University College Dublin | Published: 15 March, 2010
ISSUE 5 | Pages: 1-11 | PDF | DOAJ | https://doi.org/10.24162/EI2010-2294
Relative to other developed countries, very little has been published on the history of Irish accounting education. The objective of this paper is to partly remedy this deficiency by investigating, using a combination of primary and secondary sources, the teaching of book-keeping in the hedge schools of Ireland, mainly during the eighteenth century. Hedge schools have achieved a prominent and colourful place in Irish history, and prior studies have tended to examine the general phenomenon of hedge schools; whereas this paper specifically focuses on the teaching of book-keeping in these establishments. This paper argues that knowledge of practical book-keeping methods was an important skill, along with the related usage of the English language, in gaining employment for Irish Catholics during the period of oppression that was the eighteenth century. These skills were also valuable to Irish emigrants. Furthermore, Irish hedge schoolmasters applied their teaching and book-keeping skills in other countries such as Australia and the United States.
En contraste con otros países desarrollados, en Irlanda se ha publicado muy poco en torno a la historia del estudio de la contabilidad. Este artículo se propone remediar en parte esta deficiencia utilizando tanto fuentes primarias como secundarias para investigar la enseñanza de la teneduría de libros en las escuelas clandestinas denominadas “Hedge Schools”, especialmente durante el siglo XVIII. Dichas escuelas han despertado un notable interés y curiosidad en la historia irlandesa. Pero, mientras que los estudios anteriores se han centrado en el fenómeno general de las escuelas, éste lo hace en la enseñanza de la contabilidad en dichos establecimientos. Este artículo sostiene que el conocimiento de métodos prácticos de contabilidad, junto con el dominio de la lengua inglesa, eran una baza importante para que los católicos irlandeses consiguieran empleo durante la opresión que sufrieron en el siglo XVIII. Tales destrezas eran asimismo valiosas para los emigrantes irlandeses. Los maestros de las escuelas irlandesas desplegaban su enseñanza y habilidades de teneduría de libros en otros países como Australia y los Estados Unidos.
Irlanda; hedge schools; enseñanza de la contabilidad; siglo dieciocho.
Acknowledgements. The financial assistance from the Business Research Programme at UCD is gratefully acknowledged. The author would also like to thank Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh and Professor Stephen Walker (University of Cardiff) for their constructive suggestions on an earlier draft of this paper.
Relative to other developed countries, very little has been published on Irish accounting history, and specifically on the history of Irish accounting education. Indeed, for many years, the only substantial work in this area was Robinson’s (1964) history of accountants in Ireland. This book was written at the request of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland (ICAI) to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of receiving its Royal Charter but, as Ó hÓgartaigh notes (2008: 8), “Irish accounting history prior to the establishment of the ICAI in 1888 is relatively unexplored”.
However, some exploration had been done and should be noted. The earliest known publication on accounting/book-keeping in Ireland, and its historical context, was described by Clarke (1996a/b). This was a short pamphlet written by a French Huguenot in 1696 who (dubiously) taught, among other things, book-keeping in Essex Street, which is situated in what is now commonly referred to as the Temple Bar area of Dublin. In more recent times, our knowledge of the history of Irish accounting education has been extended. Clarke (2008) investigated the teaching of book-keeping in the nineteenth century and how the subject was institutionalised in the Irish national school system that was established in 1831. An earlier period — corresponding to the era of the Irish hedge schools, which have achieved a prominent and colourful place in Irish history — has been investigated by Ó hÓgartaigh and Ó hÓgartaigh (2006, 2007). They argue that book-keeping education in the Irish ‘hedge school’ of the eighteenth century was a significant element of education in rural Ireland. This predates the formation of professional accountancy associations — in Ireland, the Institute of Chartered Accountants was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1888, with 31 members from the principal towns of Belfast, Dublin and Cork. The teaching of book-keeping in Irish hedge schools would also predate the teaching of the subject in English schools, since Coulson (1996) indicates that it was only during the mid 1700s that private educational institutions developed in England and subjects long ignored by the grammar schools began to appear. Such subjects included book-keeping.
The purpose of this paper is to further investigate the teaching of book-keeping in the hedge schools of Ireland; and the period covered by this investigation corresponds, approximately, to the eighteenth century. The paper is intended to offer additional insights, using primary and contemporary but previously unacknowledged sources, into the role of book-keeping in the curriculum of hedge schools in Ireland. In addition, we will explore its impact and legacy both in Ireland and abroad. The paper is divided into four main sections. In the next section, we outline the historical context of the hedge schools in Ireland. This is followed by a section describing the hedge schools in Ireland, their curriculum and the teaching of book-keeping therein. The third section highlights the impact of the teaching of book-keeping in these schools, both in a national and an international context. The paper ends with a summary and concluding observations.
The Background to the Hedge Schools of Ireland
The earliest educational establishments in Ireland of which we have any record were the Bardic Schools that were founded in pre-Christian times and which produced poets, historians and legal experts. However, these were never aimed at mass elementary education but rather they focussed on the training of small cultural and ecclesiastical elites (McGrath 1979). Thereafter, one has to wait for nearly two millennia for the State’s (unseemly) venture into the field of education in Ireland: one that was intended to subdue the hostile, Catholic population. The situation that faced Henry VIII in the immediate aftermath of his succession to the English throne, and the subsequent break from Rome, was a politically unreliable, culturally and linguistically divided Irish colony in which many of the English settlers appear to have gone native (Crowley 2005). Henry VIII introduced, in 1537, an Act for the English Order, Habit and Language which, among other things, established parochial or parish schools so that the “English tongue, habit and order be henceforth used by all men”. He therefore considered the education of Irish children as an important element in the process of cultural colonialism. As was subsequently and officially noted, the role of this statute was “simply to make the use of the English language and habit supersede that of the Irish” (Commissioners of Irish Education Inquiry, 1825: 91). A subsequent Act for the Erection of Free-Schools in 1570 required the establishment of a free school within every diocese, with the schoolmaster being an Englishman, or of English birth in Ireland. The preamble to this legislation complained about the heinous offences committed by the Irish youth uneducated in English ways! However the obligation for funding these schools being placed on the clergy ensured that the legislation would not be widely implemented. Of course, schools did exist around that time but, as O’Hegarty (1952) notes, they were all Protestant schools, and were all, to a greater or lesser degree, carried on with the object of converting Catholic children to Protestantism. As a result, Irish Catholics did not avail of them to any large extent and Dowling (1968) argues that these schools were limited in scope and failed to make an impact on the country. This assertion is confirmed by the 1695 Act to Restrain Foreign Education, which noted that previous legislation had “not had the desired effect” but that all statutes would “henceforth be strictly observed and put into execution”.
Irish hedge schools flourished in the early 18th century as a consequence of the Williamite War fought throughout Europe between 1689 and 1691, which resulted in the defeat of the Catholic King, James II by William, Prince of Orange. In Ireland, this defeat heralded the introduction of “laws against popery”, which were collectively known as the ‘Penal Laws’. These represented a collection of laws with a religious bias against Roman Catholics, but also against all who were not members of the Church of Ireland. The Penal Laws should be viewed in the context of an era in which it was felt that a man’s religion was a guide to his political attitudes. Not surprisingly, religious tolerance was not a widely known or accepted concept in the seventeenth century. Thus, Johnson (1974: 18) argues that the purpose of the Penal Laws was to “establish a social, political and, to a considerable extent, an economic monopoly in the hands of a narrow group
- Around the 1700s the constant lettings of land to Catholic graziers gave occasion for the service of Catholics as surveyors. Since this was not yet a recognised profession, Catholics could practice this branch of practical mathematics without danger (Corcoran 1916). It should be noted that the Penal Laws would not have applied to the accountancy profession since they predate the formal establishment of, for example, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland in 1888. [↩]
- Based on the library catalogue of the University of Mississippi, whose entry also includes Daniel Dowling as an additional author. [↩]
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