Contents of Prometheus’s Fire

Dedication by Dr Liam Downey

Foreword by Dr Norman McMillan: the background to the book.

Chapter 1:   Early Irish Crafts and Apprenticeships: an Historical Background

JG Ryan

Chapter 2 Late Renaissance Humanism, the Dublin Scientific Tradition (1592-1641)

Dr Juan Jos� P�rez-Camacho

Chapter 3 The Irish Colonial Tradition of Mathematics, Science and Engineering

Dr Norman McMillan

Chapter 4   Experimental Science in Ireland and the Scientific Societies 

 J Kelham and Douglas McMillan

Chapter 5 Mathematical, Scientific and Engineering Reform in Dublin University (1592-1641)

Dr Norman McMillan

Chapter 6 Technical Education and Colonialism in Ireland in the 19th Century (1592-1641)

Richard Jarrell

Chapter 7 Technical Education in Ireland 1870-1899

Sean Mac Cartain

Chapter 8 The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction 1899-1930

Sean Mac Cartain

Chapter 9 Traditions in the Vocational School Curriculum 1930-92

John Logan

Chapter 10: The National Council for Educational Awards, 1966-1997

Anthony White

Chapter 11: Apprenticeship in Modern Times

J G Ryan
Chapter 3 Treasures Open to the Wise’: the Mechanics Institute of N-E Ulster

Seamus Duffy

Chapter 13: The Dublin Mechanics Institute, 1834-1919

Jim Cooke

Chapter 14:  Pestalozzi and John Synge

Clive Williams

Chapter 15: James Booth FRS as Inventor of the Examination System

Frank Foden

Chapter 16: Agricultural Education in Ireland

Austin O’Sullivan and Richard Jarrell

Chapter 17: Trade Union Organisation in Technical Education 1913-1930

Gerard Moriarty and John Logan

Chapter 18: Dublin Corporation and the Development of Technical Education

Jim Cooke   

Chapter 19: The Queens Institute, Dublin (1861-1881)

(this was the first technical college for women in Europe; here we give, accessibly both from here and from the abstract, the full text, as an important sample chapter)

Patricia Phillips

Chapter 20: The Vocational Education Act 1930

Michael Farry

Chapter 21: Ireland and the Politics and Government of British Science and Education

Dr Norman McMillan



This book is dedicated to the memory of the late Dr Tom Walsh, first Director of An Foras Taluntais (now Teagasc). Dr Walsh had considerable knowledge of, and interest in, the history of agricultural education, and this subject is dealt with here in some detail (Chapter 16) by Dr Austin O’Sullivan and Professor Richard Jarrell. The book includes many illustrations from Dr Walsh’s native Co Wexford, including some from near his place of birth in Piercetown.

Dr Walsh received an honours BAgrSc from University College Dublin in 1937, an MAgrSc in the following year, and a PhD in 1941. He was awarded a DSc for published work on soil science and crop nutrition in 1947 and was subsequently awarded honorary doctorates by the National University of Ireland (LlD) in 1972 and by Trinity College (ScD) in 1980.

Dr Walsh was elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA) in 1956, where he served on the Council, as Senior Vice-President, as Science Secretary and as Secretary. He was a member of the Science Committee of the Royal Dublin Society and was awareded the Society’s Boyle Medal, for outstanding contribution to science in Ireland, in 1969.

He served on the Commission for Higher Education and was Chairman of the National Council for Educational Awards (NCEA) during the 1970s. He was appointed Director of An Comhairle Oiliúna Talmhaiochta (ACOT, the national farm advisory body) in 1980 and retired from public life in 1983.

With much respect, and fond memories from many in Teagasc and elsewhere who knew him or worked with him, this book is dedicated to Dr Tom Walsh.

Liam Downey, Director, Teagasc, 20th October, 1999.


Foreword by the Editor

Dr Norman McMillan

In his first encounter with Trinity College in 1971 Dr McMillan was shown around the Physics Department, and in passing his attention was drawn to a heap of old notebooks, which he was told belonged to Fitzgerald, but it seemed no-one wanted them. Later he was shown Lloyd’s apparatus. There was however no sense at the time that these might have been historically important.

Gradually however, with the aid of Provost McConnell, Gordon Herries Davies, David Spearman and others a sense of the need to conserve historical artefacts and documents relating to science became more widely known. McMillan spent much of his spare time researching the rich scientific history of the Protestant colonial community to which Trinity College was, and remains, the heir.

Chapter 1: Early Irish Crafts and Apprenticeships -a Historical Background

J G Ryan

The author traces the history of apprenticeship back 5 millennia, with the aid of the Talmud, Babylonian and Egyptian sources. There was parallel recognition of the process in Ireland under the Brehon Law, where craft skills were hereditary or passed on by fosterage. They were highly regarded, wrights and smiths ranking with poets and musicians among the ‘oes dana’ who were the producers of the finely crafted objects to be seen in our museums today. The author outlines at length the history of craft work in pre-Nornan Irish society, explaining why it did not evolve towards a guild model.

The guild system as it evolved in mediaeval Europe from the 11th century, with its masters, journeymen and apprentices, came into Ireland with the Normans, and became established in the main towns, primarily Dublin, but on the basis of excluding the Irish; after the Reformation this was reinforced on a religious basis. As a consequence the Dublin guild system acted as a barrier to the survival of the native Irish craft culture, which declined into an underworld existence.

The exclusivist guilds peaked in the 17th century, and declined in the 18th, evolving into political lobbyist groups unrelated to their nominal trades. This role however became redundant with the electoral reform of 1840, and they were abandoned by the elite, leaving empty shells, which were taken up by actual craftsmen again as embryonic trade unions., and in this mode they re- invented the old apprenticeship procedures, exercising control over entry by imposing a need to ‘serve time’, and craftsman-apprentice ratios. These craft unions organised into local federations (Trades Councils) and then in 1894 the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

The beginning of the modern system of technical education was the 1884 Samuelson Commission, and then the Recess Report in 1896, which led to the establishment of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in 1899.

Chapter 2: Late Renaissance Humanism and the Dublin Scientific Tradition (1592-1641)

Juan José Pérez-Camacho

Title page -De Meteoris-Paris 1613 sm.jpg (4571 bytes)

Title page “De Meteoris” (Paris 1613) by the Dublin Jesuit C. Hollywood published under his family name, John Geraldine.Courtesy of TCD


This scholarly work is rooted in the analysis of early scientific manuscripts and printed works available in the Trinity College Library. These were mostly located there as a result of their being confiscated from Catholic educational centres in Dublin, which had flourished briefly in the relatively favourable climate of the 1610s and 20s.

There were Irish colleges abroad, in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Spanish Flanders, and these were in touch with Renaissance science. An important link was Domingo de Soto, a Spanish Dominican, who was known to Galileo. Scientific books and manuscripts of de Soto and his disciples found their way to the Jesuit college in Dublin, which was associated with the name of Christopher Hollywood SJ. Hollywood controversed on theological matters with Archbishop Ussher. Hollywood however can be regarded as among the founding fathers of the Irish scientific tradition; his book, ‘De Meteoris’ was published in Paris in 1613, treating tides, the rainbow, and the motions of the planets on the Ptolemaic system. This was at the time when the Jesuits had a scientific mission to China.

Also among the founding fathers were the elite of the colonial culture concentrated in TCD: Ussher, Lydyat and Carpenter. Lydyat in his ”De Natura Coeli’ published in 1605 attacked strongly the Aristotelian system, and was a supporter of Tycho Brahe. The Copernican system was slow to become generally accepted, but Carpenter and Ussher made the issues known to the Irish-based scientific community, and Ussher produced the first account in Ireland of the Keplerian heliocentric system. He has been unduly belittled for his biblical chronology, to which he had, after all, applied scientific understanding of eclipses, which he related to the written evidence.

Another contribution to the understanding of early science in Ireland was the editing of the work of John Duns Scotus by Luke Wadding, at the Irish Franciscan College in Rome. The work of Duns Scotus, who was an early mediaeval supporter of the heliocentric system, were known to Ussher.

This promising early linkage between Irish intellectuals, both native and colonial, and the European scientific renaissance was cut short in the 1640s, in the context of the European religious wars, which assumed catastrophic intensity in Ireland during the Cromwell period.

Chapter 3: The Transmogrification of the Irish Colonial Tradition of Mathematics, Science and Engineering

Dr Norman McMillan

related pic

Sir William Petty

Analysing the origins of Dublin science in the Protestant colonial context, the author goes in some depth into Church-State relations, and the Baconian theory of the State. The Tudor monarchy used Trinity College as a means of exiling intellectuals of the Puritan persuasion, perceived as a threat.

The period before 1641 under Laud and Strafford was dedicated to destroying Trinity as a Puritan power-base. Under Cromwell the situation was reversed, and Trinity became a source of conscious Baconian influence, under the influence of ‘The New Atlantis’, the prime movers being Petty and Hartlib.

The institutional development of science and education, as laid down by these pioneers, persisted over the centuries, even up to GF Fitzgerald in the 1890s who was reading and quoting Bacon in the context of his campaigning for technical education in Dublin.

The author brings out the American connection via Dublin-visiting Puritans such as Winthrop (1606-1676) who became Governor of Connecticut, and Mather (1639-1723) who founded the Boston Philosophical Society and became President of Harvard. Mather was a pioneer republican who opposed Charles II’s attempt to suppress Boston’s Charter in 1683.

Coming to the 18th century the author goes in some depth into the role of the Dublin Philosophical Society, with Molyneux and Berkeley, as a bridge between the pioneers and the later flowering of Irish colonial science in the 19th century. He traces the institutional linkages and relates them to the original Baconian model of Petty and Hartlib. He traces the industrial influences via those of the colonists who became Quakers.

The author concludes by adumbrating the uptake of the Baconian approach to education by the emerging Catholic business community, starting with Kane. The overall sweep of this chapter is something of a challenge to historians, containing is it does seminal ideas for numerous theses in what is almost a virgin field of academic research. It also, paradoxically, can be said to outline how the Irish both scientific and democratic republican traditions might be linked back to Cromwell via the Enlightenment.

Chapter 4: Experimental Science in Ireland and the Scientific Societies

J Kelham and Douglas McMillan

The authors outline the background in terms of Bacon’s ‘New Atlantis’ and the foundation of the Royal Society in London, which was the prototype for the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Irish Academy.

There was a parallel movement aimed at disseminating scientific knowledge among tradesmen and artisans; the Dublin Society (1731), the Society of Arts (1754) and the Society of Improvers (1723) were part of this process.

The former, which later (1820) gained the Royal label, set itself initially strong technical educational objectives, and led the field in chemistry from 1787 when Richard Kirwan returned from London. Then in 1795 the Dublin Society employed as Professor of Chemistry William Higgins, who developed laboratory practice and gave lectures for some decades. The scope broadened to include geology, optics, electricity and mechanics and by the 1840s under Sir Robert Kane, a broad-based applied- science course was available under RDS auspices. This was oriented towards industrial development.

As a result of government enquiries into the RDS affairs however the applied- science teaching was transferred, along with Kane, to the Museum of Irish Industry, which Kane attempted to direct, at the same time as he was heading the new Queens College Cork.

Some light is thrown on the complex politics of the evolution of this eventually into the Royal College of Science, which then evolved into the Engineering Faculty of University College Dublin in 1926. For a time in the 1850s science students from Trinity College did their practical work with Kane in the Museum. During some of this time the RDS maintained its scientific teaching role competitively with the Museum, but over the century its teaching role declined, and it concentrated on exhibitions and in scientific publication. A scientific popularising role continues to the present day.

Through the whole period there runs a religious thread, which sometimes became acute, as when in 1836 the RDS rejected the application for membership of Dr Murray, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, precipitating a government enquiry.

(This chapter raises a number of questions suggesting a need for further research; for example perhaps, the role of Kane as ‘token Catholic’ in the context of the so-called ‘Godless College’ in Cork. RJ)


Chapter 5: Trinity College and Educational Reform

Dr Norman McMillan

related pic

Dr. Bartholomew Lloyd FTCD FRS

The author, while being primarily a physicist in Carlow IT, has been working systematically in his marginal time on the history of science in Ireland snce 1971, in the interstices of his primary work on optical instrumentation.

This 31-page chapter traces the evolution of the teaching of science and technology in Trinity College from the beginning up to the end of the 19th century, linking it tentatively with the politics of the time. His Canadian perspective enables him to abstract from the confrontational aspects of Irish politics and link his treatment to the European mainstream.

The author makes the case that TCD has consistently played a pioneering role in the reform of university education in the UK as a whole. He begins with the example of Bartholemew Lloyd who introduced French mathematical notation in 1815, overthrowing what by then had become the ‘dead hand of Newton’, and risking being labelled as subversive in the political reaction of the time.

He then backtracks to the post Cromwell epoch, when Molyneux and Berkeley flourished, and the stage was set for a series of innovative steps in the teaching of science throughout the 18th century. The author claims that Stephen’s Botanical Elements was the first ever dedicated student text-book on any science subject. There followed a series of teaching texts in all branches of science, which McMillan tabulates.

Similarly, Trinity College was the first to institute a systematic examination system as a means of qualification. These procedures were then subsequently used as a model for the ‘red-brick’ universities of the UK, which provided systematic quality-controlled utilitarian education to the rising middle-class professionals, including science and engineering.

Trinity College was also among the first to introduce Engineering, the first Professor being MacNeill who had served his time with Telford. The political dimension of this is explored, in that there was emerging an evolution towards a parallel Technical Education system via the RDS with Kane; McMillan sees the Trinity Engineering initiative as a sort of Tory pre-emptive move, motivated by the need to service the expanding British Empire, while Kane with his Industrial Resources of Ireland was promoting the interests of an embryonic Irish industrial bourgeoisie which later became the basis for the Home Rule movement.

McMillan goes on to outline the development of the TCD Medical School, led by Stokes and Haughton, and then later the development of Electrical Engineering under the influence of Fitzgerald, with the latter then becoming influential in the Dublin technical education area via his role on the Board of Kevin St College. Fitzgerald was instrumental in ensuring that the Engineering School had a well-designed scientific input, across its whole range. This chapter covers much ground, and outlines a significant agenda for future historians, whether motivated simply to ‘prove McMillan wrong’ or to follow up on his suggestions.

Chapter 6: Technical Education and Colonialism in Ireland in the 19th Century

Richard Jarrell

The development of technical education in the core industrial nations of Europe, and in the US, is compared and contrasted. Germany, a late arrival, leapfrogged Britain by central State initiatives aimed at producing an educated workforce, and industrial PhDs were the norm. Irish experience is interesting because it falls between that of the US and that of the Colonies. Agriculture, as practiced by the ‘improving landlords’ with the aid of the RDS, was the main channel for technical edcation, and this trend led to Plunkett and the Recess Committee at the end of the century.

The ‘Mechanics Institute’ movement in the Irish context was a false start; they made sense in Britain, keeping factory workers out of the pubs to some extent, but in Ireland they became middle-class clubs; they were a ‘borrowed concept in an inappropriate setting’.

The centralising role of the Department of Science and the Arts, set up in South Kensington, under Playfair and Cole, in the 1850s, was a response to French and German influence via the 1851 Exhibition; it led to a large number of local schools with standard curriculum, and in the Irish case these were ill-suited to Irish needs. Under the notorious ‘payment by results’ system there were cheating scandals.

This centralising under the DSA also had a negative influence, for technical education at third level, on the College of Science, despite its origins in the local experience of Kane, the RDS and the Museum of Irish Industry. Due to the unsuitable centralised curriculum, it took many of its students from abroad, and exported many of its graduates, contributing to the ‘brain drain’ process.

Local experimentation was the key to the success of industry in France and Germany. Even in Belfast, where one would have expected the match between curriculum and industrial requirements would be not too distant, the local authorities resisted providing funding.

The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instuction from 1900 inherited the DSA schools, such as they were, but under Plunkett’s leadership they aspired to integrate science and art training into general education, though this did not happen for decades.

The author identifies the importation of unsuitable models, in a slave-minded colonial importation of ideas from the imperial heartland, as an important negative factor against a creative interaction between industrialisation and technical education.

Chapter 7: Technical Education in Ireland 1870-1899 (Plunkett and the Recess Committee)

Sean Mac Cartain

In the background to period covered author concentrates on obstacles placed in way of technical education by dominant laissez-fairephilosophy goverment. For example it was opposition from Liverpool Financial Reform Association which killed the Model Agricultural Schools Most initiatives were therefore via private benefaction-supported subscriptions.The author outlines many such, including those by Bianconi in Clonmel and by Crawford in Cork.

An important turning-point was the 1884 Royal Commission on Technical Instruction (known as the Samuelson Commission) which laid the basis for subsequent local government involvement, once this was established in 1898. Education in the principles underlying a trade was constructively distinguished from ‘learning a trade’, thus getting round the ‘laissez-faire’ objectors.

Important as this was, it was focused on England, and it took the 1895 Recess Committee, organised by Sir Horace Plunkett, to develop the political leverage which arose from Samuelson, using for example the extraordinary discrepancy in the public money spent on science, art and technical instruction per head of population between England (over �3) and Ireland (one old penny).

The Recess Committee (so called because it used the Parliamentary recess to pull in the key politicians) met in the Dublin Mansion House, organised to pick up experience from abroad, and produced a seminal report which led eventually to setting up the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, with Plunkett in the lead. The author develops many interesting themes relating to Home Rule politics and religion in this context; echoes of these are to be found in the current (1999) arguments about the Good Friday Agreement. The Recess Committee included Father Thomas Findlay, the co-operative activist priest, and Rev Dr Kane, the Grand Master of the Belfast Orange Lodge.

The Recess Committee and its work presents a pre-view of a great historical ‘might-have-been’: economic development under all-Ireland Home Rule, fuelled by a thriving producer co-operative movement which depended for its growth on technical competence.

Chapter 8: The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction 1899-1930 (Plunkett’s legacy, its interaction with the Home Rule and national independence movements)

Sean Mac Cartain

In this the author develops the arguments of the previous chapter, in a context where the implementation of Plunkett’s plan by Balfour and the Tory government was regarded with suspicion by the Irish-Irelanders, who smelled an attempt to ‘kill Home Rule with kindness’. However the condition of technical education was very weak; in 1900 only 108 schools in the whole country were in receipt of science and art grants. The environment was negative and cynical consequent on the Parnell split.

Despite this the DATI visited every local authority, and all agreed to raise a rate for the purposes of the Act, and to enable the funding of technical education. Municipal technical schools were set up in all the main towns, and the already-existing schools in Dublin were taken on board, with north-side and south-side locations, also Rathmines, Blackrock, Kingstown. The Wexford case was interesting in that it moved to support local industry with an Engineering School.

An Association of Technical School Principals was founded, with the Belfast and Co Down Principals in the lead; the problem of combining teaching with administration was recognised and faced. The educational basis for a technically competent all-Ireland workforce was being laid, using the leading experience of the North-East.

The problem was addressed of whether to train teachers to use tools, or skilled craftsmen to teach. They came down firmly and successfully in favour of the latter.

In 1904 Plunkett published his ‘Ireland in the New Century’, in which he was critical of the educational role of the Roman Catholic Church, and this weakened his position politically, and tended to undermine the work of the DATI, though not fatally. There were also perceived administrative cost problems, and these combined in 1906 to trigger a Committee of Enquiry, motivated also by a Liberal desire to get at Balfour and his works, among whom Plunkett was numbered. Also his position was anomalous, no longer being an MP, yet holding a junior ministerial position. Although the Report was favourable, even laudatory, Plunkett resigned, recognising that his creation by now had a life of its own. The Home Rule leaders however, Redmond and McCarthy, were totally opposed to Plunkett and all his works; one can see here the influence perhaps of small-town gombeen capitalism.

The DATI continued with its initial momentum through the War and the independence struggle, being dismantled in 1930. The author traces various aspects, including the teaching of Irish, which had a business-oriented practical dimension, borrowing from Finnish experience. In the 1920s it took on board the demand for new skills arising out of the electrification of the country under the Shannon Scheme. Towards the end of its epoch however there was what amounted a covert agreement between the Minister and the Bishops that the system would not compete with the Church-controlled secondary education system. This increasingly in later years gave it a B-stream status.

The author in his conclusion calls for the role of Plunkett to be re-written into history, and his full significance appreciated.

Chapter 9: Traditions and Transformations in the Vocational School Curriculum 1930-92

John Logan

The 1927 Commission on Technical Education which laid the basis for the 1930 Act came up against obstacles from the employers, from the Church and from the Trade Unions. Some 24 thousand young adults were enrolled on courses, mostly already working. Most were short-term, part-time, and many did not complete.

The 1930 Act gave control of the new technical school system to the elected County Councils. This was to the dismay of the Churches; however the practice of allocating co-opted positions to clergy grew up as a consequence. From the 1930s to the 1960s it was the norm for the Chair to be a cleric.

There was rapid growth in school buildings and temporary centres, and in recruitment of teachers. The enrollment remained the same for the first decade, but those who enrolled got a better service, in more depth. Secondary education however expanded at a greater rate. In towns where there were secondary schools the vocational school was regarded as socially inferior. This was despite the greater employability of the products of the latter.

Despite the Minister’s reassurance to the Bishops in the 1930s that the vocational system would not compete, by the 60s they were providing a complete curriculum and access to higher education. The landmark OECD ‘Investment in Education’ Report of 1958 was a turning point, leading to the reforms associated with Hillery and Colley, and eventually in the 1970s to the Regional Colleges., and the National Council for Educational Awards.

Chapter 10: The National Council for Educational Awards


Anthony White

The NCEA originated with the Donogh O’Malley reforms in the mid-60s, in the ferment which gave rise to the Regional Colleges in the early 70s. The prior stimulus had been the OECD Report on the training of technicians in 1964.

There was an interface with the Higher Education Authority via the question of awarding degrees in the new NIHE in Limerick. The NCEA however became somewhat of a political football, with changes of government, and the author goes into the detail of this. It did not assume its current statutary form until 1980.

As a quality control system it has on the whole served us well, though the author is critical of its failure to go outside Ireland and the UK for extern examining experience. The role of the NCEA has however been undermined on the one hand by the removal of the NIHE and the DIT from its ambit, and on the other by the 1995 Teastas initiative for the regulation of all non-University qualifications; NCEA was subsumed as a sub-group of this. The author has erected some signposts over what amounts to a political quagmire, and much remains to be done.

The traditional relationship between apprenticeship and training was cemented by the formation of An Comhairle Oiliuna (AnCo) in 1968, funded by a levy on employers. The role of the technical education system in the direct training of manual skilled workers has therefore since declined. The technological colleges’ share of the total 3rd-level student body however has increased from 17% in 1971 to 40% in 1991. The technical schools at second level, despite a long run of imaginative reforms, remain however ‘the least-esteemed sector’.

Chapter 11 – Apprenticeship in Modern Times

J G Ryan

This substantial chapter, 44 pages, covers the changes in apprenticeship, from the angle of legislation and the de facto results thereof, since the founding of the State. The first act of the State was to split Technical Instruction from Agriculture and put it into Education. Then the Ingram Commission was set up in 1926, which identified the need to overcome a dislike for industrial work.

Legislation along the lines of South Africa and Australia was introduced with the 1931 Apprenticeship Act, providing for Trade Boards representing employers and employees. It represented what amounted to an unwelcome break from the positive 30-year experience of of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, which had evolved to suit Irish conditions.

As an unwelcome import it was on the whole unsuccessful, and few Trade Boards were in fact set up. It ran into trade union opposition in 1933. Employers regarded it as a no-win situation, into the bargain.

Drafting a new Bill began in 1952 and culminated in the 1959 Act, the process being slowed by the then split in the trade union movement. An Apprenticeship Board was set up, which however remained constrained by the traditional trades’ perceptions of apprenticeship, though it did give stronger powers to require an educational component, with compulsory release.

By the mid-60s however it was recognised that this approach could not supply the expanding technical needs of rapidly modernising Irish industry. The 1965 White Paper on Manpower Policy led to the repeal of the 1959 Act and its replacement by the Industrial Training Act of 1968, which set up an Comhairle Oiliuna, or AnCo for short, with increased funding based on a levy.

Radical changes in procedures took place in the 70s, attracting favourable comment in the national press. The new system was vindicated when the Irish apprentice team performed excellently in the 1988 Youth Skill Olympics in Sydney, coming in 4th place overall and ahead of Britain, France and Germany.

Chapter 12: ‘Treasures Open to the Wise’: the Mechanics Institute of North- East Ulster

Seamus Duffy

The Mechanics Institutes movement originated in Glasgow in the 1790s, on the intitiative of a Dr John Anderson. The objective was to teach to artisans the scientific principles underlying their work. He was joined by George Birkbeck, who interacted constructively with instrument-making craftsmen, re-designing the courses to make them accessible to the mind-sets of working men.

Birkbeck moved to London in 1804, and the concept took shape, the basic ideas being embodied in a book by Lord Brougham, which became the manual of the movement. Radicals like Francis Place and William Cobbett were involved. Cobbett preached worker-management. The London University college founded by and named after Birkbeck remained a focus for radical thinking well into the present century, with JD Bernal and others.

The Irish took up this movement, but without the ‘industrial revolution’ flavour. There was a suggestion that the industrial revolution could be actually initiated in Ireland via the provision of a science-educated work-force; this however was at the time a wrong assumption, and in fact in most of the Irish Institutes the participation was middle-class and the atmosphere patronising.

In north-east Ulster however there was substantial working-class participation, and the radical flavour generated some theological controversy. The Northern Whig was an enthusiastic supporter; and there were indications of support from Presbyterian and Roman Catholic working people and their clergy, but the Church of Ireland authorities, including Romney Robinson the Armagh astronomer, also the Royal Schools, were opposed, smelling radical motivation, reinforced perhaps by the active support from James Haughton the Carlow Quaker industrialist, who was connected with the Mechanics Institute movement in Dublin.

The basic politicising force in Ireland at this time however was led by Daniel O’Connell and was oriented towards Catholic Emancipation and the Repeal of the Union; this attracted support from the emerging Catholic middle class. There were few if any echoes of the radical worker-led Chartist movement in England, which the Mechanics Institutes had fuelled, though not consistently.

Indeed, Frederick Engels, Karl Marx’s colleague, was inclined to dismiss them as ‘organs for the dissemination of the sciences useful to the bourgeoisie…to divert their minds from independent political activity..’. This view is perhaps confirmed by an episode in which the Downpatrick Mechanics Institute in 1853 hosted a Barrington Lecture on Political Economy by Dr Moffett of Queens College Galway.

The Barrington Lectures were set up initially in the 1840s for the express purpose of promoting Liberal free-trade laissez-faire economics all over Ireland, though this objective became moderated and radicalised early in the present century. However, where the management of the Institutes was in the hands of working people, they did become and remained a radicalising force for some decades in mid-century, especially in north-east Ulster, as a pioneering voluntary educational movement, at a time when the very idea of educating the working people was regarded by the Establishment with suspicion.

Chapter 13: The Dublin Mechanics Institute, 1834-1919

Jim Cooke

This chapter gives some additional background to the foundation of the Institutes in Scotland and England, and then goes in some detail into the Dublin experience, which commenced in 1824 with an inaugural meeting in the historic Tailors’ Hall, a location associated with the United Irishmen.

A subsequent meeting in 1824 at the Shakespearean Gallery claimed as objective ‘…to introduce scientific information against the monopolising classical instruction of the schools..’. The Freeman’s Journal commented that ‘..Ireland had her Goldsmith, her Burke and her Sheridan, but she had not an Arkwright, a Jameson or a Watt..’.

There was initially a strong input from the likes of the Duke of Leinster and Lords Charlemont, Cloncurry and Lansdowne, and Dr McCartney of TCD. Self-education by the artisan was the objective, and Rev Dionysus Lardner of TCD ran a series of popularising lectures on mechanical principles, including the steam engine, which were well attended.

The problem was however one of basic literacy; there was as yet no primary education. There also emerged hints of links with English radicalism and the Chartists, and this caused the upper-class patrons to desert, and the movement declined.

In 1837 however there was a re-start, associated with the patronage of Kane of the RDS and McCullagh the TCD mathematician; despite, or perhaps because of, the heady political atmosphere the membership grew rapidly to over 1000. The aspiration was to keep it non-political. All social classes were appealed to, and women were admitted. Classes, library and reading rooms were provided.

The 1840s were on the whole an active thriving period, and politics crept in via lectures given by John Mitchell and other Young Irelanders. A lecture by Rev Thaddeus O’Malley on March 28 1848 introduced the idea of the ‘Workman’s Bill of Rights’ which was explicitly borrowed from the Chartists; this English radical movment included Irishmen such as Fergus O’Connor in its leadership.

This came to the notice of the Committee and steps were taken to de-politicise the Institute, though in practice its radical flavour remained, going through a period of sectarian controvery in the 1850s, despite the best efforts of James Haughton. Despite these rumblings the work of the Institute continued; there were anti-slavery lectures by US women; the Institute was used as the focus for the funeral of Terence Bellew McManus, the Young Irelander, in 1861, when Archbishop Cullen refused the Pro-Cathedral; from this event emerged the Fenian movement.

The radical flavour persisted; Frederick Engels lectured there in 1869, revising his initial hostility as expressed some decades earlier and noted in the previous chapter. The science educational role however declined; the Institute was more of a radical political club, a place for reading the papers and discussing politics.

Throughout the 1880s and 90s the Dublin local authorities began to take an interest in technical education; they built their own schools and declined the offer to take over the Institute building, which ended up as the Abbey Theatre in 1904. The Institute transferred to the premises of the Dublin Trades Council, where it remained until 1919, when it was wound up, and the remaing funds dedicated to a scholarship for the Dublin technical schools. Thus ended almost a century of association between technical education and radical politics. It would be of interest to contrast in more detail the perspectives as seen from Dublin and Belfast within Ireland, and from both with the English and Scottish perspectives. There is unfinished business here.

Chapter 14: Pestalozzi and John Synge

 Clive Williams

John Synge's Pestalozzian School at Roundwood , Co Wicklow Drawing by MARIA TAYLOR , 1825

John Synge’s Pestalozzian School at Roundwood , Co Wicklow
Drawing by MARIA TAYLOR , 1825

The ‘Pestalozzi method’ of learning by doing, in the context of general and technical education, became established in England after 1822 due to the efforts of JP Greaves and Charles Mayo. These in fact owe their initiation to the prior work of John Synge of Glanmore, the grandfather of JM Synge, by a convoluted route which the author traces.

Synge was born in 1788 and was destined for a life as a landed gentleman; he had a practical bent and was interested in improving the management of the estate which he would inherit. In 1812 he took off on the ‘grand tour’, though the war was still on. He went to Spain, France and Italy, without managing to see much of the war. When he came to Switzerland by chance he visited the Pestalozzi Institute in Geneva, initially without much motivation, but he found himself captivated by the level of intelligent interest in things taken by the children. He went grudgingly for an hour and found himself staying for 3 months, and becoming an apostle.

Synge returned to Ireland with the translation of Pestalozzi’s works on his agenda, and he went on to set up a school for the local children at Glanmore. He set up in 1817 a printing press in Roundwood to publish the works in English.

On Synge’s recommendation Lord de Vesci visited Geneva and in 1818 a Pestalozzi school was set up in Abbeyleix, which however was for the sons of gentlemen. Charles Orpen also became interested at Synge’s instigation, but in this case the target was the underprivileged and the mentally handicapped.

There was a strong evangelical Protestant aspect to the educational philosophy; Synge became a Darbyite, a sect which evolved into the Plymouth Brethren. Enlisting the support of William Allen, a Quaker philanthropist, they set up a committee in London to propagate Pestalozzi teaching methods throughout the UK, and it was by this channel that Greaves and Mayo were motivated.

This chapter opens up a number of ideas for research into various domains: improving landlords, the Protestant evangelical movement, the role of the national schools, and the question of denominational control of the latter.

Chapter 15: James Booth FRS as the Inventor of the Examinatiuon System

Frank Foden MBE

The critical importance of the examination system, and the availability of recognised qualifications, is increasingly being recognised. This has prompted a re-evaluation of the life of James Booth, hitherto a relatively unsung minor mathematician, who was a colleague of McCullagh in Trinity College in the 1830s.

James Booth, TCD

James Booth, TCD

In this capacity he was familiar with the TCD examination system; he attempted the Fellowship examination, along with Salmon and other notables, but failed. His mathematical resarches produced a system of tangential co-ordinates, which would have gained him fame had he not been pre-empted by Plucker in Halle, so ‘Booth’s co-ordinates’ never got off the ground.

Booths road to Fellowship of the Royal Society was not therefore riooted in his TCD experience; he went to England in 1840, becoming the Principal of Bristol College, which was an early attempt to generalise the London experience of building a ‘civic university’.

Bristol however was killed off by clerical opposition, but Booth surfaced again in Liverpool, where he became vice-Principal of the ‘Liverpool Collegiate Institution’, the forerunner of the Redbrick Universies.. In this context he devised a good practical curriculum, lecturing himself on ‘steam’ using Lardner’s text. There is a direct link here with the Dublin Mechanics Institute’s pioneering of artisan education.

He had taken holy orders in 1842, and by 1849 he was rector of St Anne’s in Wandsworth, where his sermons were, basically, popular science lectures. He had established a trade school, at which he taught JC Buckmaster, who later becane influential in the Department of Science and Art. The Society of Arts was the industrial lobby in favour of technical competence, and Booth also became influential in this context.

The stage was now set for Booth to become the inventor of the modern examination system, which he did via the Society of Arts, which evolved into the examinations of the City and Guilds in 1879. The system was copied, shortly after it had been inaugurated, by the Universities, leading eventually to the Oxford and Cambridge School Certificates which helped to unify the educational system after the 1902 Education Act. The arguments are developed in extensive footnotes; the author defends Booth from association with the infamous ‘payment by results’ system which was imposed subsequently by the government bureaucracy.

Chapter 16: Agricultural Education in Ireland

Austin O’Sullivan and Richard Jarrell

This extensive chapter (36 pages) covers the successive attempts to develop an Irish agricultural education system during the past 3 centuries. The English and Scottish improvers of the 18th century (Townshend, Young, Bakewell and others) found emulators in Ireland primiarily via the Dublin Society, founded in 1731.

Earlier the Royal Society, of which the scientific work had motivated some of the early English improvers, had its echo in the Dublin Philosophical Society (1684-1708). Lectures, demonstrations and exhibitions were held, and itinerant instructors employed. Apprenticeship schemes were initiated.

The first residential agricultural school was at Bannow in Wexford from 1821 to 26, which was run on a non-denominational basis. The RDS initiatives were supplemented later by locally-based organisations such as the Irish Agricultural Improvement Society (1833). The impact of this work in the pre-famine subsistence agriculture environment was however negligible.

The foundation of the National School system of primary education in 1833 provided a framework for basic training in agricultural techniques, and ‘model farms’ were started, for teacher training purposes. These initiatives however ran up against the problem of land tenure, with its improvement-related rent increases. The Model Farms were mostly closed in the 1870s under pressure from the Liverpool Financial Reform Association, who were agitating against any state support for anything useful. The Model Farm in Cork however was saved by the intervention of local business, in support of the maintenance of butter export quality.

Things began to turn around in the 1880s, with the increasing awareness of the importance of the British market for quality food imports. There was awareness of the Danish model. Horace Plunkett founded the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS), helped to build the co-operative creameries, and became the head of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (1901), which laid the basis of the modern system.

Post-1922 the authors trace the development of the County Committees of Agriculture, the farmers organisations, the emergence of the Irish Farmers Journal, the Agricultural Institute etc in some detail. The influence of accession to the European Common Market (now the European Union) is traced; the disbanding of the County Committees and the initiation of ACOT, followed by the integration of this with the Agricultural Institute to form the present Teagasc.

Overall however there is an impression given of a sense of unfinished business, with a multiplicity of attempted approaches to an ongoing problematic and changing situation. Many questions are raised an left unanswered. This chapter however would constitute a good starting-point for a book dedicated to analysing the dynamics of the relationship between the education system, the political system and the educational needs of the primary agricultural producers.

Chapter 17: Trade Union Organisation in Technical Education 1913-1930

Gerard Moriarty and John Logan

The authors go in some detail into the working conditions experienced by the early technical instructors, who covered the country on their bicycles, often teaching in barns by paraffin lamps. The Association of Manual Instructors was founded some time before 1913 by JJ O’Connor; and other groups followed.

The various groups got together in 1913, and formed a central executive body in 1917, which gained pension rights and security of tenure for its members in 1919, making use of the available local government legislation. Affiliation to the Irish Trade Union Congress followed, in association with the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO).

The authors trace how the Union interacted with Government in the local government legislation which followed in the new State, culminating in the 1930 Vocational Education Act. For some years in the 1920s George Russell was their President. Although the technical instructors were low in the social ‘pecking order’ of Irish rural society, because of their strong union organisation they were in advance of the secondary school teachers in terms of winning basic concessions like pension rights. They were officially classified as local authority officers.

The authors call for further work on the history of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI), to fill the gaps left in the work of historians of education, such as for example TJ Durkan, who appears to have missed the significance of the early work of JJ O’Connor and the pre-1914 pioneers.

Chapter 18: Dublin Corporation and the Development of Technical Education

Jim Cooke

The Science and Art Department (DSA) in South Kensington was the British attempt to relate science and technology with industry after the impact of the 1851 Exhibition which showed the state of competition abroad.

From the beginning however it was clear that the policies of the department were adapted to the needs of mature industries in Britain and not to the infant ones in Ireland. The failure of the Mechanics Institutes in Ireland to fulfil effectively an educational role, unlike in Britain, alerted leading Dublin industrial figures to the need to fill the gap.

A campaign developed in the 1860s, led by Benjamin Lee Guinness and others, to set up a Royal Irish Institute which would carry out the functions of the DSA in the Irish context, suitably adapted. A Dublin Exhibition Centre was planned, for the site which subsequently became UCD in Earlsford Terrace, and the Dublin International Exhibition was held in 1865, staying open for six months.

There developed a campaign to give this continuity, and develop it as a science and arts conplex, or perhaps as a Queens College, or at the very least as a focus for DSA actions in Ireland, under local control.

This movement was led by the Dublin business community, mostly Protestant. A meeting was held in 1868 chaired by the Lord Mayor which agreed to produce a memorandum and lobby all the MPs. A heavyweight deputation, with 23 MPs, went to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on May 26 in London. This lobbying however hit London at a bad time because the Parliament was pre-occupied with the question of the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, so they were fobbed off with a commission, to take hearings.

In this context the RDS was, it seems, hostile, suggesting a perceived conflict of interest between the ‘improving landlords’ who were the RDS mainstay and Dublin business, despite a shared interest in the upgrading of the teaching of science and the practical arts.

The authors explore at length the convoluted politics of this episode, linked as it was with the Church-State question and the fate of Gladstone’s government. Subsequently in the 1880s the efforts of the Dublin industrial lobby to get technical education in Dublin was frustrated by the preference of Westminster to support cottage industry in the West.

A resolute campaign developed again, involving the stalwarts of the 60s, and further supported by Michael Davitt and the then new Dublin Trades Council; artisans exhibitions were organised which were successful, and in the end technical schools were set up in Kevin St and later Bolton St, a key mover being Arnold Graves. Pembroke and Ringsend followed.

After 1895 Horace Plunkett who had been elected MP for South Dublin called the Recess Committee, the result of which was the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction. There followed the 1898 Local Government Act and this opened the flood gates for technical schools all over the country, and consolidated the earlier Dublin initiatives, under Louis Ely O’Connell, who served as CEO of Dublin technical schools from 1901 to 1943. Thus in a sense the national control of technical education pre-dates the State.

Chapter 19: The Queens Institute, Dublin (1861-1881); the first technical college for women in Europe

Patricia Phillips

The problem of how to employ ‘gentlewomen’ had emerged in Britain as a consequence of the restrictive middle-class mores of the Victorian era. Teaching and governessing were the only open professions. It was addressed by early feminists, in the spirit of Mary Wollstonecraft the 18th century feminist pioneer.

In England there was founded in 1859 the Society for the Promotion of Employment of Women, associated with the English Woman’s Journal. This had roots in the Bradford Mechanics Institute for Working Women, set up by Fanny Hertz, and people such as Mss Crowe, Overend, Bayly, Rye, Faithfull associated with the National Association for the Promotion of Social Sciences.

The author goes at some length into the English feminist and radical roots of this movement, and then makes the link into Ireland via the 1861 conference of the Association, which took place in Dublin.

The prime movers in the Irish initiative which followed were the Quaker Anne Jellicoe (celebrated as the founder of Alexandra College) and Barbara Corlett. The former was married to a mill-owner, whose attempts to educate and train the local girls in useful arts had fallen foul of the Catholic Church, and the latter was the daughter of a coach-spring manufacturer.

They had to overcome the social barriers between perceived ‘gentility’ and work and this in the Irish environment proved to be more acute a problem than in England. Dublin was awash with impecunious gentlewomen, consequent on the numerous bankruptcies of estates due to the famine.

Rather than attempting to invent ‘suitable’ occupations for distressed gentry, they decided to embark on a technical training centre for women, to teach the basic skills of industry and commerce. They got patronage from leading citizens and from Royalty, and set up classes covering a wide range of skills, including telegraphy, photography, engraving.

They got industrial sponsorship from the B and I Magnetic Telegraph Co. The RDS opened up its library in support. Shortly after this time Anne Jellicoe took up her post with the nascent Alexandra College, leaving Barbara Corlett to run the show according to her lights, which were somewhat restricted to the ‘decaying gentry’ market.

They applied to the DSA for funding, and ran into the problem that the Commissioners, who included TH Huxley, were somewhat more egalitarian in their ideas than Ms Corlett thought appropriate. Although they in the end got DSA support, Ms Corlett steered the curriculum away from the practical arts, towards things like French and music, considered more ladylike.

There followed an attempt to associate with the Royal University, and to expunge the memory of Anne Jellicoe, and the association with the practical arts, from the record. The Queen’s Institute however declined as a consequence of this policy, and had closed by 1883; there was a hint of some disgrace, and there is no record of an obituary for Barbara Corlett.

After this initially successful but sadly flawed start, in the 1880s an attempt was made to return to the original aims of the 1861 project by a group of influentials, and a new Association for the Training and Employment of Women was set up in Kildare St. Meetings were held in the RDS; the Provost of Trinity College participated, along with the great and the good.

By 1890 the Englishman’s Review was able to report that Dublin was again the pioneer in technical training for women, and by this time the initiative had been subsumed into the overall Dublin technical education system, which was open to women from the outset.

For this chapter we link to the chapter in full.

Chapter 20: the Vocational Education Act 1930

Michael Farry

The author, who is of the legal profession, gives some background to the Act, in terms of the post-Treaty Government and the 1929 world economic crisis.

The term ‘vocational’ was introduced, somewhat implicitly, to expand the earlier term ‘technical’ as used in the 1901 Act, and to include ‘continuation education’ in its scope.

Attention is given to the role of the Church, which though nominally excluded, in practice provided the Chairs of most of the Vocational Education Committees (VECs), and had written reassurances from the Minister that the system would not encroach on the markets of the Church-controlled secondary schools.

The Act did not cover apprenticeship, which was covered separately, with the 1931 Act. Finance and buildings were provided for.

The author goes at some length into the lack of provision for effectively linking the system into the needs of agriculture and industry, leading to a continuous creeping bias towards academic aspirations, motivated perhaps by a perceived need to counter its ‘B-stream’ status in society.

This latter perception has been moderated by the emergence of the Regional Colleges as positive generators of local entrrpreneurial initiatives.

Chapter 21: Ireland and the Politics of Science and Education in Britain

Norman McMillan

The author here explores the impact of the Irish colonial scientific elite on the scene in Britain, expanding on his Tyndall researches.

The Irish scientific elite was close-knit and often intermarried; they corresponded regularly, and constituted what has come to be known as a ‘network’, who helped each other through political barriers. When they sought to make their careers in Britain they often turned this ability to advantage.

The Royal Society (RS) and the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) both were environments in which this ability was cultivated. Key actors in the process were Sabine, Stokes and Tyndall. Another focus of activity was the Royal Society of Arts, which at its foundation was fuelled by a couple of decades of experience of the Dublin Society, transmitted by Philip Carteret-Webb (1700-1770). Details of how the RDS disposed of their parliamentary grant in support of industry promotion were made available. The Birmingham Lunar Society and the Mechanics Institutes alse benefited from Irish colonial influence, both in Ireland (eg Edgeworth) or emigrant.

The prolific populariser Denis (Rev Dionysius) Lardner had learned his trade in transmitting the French analytical notation for calculus, as an alternative to Newton’s dots, in support of Lloyd in Trinity. Being however outclassed by people like Hamilton and McCullough on the race to TCD appointments, he emigrated and made his name as a textbook and encyclopedia entrepreneur on the London and US markets.


Rev Dionysius Lardner

Rev Dionysius Lardner


The author traces the sometimes intense politicking that went into the BAAS meetings, and the reform of the RS from its earlier state as a club of scientific- minded gentlemen. A key role in the professionalisation of science was played by the ‘X-club’ which was a sort of scientific mafia based in the Royal Institution, in which Tyndall played a key role. It acted, among other things, as a sort of ‘pro-evolution lobby’, fuelling Tyndall’s famous ‘Belfast Address’ to the BAAS in 1874.

Despite their location in London this emigrant group remained influential in the Irish environment, in the Academy, in the politics of the Catholic University (in which context they were supportive of the emerging scientific elite eg Hennessy), and in Irish industry; Stokes was supportive of the Grubb optical works with optical advice, and helped to get Grubb in as an FRS. Stokes was also supportive of the Mallet foundry in Dublin.

McMillan has again developed a challenge to historians and adumbrated a whole series of theses in the field of the history of science, industry and government, in the colonial environment; this may be taken as a sort of base- line from which the evolution into the current post-colonial situation may be traced.