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Irish Children in 18th Century Schools and Institutions

Although it is to state the obvious, there has always been a history of children. However, unlike the more obvious economic trends and political views, children's histories have for the most part remained hidden. Although there is disagreement amongst historians as to when childhood was invented, it is generally accepted that there was a profound change in attitudes towards children during the seventeenth and eighteenth-centuries which reached its climax in the nineteenth.

Eighteenth-century Ireland witnessed immense economic and political changes and these were paralleled in the domestic sphere as the increasingly private realm of eighteenth-century family life underwent adjustment and change. The beginning of the century saw the development of the ascendancy class, the big house and the improving landlord while on the other hand, the continuing lack of industrial development and the increase in population presented the poor and vulnerable with more forbidding challenges as the century progressed. All Irish children, but especially poor Catholic children were seen as a means of expanding and stabilising the Protestant religion in Ireland, thus ultimately reinforcing the authority and power vested in the emerging ascendancy.

There are no specific organisations or archives dedicated to the history of children in eighteenth-century Ireland. Indeed a perusal of National Library of Ireland catalogues would indicate a definite bias in favour of political events. Thus the information for this study has to be extracted from a broad range of primary sources such as family papers - an under-appreciated source - journals, biographies, newspapers, government and institutional records, and a range of manuscripts, the majority of which have been deposited for safekeeping in Irish repositories.

While the above sources can yield much valuable information about the elites and 'the middling sorts', information establishing the actuality of children's lives for the peasant/pauper and 'the unwanted' is slightly more difficult and perhaps reflects their position in eighteenth-century Irish society. Nevertheless, papers such as the House of Commons reports, the Incorporated Society for Promoting Protestant Schools in Ireland archive, and reports made by individuals throughout the eighteenth-century provide details and testimony of the children being cared for in institutions.

About the project

This digital humanities project was supported and funded by St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, Dublin(SPD), Dublin City University (DCU) and An Foras Feasa: The Institute for Research in Irish Historical and Cultural Traditions (AFF) in collaboration with the Digital Humanities Observatory (DHO).

The collaborative nature of the project was enhanced by the support, encouragement and collegial spirit of my fellow PhD candidates Anne Marie Herron and Teresa O'Donnell.

There is a list of the definitions of the school types used as part of the project and you can find out more detail about the project from the editorial notes.


The information contained within this project does not claim to be a comprehensive database of all Irish children in eighteenth-century schools and institutions, and researchers should be aware of this limitation when drawing conclusions. It is, however, a representative sample of a cross-section of children's records.

The personal information of children incorporated in this database includes their name, sex, religion, parents, institution, education and apprenticeship details where available. However, given the nature of Irish historic documentation, not all information fields are traceable.

Because of the attitude adopted towards peasant/pauper children by those in authority, personal information concerning those entering institutions was frequently not recorded and often what was, has not survived. Likewise, not all school registers have survived. Those that have are often scattered in public and private repositories. For example, the registers of Dublin's Blue Coat School are held in The King's Hospital, Palmerstown, Dublin while the papers of The Incorporated Society in Dublin for Promoting English Protestant Schools in Ireland are held in Trinity College Dublin.

Register transcriptions such as that of 'The Augustinian Academy at Brunswick Street (1783-87)', Cork may be found as printed primary sources in journals such as The Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society as often many details of registers that have since been lost or disappeared. Other details may be extracted from minute books of school governors, newspapers, family diaries and personal correspondence. The records of Irish children attending Eton, Harrow and Rugby public schools were drawn from their school registers, available online.

To facilitate further historical research, the original source location and reference number accompanies each child's individual record. However, it is advisable to contact any repository before making a personal visit. While every effort has been made to maintain an accurate and scholarly approach towards record transcriptions, errors and omissions may occur.


The content is freely available for fair use under the Creative Commons Attribute-Non-Commercial-Share-Alike license.

Database development followed TEI Guidelines and is presented using the Exhibit Framework from MIT's SIMILE project.


As of August 30, 2013, the activities of Digital Humanities Observatory have ceased and since then, the original website for the Irish Children in 18th Century Schools and Institutions has been unpublished. As a result, the files necessary to enable individuals to run this site themselves are available as a downloadable zip. Please see below instructions for details.


"This site uses a JavaScript framework called Exhibit ( developed by MIT. In order to work, the data, stored in a file called data.json, must be hosted on a web server. For this reason, most of the site content and functionality will not be available when hosting the entire site locally on a user's own computer.  To enable the full functionality of this site, the site should be hosted on a web server.  Ensure the following:

  1. Unzip the website using your prefered software package.
  2. Ensure you have access to a web server (this would usually be hosted on a hosting service such as Blacknight or a Cloud-based solution such as Amazon Web Services).
  3. Copy the entire contents of the website to an accessible location on your web server (either in or below the web root) using an FTP client (such as WinSCP or Cyberduck).
  4. Access the site by navigating to the index.html page, e.g.

Alternatively, if you do not want to access the full site externally, you can host only the site data file externally. You will still need access to a web server, but you need only copy the data.json file to your web server. If you do this:

  1. Take note of the fully qualified web address of this file, e.g.
  2. In every HTML file where the line: <link href="data.json" type="application/json" rel="exhibit/data" /> appears, replace the reference to the data file with the new location, e.g.: <link href="" type="application/json" rel="exhibit/data" />

Please note that due to changes in the licensing model for Google Maps, mapping functionality may not work as intended.

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