Spare a thought for the Lighthouse families living at remote Lighthouses in the early 20th century. Often their children’s only route to education was to leave their families and stay in lodgings closer to schools in town. Some of these children were as young as five.
Archive & Heritage Officer
This year more than ever, the beginning of the school year is a time of great excitement, mixed with trepidation and anxiety. Spare a thought for the Lighthouse families living at remote Lighthouses in the early 20th century. Often their children’s only route to education was to leave their families and stay in lodgings closer to schools in town. Some of these children were as young as five.
The Irish Lights Archive holds the administrative files (Minute Papers) of the organisation. These papers stretch back to the 1880s and detail not just the management and administration of Irish Lights but also contain the very personal stories of its employees and families. A fascinating example of these personal histories is seen in the files relating to the ‘Education Grant’.
A series of Education Acts passed by the UK Houses of Parliament in the 1880s and 1890s made attending primary school compulsory for children up to the age of twelve. As a consequence, a number of Lighthouse families in the early 20th century availed themselves of the ‘Education Grant’. This was provided by Irish Lights to families at remote Lighthouses to support them sending their children to larger towns to be educated. Often this was the only way families could ensure that their children could receive a good education. Children usually stayed with relatives and attended the town school. In 1909 the grant amounted to £10 per child per annum. This equates to over €1,000 today.
An example from 1909 is the family of John Moore, Principal Keeper at Kinsale Lighthouse. His four children: Catherine Delta (Kathleen), Michael Joseph, John Henry and Mary Ann received a grant to be educated in Kinsale town. In this case the children did not have far to travel.
Another example are the Keepers at Loophead Lighthouse in 1909. Principal Keeper H. Crowley applied for and received the education grant to send his six children: Mary Agnes, Daniel Charles, George Henry, Alfred Joseph, Ellen and John, to be educated in Ballintemple, Co. Cork, and Templetown Co. Wexford. Assistant Keeper M. Johnson sent his two children Mary Catherine and James Joseph to be educated in Duncannon, Co. Wexford.
These files give us an insight into the challenges life at remote Lighthouses posed for families. They show us the value these families placed on education and the difficulties they were prepared to endure to ensure their children got a good education. This is just a snippet of the contents of the Minute Papers but it gives an insight into the human stories of Irish Lights as well as the wider social history of the times.