Secondary Education Background

After the Catholic Relief Act 1792, Catholic Secondary Education developed. Religious orders established denominational schools throughout Ireland without state assistance. They were owned generally by the diocese or religious order concerned.

A select committee of the House of Commons in 1835 examined the existing state of schools and proposed the establishment of new schools on a nationwide basis. Elementary education would be provided in parochial schools. Each county would have a state-financed and locally maintained county academy, which would be inter-denominational with a scientific and classical curriculum.

Each of the four provinces would have a provincial college and agricultural college, which would offer higher education for all denominations. the system must be supervised by a centralized council and committee of secondary education of the National Board. Nothing became of the report.

The Earl of Kildare Commission proposed structural changes and changes to the curriculum that proposed commercial, literary and scientific subjects. It proposed the establishment of an interdenominational secondary educational system with state aid to supplement the funds of local committees. Catholic reaction to the report of the Commission was unfavourable, and the hierarchy sort to defend the denominational principle.

Intermediate Education Act

Prior to the Intermediate Education Act 1878, the institutions and schools providing secondary or higher-level education included a wide variety of curricula, qualification facilities and quality of instruction. Some derived from private and royal endowment  Many others were of church origin. The largest category was those established by a Catholic teaching order.

The Intermediate Education Act 1878 established Boards of Commissioners of Intermediate Education. The Board introduced a system of public examinations on the basis of which prizes and certificates would be awarded. It made payments to school managers on the basis of results.

A detailed schedule of rules was incorporated in the Act which specified the structure of examinations and award schemes. School fees were payable to the manager in respect of pupils who made at least a hundred attendances per year.

The funding for the Commissioners of Intermediate Education came principally from Customs and Excise revenues. No system of inspection existed under the 1878 Intermediate Education Act.

Development of Schools

The legislation made no provision for the establishment of building or maintenance of schools. The legislation made no provisions for school inspection, established no standards or minimal qualifications for staff or facilities. Once the denomination rules were complied with, there was little further control.

By the end of the 19th century, intermediate or secondary schools were owned and managed by church bodies, teaching orders, or private bodies. In contrast to the primary system, there was no formal system of school recognition.

Secondary schools developed in larger towns. This depended on factors such as the historical availability of ecclesiastical orders and the local diocesan arrangements. At the turn of the 20th century, a disproportionately small number of secondary schools existed in Connacht.

The Intermediate Act, Education Ireland Act 1914 made registration of secondary teachers mandatory.

Technical Education

The development of technical education was a feature of the early 20th century. The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, later the Department of Agricultural was established in 1900. By that stage, a number of modern agricultural schools existed. In 1900 the Department assumed responsibility for agricultural education.

The Department of Agricultural and Technical Instructions provided for technical and agricultural education. This system later evolved into the vocational education system in 1930.


Trinity College Dublin was founded in 1591 by Royal Charter. The Irish Universities Act 1908 gave birth to the  National University of Ireland, and Queen’s University, Belfast.

The National University consisted of University College Cork, University College Galway, and University College, Dublin. Although legally nondenominational, they were effectively intended as universities for Catholics.

Prior to this three Queen’s Colleges were established in Cork, Galway, and Belfast in response to Catholic bishops who opposed them. A Catholic University was established by  John Henry Newman.


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