The Catholic Church and the Secondary School Curriculum in Ireland, 1922-1962

By McBride, Lawrence W. | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2000 | Go to article overview
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The Catholic Church and the Secondary School Curriculum in Ireland, 1922-1962


McBride, Lawrence W., The Catholic Historical Review


The Catholic Church and the Secondary School Curriculum in Ireland, 1922-1962. By Thomas A. O'Donoghue. [Irish Studies, Vol. 5.] (New York: Peter Lang.1999. Pp. ix,183. $44.95.)

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Ireland, the bishops of the Catholic Church had reached an accord with Irish government officials wherein the Church was assured it would control publicly-funded primary schools that were under clerical management. Irish nationalist politicians supported the Church's rights in this arrangement, which was at the center of the de facto constitution of the modern Irish state as it evolved before the War of Independence (1919-1921) and the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922. When Ireland was partitioned, the population in the Free State (later Eire, then the Republic of Ireland) was over ninety per cent Catholic. A postrevolutionary government was in place, determined to consolidate the political revolution and use the schools to press forward a cultural revolution aimed at recovering the nation's rich Gaelic tradition. Thomas O'Donoghue explores how the Church easily maintained and strengthened its grip on its schools, particularly the secondary schools, during the first four decades of an independent Ireland.

The Church's principal concern was the salvation of souls, and the bishops and clergy saw control of all aspects of the education of Irish Catholic youth as being essential to that task. Religion permeated the school day; instruction in the faith infused the teaching of secular subjects. The secondary (and primary) curriculum was revised by including required courses in Irish history and literature and the native language; but the Church protected the place in the curriculum of the classics and of Latin and Greek, deemed important for the recruiting of new priests. Agreements with triumphal new education ministers who were raised on the principles of the Gaelic League resulted in fewer courses on offer, a narrow curriculum delivered through stultifying, test-driven teaching methods that rewarded mimetic skills over more transformative, critical thinking.

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