“in relation to the divide in education we have gone backwards.”

As the churches join the wrangling over the education system, Eamon McCann looks back in time and despairs of the current Executive parties.

By 1930, the tribal shamans had the children of the land divvied up satisfactorily between them. Since then, some ideas in education have come into fashion, others have gone out of style. But all that’s changed with regard to the religious divide is that fewer people than ever in politics are willing to take it on. Charles Stewart Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry, was not only ahead of his time, but, sad to say, ahead of our time too.

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  • Good piece from McCann. A divide which should be getting more attention than the academic divide.

  • abucs

    The tribal ‘shamans’ were actually responsible for the spread of education, in Ireland and around the world.

  • It appears that the top clergy are talking about it. See this blog


    and the comments of Catholic Observer who has drawn attention to obstacles in canon law


    I dont think the clergy of either denomination can be relied upon to advance the cause of segregation. I would like to see the Home Politicians start to debate this. I know that both Owen Paterson and David Cameron have expressed a desire to see more integrated schools.

  • Charles Stewart Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry, was not only ahead of his time, but, sad to say, ahead of our time too.

    Does that include his circle of friendship? Including Messers Ribbentrop, Göring and all the way to A.Hitler, esq.? Some accounts suggest the wife’s contacts with Ribbentrop and Ramsay Mac were even more intimate.

    But then being a “liberal” Tory/Unionist in the 30s was no great stretch. Particularly when one’s “liberal” conscience is financed by the sweat and blood of the Durham coalfields. Do ask Comrade McCann to elucidate on that, some time.

    I further wonder to what extent those “liberal” proposals of Londonderry were motivated by educational advancement rather than economy and “socially engineering” the Catholic hierarchy out of their “social engineering”.

    And, yeah, I haven’t referred to the original piece. I can only cope with so much creepiness in a morning.

  • You were right not to read the article Malcolm. Its main argument was what a standup chap Londonderry was and you’ve demolished it with your penetrating post.

  • joeCanuck

    Here’s a little vignette that may interest some.
    Back in the 70s I lived for a time in Kilcooley estate in Bangor. It was a new estate then and a wonderful place to live and raise children. Lots of people pitched in to community activities; I myself was Treasurer of the school PTA for my last two years there and we had great fun at fundraising events, and running after school activities for the kids. I was sorry to hear last year that things have deteriorated.
    About the school – it was a state primary school. Now there were a significant number of Catholic families in the estate at the start; unfortunately many were driven out around the time of the Worker’s Council strike. Anyway, quite a few of those Catholic families sent their kids to the state school. The local Parish Priest knew this and he sent a curate up once a week to give Catholic voluntary instruction for half an hour. Then someone told the Bishop of Down and Conor about this arrangement. All hell broke loose, if that is possible in a Christian Institution. Threats were made and most of those families succumbed to them and removed their children and sent them to the Catholic school downtown.
    So sad.

  • Sorry about that previous posting: if there are two words, put into close proximity, which, even after forty-odd years, induce my bruxism (look it up) those words are “Eamon” and “McCann”.

    After a couple of swift, strong snifters I’ve skimmed that original piece. It seems to boil down to a sequence of rhetorical questions and a very unreliable take on history. Typical McCann.

    McCann says:

    James Craig chose Londonderry as Minister of Education specifically because, as Joseph Lee puts it in Ireland 1912-1885, “He was the least sectarian and least provincial member of his cabinet”.

    Well, Joe Lee set out, and succeeded in being “revisionist” in his interpretation. He was strong on the political broad-brush, but no great social critic. I would suggest being “the least sectarian and least provincial” of Craig’s cabinet is no great encomium.

    I am also reminded that F.E.Smith (a signatory of the 1921 Treaty and one of the strongest opponents of Home Rule in 1912-14) knew a thing or two. Smith proposed to Londonderry that, even after 1922, Ireland was one island, and should operate as an economic unit, though this required (self-evidently) the co-operation of the Ulster junta. When Londonderry demurred, Smith’s reply, dated 26 April 1927, was telling (and contradicts McCann’s take on Lee):

    The real truth is that you in Ulster are far too sensitive. Even you, who are so largely in touch with Imperial affairs and with English political society, the moment you go back to Belfast become parochialised.

    Londonderry may have been a political naïf when he pressed on with the education plan, knowing full well he had no support from the denominations. He appointed (or was induced to appoint) Robert Lynn, a Presbyterian with known anti-Catholic views, to chair the committee (Lynn was so out of sympathy with Londonderry that his temporary silence had to be “bought” with a knighthood). The proposed tri-partite system (fully-controlled, 4+2 clerical control, and full clerical control) with stepped levels of finance was the worst kind of political stooging: even Lynn felt it included:

    … every objectionable feature of the Scottish [1918 Education] Act.

    Meanwhile, the plan would have no effect on the academies and colleges of the urban (mainly protestant) middle-class — except, perhaps, to encourage a private/public schooling divide which remains largely absent from NI.

    Nor was it the Catholic hierarchy which scuppered the whole thing. It was the outcry from protestants, who saw their schools transferred to the public sector (with no compensation, no Bible instruction, and no denominational input) while RC schools received state aid (including staff salaries and teacher training) but retained their property rights. The outcry was so intense that the Amendment Act had to go through, in haste, in March 1925, before the Act proper came into effect and (significantly) before the second election to the NI parliament (It didn’t entirely work: the Unionists lost a County Antrim seat to an “Unbought Tenants Association” candidate. Lynn emerged from the woodwork in 1929 to denounce the “small landlords clique” on behalf of his “Orange Brethren”).

    If the Londonderry Education plan has any lessons, it is to show up the cleavage in Unionism. Londonderry saw himself as the main opposition to Orangeism:

    I was the only person who even stood up to the Presbyterians and I should have done more in that direction if I had felt that my colleagues would have (I won’t say supported me) not worked against me.

    So what was the Londonderry education débâcle all about? It might alternatively be seen as a piece of shrewd political stagecraft. It diverted the Presbyterian energy away from prohibition (a parallel issue of the time, one severely at odds with brewing and distillery interests which donated to Unionism). And it set up Londonderry, the English Big House Ascendancy figure as the fall-guy.

  • Reader

    Malcolm Redfellow: Even you, who are so largely in touch with Imperial affairs and with English political society, the moment you go back to Belfast become parochialised.
    Being called parochialised by a southern nationalist must have had Londonderry in stitches. And why on earth would a unionist in 1927 want to shift the economic axis away from the union and towards the Free State?

  • Reader @ 08:45 PM:

    My misdirection, or your miscue?

    The quotation is from F.E.Smith, a close friend of Churchill. By the time of this utterance, he was created Lord Birkenhead, and Secretary of State for India.

    Smith was one of the leading Tory Unionists. He was also one of the British negotiators of the 1921 Treaty.

    It was he who said to Mick Collins, “I may have just signed my political death warrant”; to which Collins replied, “I may have just signed my actual death warrant.”

    I find your final sentence astonishing. Where in the whole process of partition was it assumed that there would be or could be two discrete economic zones in the island of Ireland? The whole Government of Ireland Act, 1920, is predicated to an assumption of eventual reunion. It took some very narrow minds in the Craig, Andrews and Brookeborough administrations (not without help from some equally narrow minds in Dublin) to attempt the impossible.

  • Reader

    Malcolm Redfellow: He was also one of the British negotiators of the 1921 Treaty.
    That was the point you didn’t mention.
    Malcolm Redfellow: I find your final sentence astonishing. Where in the whole process of partition was it assumed that there would be or could be two discrete economic zones in the island of Ireland?
    Northern Ireland had both an industrial and agricultural base at the time. Was the Free state ever going to be a major market for ships, linen, rope? Then Collins’ Belfast Boycott and de Valera’s economic war didn’t help, of course.

  • Here’s another barely-relevant tidbit from casual reading.

    W.B.Yeats (helpful hint to Reader @ 8:45 & 10:07 PM: an Irish poet, Senator and public figure) writing to Lady Londonderry, 9 February 1924, declining an invitation to one of her star-studded soirées:

    I wonder if we shall end by the spectacle of a high Tory Ireland — North & South — face-to-face with a socialist England.

    To comprehend that, one needs to remember that:

    the General Election of 6 December 1923 was fought on the issue of Tariff Reform, that the Tories lost their majority, and Asquith’s Liberals supported a minority Labour Government;

    that the election of 27 August 1923 had installed W.T.Cosgrave, with his penchant for formal dress and shiny top-hats, as Taoiseach in the 4th Dáil;

    and that Yeats, who had the political antennae of a door-stop, was moving to the political Right with astounding speed and vigour, carelessly neglectful of his IRB oath.

  • PaddyReilly

    McCann’s somewhat jaundiced view of the Catholic Church and Catholic education is based on his personal experience at St Columb’s College. A single priest can, through tactlessness, sow the seeds of quite considerable anti-clericalism. But a good one, like the priest in the first chapter of Fiche Blian ag Fás, would have the opposite effect.

    From the point of view of the victim—I mean pupil—I would say that the Quakers are the best educators. Well ahead of Presbyterian, Anglican and Catholic in terms of humanity and egalitarianism. But of course, we all revert to the mean.

    As for education in NI, I still think it’s a good idea. But I would have three systems, Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterians, making it into religious education rather than political sectarian education. There could even be a fourth option for militant atheists.