The Irish Quarter: Year Two
A Celebration of the Irish Short Story
March 11 to ?
Please consider participating in the Irish Quarter. If you are interested in doing so you need only post on an Irish Short Story or related matter (such as a biography of a writer) and let me know about it. Guests posts are also very welcome.
If you are interested in learning about life in Ireland in the middle 19th century, a very good, maybe the best writer to turn to is William Carleton (1794 to 1869-County Tyrone, Ireland). I have posted on several of his short stories and one of his longer works of fiction, The Black Prophet: A Tale of Famine. There is background information on him in my prior posts.
One of the things I have learned in my readings in Irish literature in the last few months is that the Irish love learning for its own sake. Even today by many measures the Irish are among the most well read in serious literature a nation in the world. As William Carleton opens "The Hedge School"
"There never was a more unfounded calumny, than that which would impute to the Irish peasantry an indifference to education. I may, on the contrary, fearlessly assert that the lower orders of no other country ever manifested such a positive inclination for literary acquirements, and that too, under circumstances strongly calculated to produce carelessness and apathy on this particular subject."
"The Hedge School" is really an essay on the role of hedge schools in rural Irish society with some fictional characters thrown in for fun. Hedge schools, this was new to me when I first read this story, were quite real and were schools run by itinerant school masters. They were called hedge schools as they were often set up next to hedges, to take advantage of the shade and windbreak. The hedge school masters were often very learned in Greek and Latin classics. There were often contests between hedge school masters to see who could demonstrate the greatest erudition in a set match, usually judged by a man of great authority. If an established master lost to a new comer he often left his school in disgrace and turned it over to the victor. I laughed when I read that school teachers were known for their love of drink and that one of the people in the story said he would never sent his son to be educated by a teetotaler. Hedge school masters were often as learned as the masters of Trinity University.
You can download this story and a much more Carleton at Manybooks.