Máire M. Kealy, Dominican Education in Ireland 1820-1930. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2007.

Máire M. Kealy, Dominican Education in Ireland 1820-1930. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2007. Pp.xix + 236. 

Reviewed by: Rosa MacGinley, Golding Centre for Women’s History, Theology and Spirituality, Australian Catholic University, McAuley Campus, Brisbane, April 2008

Published by kind permission of the ACU National Newsletter of the Golding Centre for Women’s History, Theology and Spirituality  Volume 8 No 1 (April 2008) (http://dlibrary.acu.edu.au/Centres/Whits/)


This valuable study is based on a doctoral thesis undertaken at the University of Lancaster in England.  Though its chief and consistent focus is the educational contribution of Dominican women in Ireland between 1820 and 1930, the context for this is explored in depth, providing one of the clearest coverage of the educational development in Ireland over the period taken.  It traces this through the Stanley or national system of public elementary education, implemented in Ireland from 1831, to the provision for more advanced education through the Intermediate Education Act of 1878.  This includes their on-going effects on the types of schooling hitherto provided by women’s religious institutes in Ireland.

As for women’s education in general – an intractable reflection of the historic ordering of European society – this was provided through separate class-based modes of instruction.  As the writer makes clear, medieval women’s institutes, such as the Dominicans, in Ireland from the mid-17thcentury, taught upper-class girls (often related to the nuns) in their cloister schools, while newer institutes such as the Ursulines, in Ireland from 1771, and the Loreto Sisters, established in Dublin in 1821, conducted convent boarding schools for the upper classes, each accompanied by a free, or ‘poor’ school for the poorest class of children.  During the 19thcentury, pay day schools were opened by these institutes, chiefly for a lower middle class unable to afford boarding fees.  Máire Kealy, with logical development and abundant referencing, charts her way through the evolution of this earlier educational provision into the more democratically based concept of education in place by the end of the century.

The Dominicans, within this general framework, had various transitions to make, beginning in 1820 with their Cabra foundation in Dublin where a ‘poor’ school, not hitherto a Dominican involvement, was opened and later linked to the National Board.  Next a boarding school on the Ursuline model was established, while daughter foundations from Cabra adopted, in general, these same innovations.  Pay day schools followed.  Though initially slow to utilise the Intermediate public examination system, the Dominican schools were drawn into this, with its opening of opportunity for young women.  The next involvement was preparing matriculated students for the degree examinations of the Royal University of Ireland, an examining body initiated in 1879, to be discontinued in 1901 in view of the negotiations which led to the establishment of the National University of Ireland.  The way was thus paved for Catholic women to enter the modern university field in equal competition with men.

The Dominicans played their leading role in these developments through their own outstanding educators.  They were also involved in teacher training, a role they were to share with the Mercy Sisters who, as the author differentiates, began, with the earlier Presentation and Charity Sisters, from a different base: the essentially social alleviation objective which began with ‘poor’ schools, but underwent adaptation in time through the same educational developments.  This book provides a valuable perspective for researchers tracing the experience of Irish women’s institutes in Australia.

[Throughout this book, the term ‘secondary education’, in the 19thcentury references, denotes a more enriched, prolonged and expensive education than that available in elementary (or primary) schools; its 20thcentury use shades into the familiar Australian usage of primary + secondary in an age-based sequence.]