(Forwarded to our website by Margaret Wall (126.96.36.199.3), and includes extracts from "The Latin School" by Edward F. Boylan and Francis Gray.)
The Latin School was a hedge school located in the townland of Moyne, County Longford, Ireland, and became something of a prep school for the priesthood. It was attended in the 1800's by future priests Edward Cooney and his nephews Mark and Patric Cooney, as well as countless others who became priests to the world, in Ireland and Britain, but also in North America, Australia and Africa and all the corners of the world-wide Irish diaspora. This school, which has more than a century and a half of history, had no fixed habitation until the close of the nineteenth century, and had only two classrooms for the first half of the twentieth century; nevertheless, it can count nearly 600 priests among its past students almost all of them natives of the dozen rural parishes within a twenty mile radius of the school in Counties Leitrim, Longford and Cavan, situated mainly in the diocese of Ardagh but reaching also into the diocese of Kilmore. Bishop Hoare was right when he once spoke of this "levitical district".
Moyne and National History
Father Jim Sheridan, former combatant in the Old IRA, had been a member of Sean MacEoins "Flying Column" and later a priest of La Crosse Diocese, Wisconsin, while he was studying theology at St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee in 1921, received this letter from Sean MacEoin, in jail under sentence of death following his capture in Mullingar:
"Last week I was tried, convicted and sentenced to die three weeks from today. My poor mother was here yesterday to request that my body be turned over to her for Christian burial. They refused and told her that my body would be buried in quicklime in the prison yard. If you write immediately, I will receive your letter before I died. Farewell, Jim. Pray for my soul."
Both Sean MacEoin and Jim Sheridan were graduates of Moyne Latin School. Sean MacEoin escaped jail to become a national leader in Ireland in war and peace, and married Alice Cooney in Gurteenboy in 1922. Click here for more on that historic wedding.
To place Moyne Latin School in its historical context, it is necessary to examine briefly the nature of the hedge schools and the system of education they afforded to the Irish people. These schools came into being after the exit of the Bardic school, which finally closed down in 1641. They owe their origin to the suppression of all the ordinary means of education, first during Cromwells regime (1649-1660), then under the penal code introduced in the reign of William III (1689-1702) until the first decade of the nineteenth century. They took the place, so far as that was possible, of the schools, lay and clerical, that had come and gone since the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1539. After the ascession of William III to the throne, and the introduction of penal laws in this and the following reigns - Anne (1701-1714), George I (1714-1727), George II (1727-1760) - education was forbidden at home and abroad under the direst penalties.
The code of penal legislation restraining education in Ireland was completed in 1709 by an enactment which provided "that whatsoever person of the popish religion shall publicly teach school, or shall instruct youth in learning in any private house of this realm,...shall be taken to be a popish regular clergyman, and to be prosecuted as such - and incur such pains, penalties, and forfeitures as any popish regular convict is liable unto by the laws and statutes of this realm..."
The Catholic clergy had to leave the country, and priests were forbidden to enter. Some of them did teach, even in the most difficult circumstances; their opportunities for doing this were very limited. The work of education was left mainly to the lay school master who was daring enough to risk his liberty in order to teach. These illegal schools, the hedge schools of Ireland, were destined to be the great and chief means of educating the people up to, and a couple of decades after the introduction in 1831 of the national school system of primary education.
The hedge schools date back to the middle of the 17th century, and gradually they came into being, when the continued enforcement of the law made teaching a dangerous profession. The law forbade the school master to teach: perforce he had to teach in secret. The fabric of the school house is generally described as a "poor hut", or a "cabbin". William Carleton (1794-1869), the novelist, has left us his autobiography, and an account of the school which he attended. It was situated in Skelgy, Co. Tyrone. He writes: "A school-house was built for him" - his teacher - "a sod house scooped out of the bank on the roadside, and in the course of a month it was filled with upwards of a hundred scholars, most of them males, but a good number of them females. Unlike most schools of its kind, which were closed during the winter owing to the cold and damp, this one remained open. Every winters day each scholar brought two sods of turf for the fire, which was kept burning in the centre of the room; there was a hole in the roof that discharged the functions of a chimney. Especially during cold and severe weather, the children were permitted to sit in a circle by turns. The seats about the fire were round stones."