A History of Children in Ireland from Medieval Times to the Eighteenth Century

All speakers have something new and original to contribute to the history of children and childhood in Ireland.

A short Q&A follows the presentations.

The event was recorded for submission to the Heritage Week site for Heritage Week 2021 and also uploaded to the Museum website: 


Order of Speakers:

  • Eileen Murphy, Burial Practices for the Young in Medieval Gaelic Ireland – Some Findings from Ballyhanna, Co. Donegal.
  • Mary O’Dowd, The Towerhouse and Childhood: What do we know about children’s lives in Gaelic Society?
  • Ann-Maria Walsh, ‘Remembering and re-imagining early modern childhood in the Boyle archive.’
  • Rachel Wilson, An education fit for a lady: teaching girls in the ‘big house’ in Ireland, c. 1690-1745.

Each presenter has shaped their presentation around a particular aspect of Irish heritage: 

burial places, 

the tower house, 

the Monument to Sir Richard Boyle in St Mary’s Church, Youghal 

and the estate house (usually referred to as the ‘big house’.

They explore what these places, buildings and objects can tell us about childhood in Ireland in the medieval and early modern period.  The overall presentation shows that much information can be gained about the children who lived in Ireland in the past. 

While archaeologists and historians are increasingly focusing their research on past children, work that concentrates on adults is still dominant. The presentations here show that using these different approaches there is great potential to gain a more holistic understanding of the world of the child across the different eras.  

If you have questions on the presentations for any of the speakers please feel free to contact us on info@museumofchildhood.ie and we will be happy to forward your queries to the panel.

Questions for Eileen:

1. Have similar atypical burial practices for children been identified at other Irish Medieval sites?

2. You mentioned a couple of examples of disease evident in children at Ballyhanna – what types of diseases would we typically find among the young in Irish Medieval populations?

Questions for Ann-Maria:

1. Have you observed any changes over the course of the seventeenth century in terms of the Boyle children’s upbringing and education?

2. Have you discovered any more information about the children who feature in the surviving correspondence?  

Questions for Rachel.

  1. You mentioned that a girl’s mother or mother figure would take overall charge of her education within the home and that a girl would have tutors for particular skills like dancing. Did the Irish elite ever employ female governesses to teach girls at this point in time? 
  2. There seem to have been a lot of similarities between how girls in Ireland were educated and how those in England were taught. Why do you think this was?


Questions  for Mary :

  1. You note the limited information that we have on the history of children in the sixteenth century, do you think more sources exist that we have not looked at yet?
  2. You focussed on older children, what do we know about infants or very young children?

This event was organised by Professor Mary O’Dowd, History team Lead at the Museum of Childhood Ireland.