scholars from the parish schools who within a generation or two entered the learned professions, Some Papers on Intermediate Education (1867) contains a “memorial, from the inhabitants of Newtownstewart and vicinity to the National Education Board, relative to the introduction of the Intermediate element into the Model School, etc., etc.”

He appended three lists of names:

1st - Those who presently form the Latin classes in Newtownstewart school, with statement of their means: nearly all of whom already have brothers, uncles, cousins, in the professions, as proof of ability and benefit received.

2nd - List of names of 20 teachers who since 1800 have imparted classical education in the parish schools: at Newtownstewart, Lisnatunny, Douglas, Ardstraw Bridge, Crew Bridge, Dregish, Magheracriggan, Erganagh and Clare. ”There are 25 National Schools in the parish, and several church education schools, but no classical or superior school whatever”.

3rd List - Between 300-400 names eminent in the professions, educated in the parish. It contains a Dean of Maynooth, several Rectors in the clerical section. Of medicals, three who have won the honour of knighthood. “And all this from a parish whose only resources are agricultural, whose gentry are few, and where the average size of farms is under twenty acres of but middling land”.

A brief selection of these names: SIR THOMAS MacCLEAR, astronomer Royal Cape of Good Hope, friend and adviser of DAVID LIVINGSTONE. His uncle, DOCTOR SIR GEORGE MacCLEAR, both born in a cottage in Moyle. Another of this family is shortly to be made a Bishop. DR. BURNSIDE, who emigrated to Louisiana in 1820, has just left six and a half million dollars. REV. JAMES MONAGHAN, Dublin; REV. HUGH McSORLEY, Dublin. Solicitors, JOHN RAMSAY and JOHN McCROSSAN, Professor McCULLOUGH, Trinity College, Dublin; DR. SIR JAMES McGRATH, SIR HENRY McCORMICK, JAMES HAMILTON, brothers MICHAEL and JOHN DOAK and eighteen others, doctors all. Eminent emigrants included ANDREW W. MELLON (U.S. Treasury and “Mellon Millions”); SIR WILLIAM McARTHUR, Lord Mayor of London, 1880 (the first Irish man to be so): the meat-packing ARMOURS of Chicago; THOMAS NOBLE MILLER, Pittsburgh, friend, son-in-law and partner of ANDREW CARNEGIE, millionaire steel magnate.

Some idea of the distances to be walked to school in those days is indicated by the addresses of some of the 30 boys enrolling at Newtownstewart Model School on its first day, July 1st, 1861:




ANDREW LAIRD, Urbelreagh

SAMUEL WATSON, Ballyrennon


JAMES DICK, Knockaniller