Elphin Diocesan School, associated with St Mary's Cathedral transferred to Sligo in 1862. It had strong associations with Oliver Goldsmith and was famous for being inclusive of the poor in Elphin.
BISHOP HODSON'S TRUST
In 1685, seven months before his death, Dr. John Hodson, Anglican Bishop of Elphin [1667-1685], left a provision in his will "for the maintenance of a Grammar School in the town of Elphin for the teaching and instruction of the inhabitants of said town, teaching such of the said children whose parents are poor gratis". Endowed with a moiety of Hodson's 300-acre estate in Co Cavan, Elphin Diocesan School became a well-reputed centre of learning and was unique in that it was non-denominational and inclusive of the poor.
The Grammar School as we know it today was a new-build erected in 1869 in the name of Bishop Hodson (c.1609 - 1686) and popularly known as 'The Latin School'.
ELPHIN DIOCESAN SCHOOL
The Rev. Oliver Jones (maternal grandfather of Oliver Goldsmith) who was curate and "master of the Diocesan School at Elphin", was very likely the first master of Hodson's new school. Greek, Latin, History, Geography, the use of Globes, Writing and Accounting was taught. The results of its public half-yearly examinations were published in the Dublin Evening Mail. Successive generations have received a high standard of academic education and several pupils went on to attain scholarships to Trinity College. The eye surgeon Sir William Wilde (father of Oscar Wilde) and Percy French received their early education at the school.
The Rev. Oliver Jones retired to Smith Hill, Elphin (where Oliver Goldsmith was born). He was succeeded by the Rev. Michael Griffin (Griffith) who taught his future son-in-law, Charles Goldsmith. Several of the pupils of his school entered Dublin University (Trinity College) between the years 1707 and 1740. It is also said that Oliver Goldsmith attended the school until 1739 (when he was eleven years old). Griffith died or resigned in 1743.
Mr Griffith's immediate successor at the school at Elphin would appear to have been Mr John Gunning who in turn was succeeded by Mr Francis Drake Kenny in 1766. Mr Kenny gave evidence at Grattan's Irish Education Inquiry 1788 that he had kept 34 boarders (at 18 to 20 guineas per annum) assisted by his wife, but since her death in 1783 the number declined and for two years he had kept no boarders. Day scholars paid 4 guineas per annum. He also said the clergymen were 8 to ten years in salary arrears and that the repairs to the building had been made out of his own pocket.
By 1809 the Diocesan School at Elphin was under the direction of the Rev. William Smith M.A. Vicar General of the Diocese of Elphin, who had two boarders and 27 day-boys (seven of whom were free). By 1819, there were three boarders and 13 day-boys (of whom ten were free). By then, Smith was being assisted by his son, the Rev. Charles Smith M.A., and by a writing-master. The decline in number was reported to be due to the "pressure of the times" (the non-payment of tithes). The average number attending the school in 1821 was twenty-six. By 1831, there were 60 scholars at the school of whom twenty-two were boarders.
In 1835, the Rev. Charles Smith M.A. succeeded his late father as principal. By this time, there were nine hedge schools and three other day schools in Elphin.
Elphin Diocesan School had seven boarders and thirty day-boys, of whom fourteen were free. (D'Alton suspected the true number was being "suppressed" from the Commission of Inquiry and that there had been a "great deal of concealment as regards charitable bequests in Ireland"). Smith charged his boarders £26 5s. per annum, but his charges for day-boys must have been moderate. Euclid, Algebra, Book-keeping and Arithmetic were taught at the school but the curriculum was designed mainly towards covering the requirements in Latin, Greek and English for Trinity College, Dublin. The work commenced at 7 am and continued until 2.30pm. There were classes also from 6-8pm.
In 1837, Lewis references "The diocesan school, which is also at Elphin, is endowed with £25 per annum from Bishop Hudson's fund, and has a house with 15 acres of land; the master's salary is £100 late currency ... Besides the diocesan school, in which the celebrated Oliver Goldsmith was educated, there are two public schools, to which the bishop contributes £20 and the dean £7 annually: about 230 children are educated in these schools, and about 570 in nine private schools. The children who attend the public schools are clothed annually by the bishop, who also contributes largely to the support of a dispensary."
He also mentions "In the body of the church a handsome monument has been recently erected to the memory of the late Rev. Wm. Smith, V. G., and master to the diocesan school, by his pupils."
In December 1841, Rev. Charles Smith died suddenly of Typhus fever, leaving his wife, Olivia, "destitute with 9 children, and one on the way".
In March 1842, the Rev. Thomas Flynn M.A. was appointed as master. During the first few years, the Protestant Dean and Chapter nominated a few poor boys, intending for the Catholic Priesthood, for free instruction in Latin and Greek in a cottage which was 'separate from the Diocesan school altogether'. These boys were taught, from 1842-1845 by Mr Flynn's son, who entered Trinity college in 1845 at the age of fifteen. He reported that he was attending exclusively to the education of these boys and that they were only educated at the school for one to two hours in the morning. The Commission was concerned that the terms of Bishop Hodson's may have never been fulfilled. The trustees withdrew Hodson's fund from the Diocesan school, to allow it accumulate.
In 1847, Elphin Diocesan School was one of the five diocesan schools in the country which continued to be well-attended, the number of boarders having increased considerably.
The Rev. Hugh John Flynn, graduated with a B.A.from Dublin University (TCD) in 1851 and succeeded his father at Elphin Grammar school.
Saunders's News-Letter - Thursday 19 January 1854
WANTED immediately in Elphin Diocesan School, an Assistant Resident Master, well qualified to undertake the Mathematical and English Departments, including Map Drawing. A knowledge of French and Classics would be desirable. References as to character abilities, &c. must be most satisfactory. Salary Thirty Pounds per annum. Application to be made to the Rev. Hugh J. Flynn, A. B. Diocesan School, Elphin.
In 1855, he had 15 boarders (all Protestant 'respectable class') and thirteen day-boys (all Catholic, sons of farmers) and no free pupils in the Dioceasan school. Mr Flynn's boarders paid £30-36 per year and his day-boys £4 per annum.
In 1857, there were three National Schoolhouses in Elphin; two on Main Street (#29@ £4/5s near the Market place) & (#73 beside the Cathedral @ £2/10s) and one on Chapel Street (#34@£6). Rev. Hugh Flynn is recorded as lessor at Elphin #1 Chapel St (House offs & Buildings £20) 42, 47, 48 Main Street and 25 & 26 Chapel Street (land).
School inspectors had unfavourable reports on the state of instruction. Due to adverse publicity occasioned by disparaging reports of 1855-58, attendance declined and the Rev HJ Flynn transferred to Co. Meath as vicar in 1862.
END OF AN ERA
In 1862 the "Elphin Diocesan School" was consolidated with Clonfert and Kilmacduagh, and moved by Royal Charter to Sligo (to the buildings which had formerly housed the Charter School). Flynn's successor, the Rev J.H. Martin moved to Kilkenny College in 1864.
The old Diocesan School in Elphin was past repair and sold; the proceeds going to "The new Elphin Diocesan School at Sligo".
NEW BUILDING 1869
With residue income from Hodson's trust fund, plans were made to replace the old Diocesan school with a new Grammar School in Hodson's name in Elphin. The new Grammar School for Boys had one master and was a "primary school with a secondary top". No child was to receive scriptural or religious instruction without the express written consent of the parent.
The headmaster was the Rev. Edward Irwin (later Canon Edward Irwin) a first-class Honorman of Trinity College, who held the post for 53 years. It was open from 9.30am until 12 noon and from 12.30pm until 3pm. Long vacations at Christmas and Midsummer were three weeks each. Other than that, there were some holidays around Easter, Whitsun and on the Queen's birthday.
The new building consisted of a single classroom to accomodate 60 pupils and the headmaster's dwelling house. It was well-lit with windows measuring 8 feet by 6 feet. In 1879 the school had 25 boys enrolled, all day scholars (of whom nine were Roman Catholic) and the fees were nominal with 10 free pupils. By this time, the Protestant congregation of Elphin had dwindled to 30 and they had hoped for more Catholic attendance. It was noted that, even though the school was was strictly non-denominational, it met with strong opposition from the Catholic priests who had set up a rival school.
In October 1879, the Deanery of Elphin called for subscriptions to fund a lodging house for poor scholars to board near the school at the small charge of 2s. per week, exclusive of food. In 1881 the boarding house to the rear of the school opened. All boarders were 'of the reformed faith' while the majority of local day pupils were Roman Catholic.
The new boarding house was a financial failure and closed in 1904. In March 1910, Elphin Grammar School had 19 pupils aged 10-19 and three of the older pupils were girls. Miss Elizabeth Maud Cox was a monitress, assisting with Preparatory English and Latin.
Canon Irwin was succeeded by the Rev. William Andrew Stewart Blaine (d. 1939) who was succeeded by the Rev. Issac Mayne (up to 1945) and subsequently, the Rev. Canon W. Wynne Slack.
The Grammar School Building (b.1869) on Main Street, is now a protected structure. The school to the rear of the listed building (which was part of Elphin Community College up to 2007) is also being renovated as a resource centre for the education and holistic development of the people of Elphin and catchment areas.
[Research by Rua Mac Diarmada]
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