Education in 1970s Ireland

Figure 1: Sketch of Padraig Faulkner (O’Connell, 2012)

The 1970s was a dramatic period worldwide and similarly one of economic, industrial, and political unrest in Ireland. This period of social change sharpened the debates about equality and the lives of Irish women. The 1970s also saw the continuation of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland which impacted the civil rights movement both North and South of the border. Education in Ireland was led by the Department of Education under multiple Ministers of Education during the 1970s. The Ministers of Education in the seventies were Padraig Faulkner (1969-1973), Richard Burke (1973-1976), Peter Barry (1976-1977), and John P Wilson (1977-1981).

Padraig Faulkner, Minister of Education 1969-1973

Padraig was born in Cootehill, Co. Cavan, on November 25 th 1918. His childhood would have been heavily influenced by the political landscape of Ireland during the 1920s. He attended Dunleer National School, Dundalk CBS, and then St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Dublin to train to become a national schoolteacher.

While teaching at national school level he was committed to teaching through the Irish language, and this interest in the language remained throughout his political career.

He was elected to Dail Éireann in 1957, working closely with Sean Lemass. He was elected as Minister of Education in 1969 and his role as minister was marked with controversies. These controversies involved both what Faulkner was doing in his roles with teaching associations, and attending their meetings while also being in negotiations with them. The other controversy was when he approved the closure of national schools in rural and Gaeltacht areas in order to have larger schools created, with children sent further distances for their education.

Faulkner’s achievements as minister of education were the establishment of regional technical colleges as third level institutions for students that were less academically inclined and the removal of the subject centred curriculum to a child centred curriculum that aimed to accommodate pupil with various levels of abilities (Maume, 2018).

Richard Burke, Minister of Education 1973-1976

Figure 2: Richard Burke, former Minister of Education (The Irish Times, 2016)

Richard Burke was born in Brooklyn, New York, on the 28th of March 1932, then raised in Upper church, Co. Tipperary. He was educated in the Christian Brothers school, Thurlas, and later went on to qualify as a teacher. In 1969, he was elected to Dáil Éireann and was appointed as the Minister of Education in the Fine Gael- Labour coalition of 1973.

His time as minister of education resulted in him introducing transition year to the secondary school curriculum, and the abolition of compulsory Irish as a subject in the Leaving Certificate. He was described by the former Taoiseach John Bruton as, “a very successful reforming minister with concrete achievements to his name” (The Irish Times).

Peter Barry, Minister of Education 1976-1977

Figure 3: Peter Barry, Former Minister of Education and Tánaiste (Irish Independent, 2016)

Peter Barry was born in Blackrock, Co. Cork, in 1928 and was the son of Anthony Barry, the Fine Gael TD and businessman. He was educated in the Christian Brothers College in Cork and was a major shareholder in the family business, Barry’s Tea (Wikipedia, 2023).

He was elected to the Dáil Éireann in 1969 and became the minister of education in 1976. He is more notably known for his role as Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1982 to 1987 due to his negotiations during the Anglo-Irish Agreement (Irish Independent).

John P. Wilson, Minister of Education 1977-1981

John P. Wilson was born in Callanagh, Kilcogy, Co. Cavan on the 8th of July, 1923. He attended his local national schools in Clonoose and Cloncovid.He attended boarding school in St Mel’s College, Co. Longford from 1937. He studied in Maynooth College and graduated with full honours in 1945. He then studied to become a secondary school teacher through a H. Dip in 1947. He became a member of Fianna Fáil in 1965 and was elected to the Dáil Éireann in 1973.

He became the Minister of Education in 1977 and remained until 1981. Wilson is remembered for his quick defusing of controversies that had remained from previous Ministers of Education. To address the shortage of teachers for schools, Wilson set up a one-year training course to meet the shortage. He also opened a multi-denominational school in Dalkey, Co. Dublin which was the first in Ireland. His work as minister resulted in the mitigation of the education system regarding the middle-class bias that was prevalent. Wilson also successfully reduced the number of primary school classes that had over forty pupils from 3260 to 980 through his school building programme (Clavin, 2013)

Multi-Denominational Schools

There was heavy debate over education in Ireland since the introduction of free education in Ireland in 1967. One of the key issues was access to education that was inhibited by the denomination of the children and families. This caused there a rise in attendance of catholic school children attending Church of Ireland schools, one of these schools was St Patricks National School in Dalkey, Co. Dublin.

This school was established in the 1890s and had been a school run by one teacher for over 60 years. By 1974 there was an increase in attendance, and it saw 5 teachers teaching in the school with 180 students attending. Out of this 180, one third were Church of Ireland, one third that were Catholic, and then the remaining third were other protestant religions (Hyland, 1996).

The Dalkey school project was set up in 1975 to create a national school that would be multi-denominational and co-educational. It would have a child centred approach to education that disputed the generational academic subject centred approach that had been a feature of the Irish education system since the creation of the national school programme in 1831.

This was supported by Jack Lynch, the former Minister of Education and the then Fianna Fáil party leader, which aided in the support of the creation of the school. Under John Wilson the Dalkey school project was approved, and it was opened in 1978 in its temporary premises in Dun Laoghaire.

Over the next six years the school ran on a temporary premises and had more than 300 students and ten teachers all while the new building was being built and other schools like this were being created (Hyland, 1996).

The creation of Dalkey’s multi-denominational primary school started a ripple effect, helping pave the way for what is available in today’s primary schools in Ireland.

Written by Amy Louise Clarke, Intern, Museum of Childhood Ireland, April 2024.