Centenary Book of the Church of Ireland Training College

PERIOD II. 1831-1884

THE educational events of the year 183 I are directly responsible for much of the educational history of the following century. It is therefore right that they should receive a moment's careful attention.

The rising tide of sympathy with Roman Catholics in their disabilities, had found expression in the Emancipation Act, and the founding of the National Board. But it was one thing to tolerate Roman Catholics, quite another to encourage, or even to recognise, their religious views. Accordingly, the National Board commenced with an undenominationalism as absolute as that of the Kildare Place Society; and, in addition, it made no provision whatever for reading the Scriptures. The indignation which this departure aroused in Church circles was as natural as it was vehement. Emancipation had been long resisted, and in the end its concession had been more a matter of necessity than of grace. To find that the next step in this, as it appeared, down-grade policy, seemed to imply the abolition of the Bible from the school, was a discovery full charged with inflammatory material. The train of explosives thus laid was fired by the Kildare Place Society. Themselves smarting at the slight done to efforts which had been wholly disinterested, and marvellously successful, they went in search of means for continuing the Society by voluntary support, and in so doing fixed upon the cry of 'Scriptural Education.' The effect was instantaneous. An interest in the fortunes of the Society, which had no parallel in the years of its prosperity, was aroused not only in Ireland, but in England. Many auxiliary organisations were formed to raise the funds made necessary by the withdrawal of the Government Grants. The voluntary resources increased tenfold. For the moment it looked as if a new era of prosperity had begun.

But it is one thing to formulate a successful cry, another to fulfil the expectations so aroused. The new supporters who rallied round the Society belonged almost without exception to the Established Church. For them Scriptural education meant Church education. So soon as it was recognised that the constitution of the Kildare Place Society could lend itself to no such distinctive work, the interest of churchmen either flagged altogether or turned in another direction. Subscriptions rapidly fell off, and it became manifest that all prospect of successful work upon the original lines was at an end.

It was at this juncture that the Church Education Society was formed. It dates from the year 1839. The indignation caused by the National Board's apparent indifference to all religion, and by its undoubted abolition of the compulsory reading of the Scriptures, was undiminished, and only sought an outlet along which it could move unrestrained. The Church Education Society supplied the want. Continuing the old Kildare Place rule as to the compulsory reading of Scripture by all denominations, and allowing absolute freedom, not alone in the exposition of the Bible, but in the introduction of the Church Catechism, and the Church Formularies generally, the new Society at once recommended itself to the affection and support of churchmen, and started upon its career with a force and authority which to many seemed to promise the speedy destruction of the National Board. Upon its side was ranged almost the whole of the rank and influence of the Church, at a time when outside the Church there was little of individual rank or influence anywhere. No less than seventeen out of the twenty-two Prelates took prominent part in its organisation. The clergy championed the cause in even larger proportions. The leaders of religious thought among the laity were equally decided in its support.

Strange as it may appear, in the light of their original constitution, the. Kildare Place Society seem to have viewed the rise of the Church Education Society only with favour. Unable themselves to continue the work of opposing the National Board, they welcomed the arrival of an organisation which approached the task with a genuine prospect of success. From the first every facility was given to the Church Education Society for making use of the experience and advantages of the Model Schools, and in the year 1854 they were given a lease of the whole of the educational premises at Kildare Place. Thus strangely did the Kildare Place Society terminate the work of training teachers, which they had conducted so long and with so much success. Without a struggle, the rigid undenominationalism of the Society for the Education of the Poor was replaced by the fervent denominationalism of the Church Education Society.

Upon the merits and demerits of the long struggle which now ensued between the Church Education Society and the National Board there is no necessity for entering. At best a voluntary organisation is unequally matched when compelled to resist the comparatively unlimited resources which Government can command. In this case, however paradoxical it may seem, the very success and vigour with which the Church Education Society conducted the campaign, prepared the way for their defeat. Warned by the strong feeling which had been aroused, the National Board adopted a policy of conciliation. One by one the more objectionable features of the original system were removed. Successive alterations in the rules made it plain, not only that there was no desire to minimise the importance of religious education, but, what was far more to the point, that scrupulous care was being taken for the encouragement of definite denominational teaching. Thus the Church Education Society found themselves confronted with their own weapons, and it became more and more apparent, not only that conflict was hopeless, but that in reality the need for resistance had disappeared.

The changed situation told rapidly upon the fortunes of the Society. Its immense subscription list dwindled. At one time it had risen as high as 45,000, or more than the Kildare Place Society. had enjoyed in the most flourishing period of Government Grants. By 1878 it had sunk to a few thousands. Equally marked was the defection of the Schools; and finally the Training College at Kildare Place, which formed the very centre and mainspring of the work, became involved in difficulties.

It was at this crisis that the Most Rev. Lord Plunket, then Bishop of Meath, first identified himself actively with the fortunes of the College on which he was destined to confer so many benefits. When the Church Education Society reluctantly announced their inability to continue its management, the General Synod determined to take up the work. They entrusted it to their Board of Religious. Education, by whom a Sub-Committee was appointed for the purpose. The title adopted was that by which the College has ever since been known -- 'The Church of Ireland Training College.' The labours of this Committee of the Synod began in 1878; by the close of 1879 we find Lord Plunket acting as its Chairman.

The first idea of the Committee was a revival of the fortunes of the College upon the old basis. Strong efforts were made to enlist sympathy and support on its behalf. For a time there seemed to be some prospect of success. Soon, however, it became plain that if new support was to be obtained permanently from without, reorganisation must be undertaken from within. The necessity for a Training College was recognised; but into the old bottles men were unwilling to pour their new wine.

As the result of the situation thus reached, a long series of negotiations began. Through them all Lord Plunket's was the guiding influence. Three entirely distinct sets of interests had to be considered. All converged upon the Training College. In the background, as it were, stood the old Kildare Place Committee. Though they had long ceased to exercise any active educational functions, they were powerful as being still the legal owners of the College. They were also formidable because the extinction which awaited them, and which they foresaw, had aroused all the instincts of resistance. In immediate but waning possession were the Committee of the College. Many of them were immovably attached to the rigid principles of the Church Education Society. Though conscious that the effective working of the College was fast. becoming impossible for themselves, this fact was not likely to lessen the acuteness of their opposition to any proposals under which the influence of the National Board might be traced or suspected. The third set of interests may best be described as those of the Church at large. Taking no active part in the old controversy between the Church Education Society and the National Board, but profoundly convinced of the necessity for a flourishing Training College, there were numbers who were prepared to devote themselves to this end along whatever lines might promise best results. The leadership of this third party naturally devolved upon Lord Plunket. Closely associated with him were the Recorder of Dublin, Sir Frederick Falkiner, and Mr. W. G. Brooke.

The first forward step of importance was taken by the General Synod in 1882, when a Committee, afterwards known as the Recorder's Committee, was formed, with the object of emancipating the Church's work of training teachers, from the restricted sphere to which it had become confined.

What was wanted 'was some efficient means of bringing Church influence to bear upon Teachers of National Schools. Already the State Schools were in the majority. Every year added to their number and importance. If the Church were not wholly to abandon her connection with the Teachers, means for reaching them while in training must be devised. The first effort made in this direction had been the appointment of a catechist to visit the undenominational College in Marlborough Street, and to instruct the students in training. But there were few to whom this arrangement was satisfactory, and Churchmen began to ask whether some plan could not be devised whereby the influence of Kildare Place might be enlisted.

The Recorder's Committee was the outcome of this feeling. In the terms of its constituent resolution it was empowered to arrange for a Residence House for the training of male teachers in connection with Marlborough Street Training College.

For more reasons than one the time of the appointment of this Committee was peculiarly opportune. Not only was there the growing demand for the Church Training of National Teachers, but also the training of non-National Masters by the Church was on the point of being discontinued. At Kildare Place it was a period of great financial difficulty. The funds necessary for carrying on the double work of training both masters and mistresses were becoming more and more unattainable. With sore hearts the Committee had announced that the Male Department must be closed. The resolution, however, was never carried into effect; its announcement came as a shock to all who had taken an interest in the fortunes of Kildare Place. Protests against the decision, and suggestions as to its reversal, poured in from all quarters.

This was Lord Plunket's opportunity, and he was not slow to use it. Himself always averse to anything of the nature of retreat, he had most unwillingly acquiesced in the closing policy.

The Most Rev. Lord Plunkett     The Right Hon. Sir Frederick R. Falkiner

The moment there seemed a possibility of retracing the backward step he threw himself with all his energy into the movement, and headed a successful appeal for the necessary funds. As a result, new and widespread interest was aroused. Fresh subscriptions came in rapidly, and the Male Department remained open as before.

Meanwhile the Recorder's Committee had been completing their arrangements, and obtaining the necessary sanction from Government. The plan which met with their approval was the employment of Kildare Place as a residence house, where Church Students from Marlborough Street College might board, attending in the daytime the lectures of the Government Professors at Marlborough Street, and returning to Kildare Place for catechetical instruction, the Church of Ireland Training College' being looked upon as their home.

To this plan the Committee of the College made no objection, provided the management of the buildings and of the students remained in their hands. On the contrary, they saw in it a source of strength. Lord Plunket, in particular, welcomed the introduction of the Marlborough Street element. In the spring of 1883 the sanction of the Synod was obtained, and in the autumn of the same year the Bishop himself welcomed a class of eighteen male students to their new quarters.

From the first the experiment succeeded well, and soon the question was asked -- Why should not the system be extended to female students? Early in 1884 this thought took practical shape, and the Government was approached.

At this time, however, events were moving rapidly. On the recommendation of the Viceroy, Earl Spencer, the English system of Denominational Training Colleges had been extended to Ireland in 1883. It is therefore not surprising that the request for a 'Boarding House' for mistresses did 'not find favour. The difficulties of the position thus reached were felt acutely by Lord Plunket. The Boarding House system he was able to defend unhesitatingly. It was 'a new departure,' but 'a departure based upon old principles.' A Denominational College, on the other hand, seemed to present immense difficulties. Still he addressed himself earnestly to the solution of the problem, approaching it, to use his own words of advice to others, 'in large and unprejudiced spirit'; and he succeeded, in concert with his fellow-workers, in striking out a plan which went far towards avoiding even an appearance of a breach of continuity with the past.

In thinking over the situation, the Bishop began to see that it ought to be possible to arrange for a department in the College, which would still carryon the work of training for schools not in connection with the National Board. Thus the old traditions, and the continuity would be preserved. But this was not the only good the prospect held in store. Looked at one way, the coming of the National Board to Kildare Place might spell defeat. But was it not really victory? Did it not promise to make Kildare Place once more a great educational centre -- a College whose influence was as wide as the boundaries of the Church, at once the moulder and the inspirer of the lives of the children everywhere? So viewed, the prospect seemed to offer a potent means of healing once for all the controversies of the past.

Yet there were many difficulties to be faced before the goal was reached. However clearly Lord Plunket might see the gain of the policy he was adopting, there was only too much reason for fearing that others would see chiefly its superficial drawbacks. The atmosphere of prejudice through which the education question had moved for so long was dark and threatening.

It was, therefore, with anxious feelings that the meeting of the General Synod of 1884 was awaited. A Boarding House for Mistresses had been finally refused, but in its stead a Denominational Training College had been definitely offered. It was for the Synod to decide what course should be pursued.


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