Powerscourt National School in the 19th Century


It seems hard to imagine now, but in the early 1800s, there was no system of education in Ireland. The provision of education was chaotic, and relied on local support, support of Christian Societies, and the efforts of parents keen to educate their children. Successive governments of the time did little more than commission reports into how education should be provided and while deciding what to do, provided grants to Christian Societies who in turn funded schools. Landowners often provided support by way of building schools, paying for teachers, or subsidising students of their tenants. And despite being forbidden, parents organised hedge-schools and schoolmasters. The poor schoolmaster was at the bottom of the pecking order—if the parents thought that he wasn’t up to the job, he was shipped out and a new man hired!

Frustration grew with the government, who seemed unwilling or unable to implement a national education system. A group of philanthropic businessmen established “The Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor of Ireland”, more commonly known as The Kildare Place Society in 1811. The group included many of the major Dublin merchants of the time, Samuel Bewley, Arthur and William Guinness and several members of the La Touche family. The aims of the Society were to provide a means to educating all children, regardless of religious background or income. The society’s model gained popularity, and by 1815 the government decided that all grants that it had previously given to a variety of different societies, should now be directed to the Kildare Place Society.

At this time in Enniskerry, the resident landlord was Richard, 5th Viscount Powerscourt. In 1813, he had married Frances Theodosia Jocelyn, the first daughter of the Earl of Roden, a well known family in Irish aristocratic circles. Having sold Powerscourt Townhouse a decade before, the country house was the primary residence for the newly-wed couple. Whether it was a result of the thrill of being married, a desire to impress the in-laws, or just wanting to have somewhere nice to pass through every day, Richard decided to initiate a series of improvements in Enniskerry village. In 1818, he hired the architect Sir William Morrison to build a series of “rustic cottages” and it was at this time, the new Schoolhouse was built. The new school aligned with the principles of the Society, and by 1825 was formally under the remit of the society. This was probably due to the fact that the Rector of Powerscourt, Reverend Robert Daly was a strong supporter of its ideals. Also, both David and Peter La Touche were influential members of the society. The La Touches lived in nearby Bellvue at Glen of the Downs, and owned Luggala. Peter La Touche leased land from Powercourt at Lough Bray, where he had a hunting lodge. It is likely therefore, that they knew the Powerscourts and promoted the Society to them.

School Design

No plans exist for the school house, but in designing the school, Morrison would probably have been guided by a pamphlet produced by Joseph Lancaster, an educationalist whose speeches had prompted the formation of the Kildare Place Society. In Hints and Directions for Arranging School-Rooms (1813), he provides extensive details on how the school building should be built and rooms arranged. The location of the schoolhouse should be “elevated above the surrounding ground”, with the school room on a ground floor, without any vault or cellar underneath (in order to reduce noise). It should be set back from the public road, because “the safety of the children coming to and going from the school room will be sometimes endangered by the passing of carriages close to the door”. There should be a play area if space allows.

Figure 1: William Deane Butler’s model plan for a schoolhouse, published in The Schoolmaster’s Manual, 1825. These plans would have been based on the designs of early Kildare Place Society schools such as that at Enniskerry, built 1818.

The building should have plenty of large windows, something relatively unusual in buildings of this time because of window taxes, from which schools were exempt. The school room should be “oblong, clear of all projection, from the wall; if fireplaces, buttresses, or any other things be permitted to project, they will… obstruct that pervading view which the master should command of every part of the room, and of every individual scholar”. The master’s desk “should be at the end of the school room; facing of the scholars, without rails on it to intercept his view, and should be placed upon a platform  elevated in proportion to the length of the room”. Each student should be allocated 17 inches of desk space—teaching to write on slate rather than paper would save room. These concepts were eventually included in The Schoolmaster’s Manual (1825), which included some model drawings of plans for schoolhouses. It is easy to see the parallels between the example shown and the school at Enniskerry. The school cost £600 to build in 1818, about €50,000 in today’s money. 

School Materials

Figure 2: Images from popular books at the time—top left: The His­tory of Useful Arts & Manufactures, printed for the Society on Chancery Lane, Dublin; top right: A Picture of the Seasons (August); bottom: Little Jack, a hugely popular children’s book in the early 18th century.

The Kildare Place Society provided books, posters and other materials to their schools. Initially, the books were really just stacks of tablets made of card with text pasted onto them, so that one book could be shared around. For example, the spelling book contained 60 cards of increasing difficulty. However at this time there was a very popular series of books (known as chapbooks) which were small and cheap and contained stories of adventure and daring. The Society realised it would have to match the popularity of these books if it was to establish their materials at the core of the school curriculum. To do this, it mimicked the look and feel of the chapbooks, but developed their own content that was more in keeping with the moral tone of the society. The scale of books published by the Society is staggering. By 1842, nearly 1.7 million books had been circulated.

The School in the Parish

A report was published in 1825 on the state of the provision of education in Ireland (the government were still trying to decide what to do!). In the Parish of Powerscourt, there were eleven schools, including at least four hedge schools. The reported stated that the (new) schoolhouse at Enniskerry consisted of four rooms, and cost £600 to build. It had 61 children on the roll, 14 boys and 47 girls.  The school-mistress was Margaret Sandford and she was paid almost £36 per annum, £34 of which was paid by Lord Powerscourt. It was usual for pupils to pay a small sum—perhaps 1 penny per week—as it was considered that this would ensure their attendance was good. Just across the bridge, opposite the entrance to the Bog Meadow. There was an infant school. There were other schools in Annacrevy, Glencree, Bushy Park and Charleville.

Six years after the 1825 report, the government of the day finally decided to establish a National School system. The grant of £30,000 formerly paid to the Kildare Place Society went instead to the Board of Education, whose model largely mimicked that of the Society it was replacing. Existing schools could be taken into connexion with the Board by applying for salary for teachers or for supplies for schools. While the school at Curtlestown joined the National School system in 1834, the school at Enniskerry did not do so until much later in the century. This meant that support for the school relied on local subscription and the support of Powerscourt. There is evidence that Lord Powerscourt and his Guardians were heavily involved in the education of its tenants children. The 6th Viscount Powerscourt died young and the estate was run by Guardians until his son and heir came of age. The Guardians were the 6th Viscount’s father in law, wife, and uncle—Lord Roden, Lady Powerscourt (who remarried and became Lady Castlereagh and then Marchioness Londonderry) and Reverend William Wingfield respectively.

Figure 3: Request from John Cranston Schoolmaster at Enniskerry to Guardians of Powerscourt, May 1849, that he be allowed to retire with pension. (Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland)

There is some recorded correspondence between the schoolmasters and the Guardians, which highlights the relationship between them. A note in 1848 to the guardians from Philip O’Connor, headmaster at Annacrivey school requested fuel. The estate manager, Captain Cranfield added to the note that the school was the only one without a fuel supply. The Guardians directed that the five ton of coal per term formerly provided to Glencree, which had recently closed (but later re-opened after pressure from tenants) was to be provided to Annacrivey.This note tells us that the Guardians were the main providers of support to the school.


Figure 4: Salaries paid to Schoolmasters by Lord Viscount Powerscourt for the Year 1844 (Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland)

Figure 5: Request from Headmasters at Annacrivey and Enniskerry to Guardians of Powerscourt to be allow schools to close on Saturdays (Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland)

But this support brought with it control of the schools. A request was submitted by the schoolmasters at Annacrivey and Enniskerry in 1849 to close their schools on Saturday “to enable them to purchase provisions, elsewhere than Enniskerry.” They added that this would not unduly affect the pupils as the attendance on Saturdays is small. In reply, William Wingfield asked why the attendance was so small. They mustn’t have been able to convince him, as another request was submitted in 1852, when the Guardian minutes note that Lady Castlereagh “has heard that the schoolmasters and mistresses are anxious that there should be no school on Saturdays, and approves.” A subsequent note indicated that Captain Cranfield would speak to them about it, and that he informed Lady Castlereagh that Reverend Wingfield had refused their application some time ago. I wonder what happened!

The Guardians also had control over who was school master. When John Cranston, schoolmaster at Enniskerry and at Annacrivey since 21st October 1817, decided to retire, he wrote to the Guardians in May 1848, he stated that he had spent £150 on the school and land at Annacrivey over his time there. He added that he was in poor health, and had a wife and six children to support. Lord Roden replied that he had spoken to Lady Castlereagh and she agrees that Cranston should be pensioned off and a new and proper master got for Enniskerry. Under the circumstances I think he should be pensioned at a salary of £25 a year for his life – if the Bishop of Cashel (Reverend Robert Daly, formerly Rector of the Parish) will contribute £10 this will leave him within £5 of his present salary. As to any improvements made so many years ago as is said to have been done by Cranston at Annacrivey no consideration whatever can be taken by the Guardians”.

It would appear therefore that the Guardians were not too happy with Cranston’s performance as a master—an earlier note accompanying the request for fuel in 1848 referred to Annacrivey, whose schoolmaster was Philip O’Connor, as “the largest and best managed school on the estate.” They wanted a new master at Enniskerry.

The new man was George Lindsay, who along with his wife had been recommended for the position as Master and Mistress of Enniskerry by Reverend H Kearney. The Guardians noted at this time that they would consider it, but within a year Lindsay’s name was associated with the school. In 1855, the Church Education Society (which had superseded the Kildare Place Society) sent in their inspector’s report to the Guardians. William Wingfield noted in the minutes that “The Inspector of the Ch. Ed. Soc’y school reports most favourably of the Annacrivey and Enniskerry schools, particularly the latter.”

Poor John Cranston died within two years of retiring, and a note was sent from a Reverend O’Callaghan to the Guardians to see if they were able to continue his pension to his wife. William Wingfield replied that that he was sorry that he could not continue the pension, but would allow it up to the last Gale Day (rent collection time), and an additional five pounds.

Joining the National School System

In 1867, the decision was taken to move the Enniskerry School into the National School System. On the original application, James Doherty, aged 30 and his wife Isabella, aged 24 are listed as schoolmaster and mistress. James received training from the Church Education Society, at their training school at Kildare Place. The school building is described in the application as being 44 foot long and 16 feet wide, with six large windows. It adds that a portion of the house is occupied by the teacher, with “no inconvenience to the school”. The average attendance is 20, with 27 males and 11 females on the books. In applying, Lord Powerscourt—by now it was the 7th Viscount Powerscourt—undertook to carry out any improvements requested by the Board. The application was approved, and a salary of £15 was allowed for Mr. Doherty. The school was given the roll number 9760. While it was originally called Enniskerry National School, in 1876, it changed its name to Powerscourt National School.

The school had a series of teachers during the 1870s. James Doherty left in 1871, and he was succeeded by Denis Christian in 1875. After Christian left, short terms were served by Michael Redmond, S Jackson, W Marshall and James Sweetman, who left in 1878. We can only speculate why there were so many masters over such a short period of time. In 1879, William Pattison was app=pointed, and remained until 1896. Pattison’s wife was workmistress at the school, and would have taught needlework. Support for needlework can be traced back to at least 1855, when William Wingfield granted a once-off donation of £5 for a sewing school at Annacrivey, stating that “the efficient support of such an industrial establishment is of great advantage to Lord Powerscourt’s tenantry.” When the then Marchioness Londonderry visited Curtlestown National School in 1855, she declared herself “much pleased with the needlework”.

William Pattison retired in 1896, and was replaced by Samuel Flinn (aged 26) as schoolmaster and his wife Fannie (aged 20) as workmistress. They would run the school into the new century, and bring us to the end of this story. The history of Powerscourt National School is a very rich and important one, as its narrative runs parallel with the history of the provision of education in Ireland as supported by education societies, landed gentry, parents and ultimately the State.


The Schoolmasters Manual (1825), The History of Useful Arts & Manufactures (1822), A Picture of the Seasons (1819) and Little Jack (various years) are available to read on the Hathitrust website or Google Books. Extracts from Hints and Directions for Arranging School-Rooms (1813) were reproduced in the Belfast Monthly Newsletter (1814), freely available on JSTOR at the URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30075375. The Powerscourt Papers are held by the National Library of Ireland, and the index to their contents is given in Collection List No. 124. All records of the National School System are held in the National Archives of Ireland. More information on a typical day in the classroom is available in the book “Slates Up!”,  by Susan Parkes, which contains classroom activities and details of how to build a model of a 19th century classroom.

This article was published in the commemorative booklet published to mark the building of the new school at Enniskerry.

5 thoughts on “Powerscourt National School in the 19th Century

  1. Hi,the National School in Enniskerry had a seperate Cottage for the Teacher,both Teacher and pupils used an outside loo

  2. Thanks for all this information. I am interested in family history, John Cranston was my great,great,great grandfather and this gives an insight in to his life. He was 58 when he died so he spent most of his working life teaching on the Powerscourt Desmense. His wife lived another 20 years and she had a young family when John died. Hard times but all the children prospered.

    • Heather Tennant. Reading your comments on the Enniskerry History Site, and having just visited Enniskerry,(October 2017) i am keen to find more information on what happened to the Cranston family after John Cranston finished teaching. The only information I have is that Thomas Lindsay was living in Cork when his mother Mary Jane Snr died in Dublin 1870. Our link, Mary Jane (jnr) had been in melbourne, australia for 4 years when her mum died. My email address is icbla07@gmail.com Any info would appreciated.

  3. Wow. Finding a letter with John Cranston’s name on is amazing. Thanks Michael. This is best piece of information I have found in my quest to find out why my grandmother insisted when I was born that I should have Cranston as my middle name. Our line involves John Cranston 3rd daughter Mary Jane who travelled to Melbourne, Australia; when she was 23 as a domestic orderly. She was my great grandmother and had 3 children, but spent many years in Institutions, leaving a young family to be raised by her husband. Hence little family history of the Cranstons, However, the Teaching must be in our blood.

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