The national school system as a vehicle for church influence in twentieth century Ireland

Patricia Twomey Ryan, Fordham University


Among the most critical functions of any society are the transmission of the culture from one generation to the next and the socialization of the young into adult roles. Over the past two centuries national school systems have increasingly borne the responsibility for producing the type of individual a society needs in order to function. Because of this critical responsibility, these systems have become highly secular institutions whose primary responsibility is to the state. The Irish national system presents an exception to this pattern of development. This system, established in 1830 as an undenominational one, became increasingly entangled with and manipulated by the religious groups vying for power in the society itself. When most modern societies were beginning to delineate church state roles in the area of education, with public education becoming the state's sphere, Irish society was both purposely and inadvertently increasing the church's role in education. So greatly, in fact, that within one century the national school system was virtually controlled by the Roman Catholic Church. This study examines the relationship between the Catholic church's control of the Irish national school system and the level of influence which the church has in Irish society. It argues two main points: that church influence has been considerable and consistent and that the sustaining source of that influence has been the Catholic church's control of the schools. It also looks at the consequences which this control and influence have on the present day Republic of Ireland, particularly in light of the issue of cultural pluralism which Northern Ireland presents.

Subject Area

School administration

Recommended Citation

Ryan, Patricia Twomey, "The national school system as a vehicle for church influence in twentieth century Ireland" (1989). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9007192.