HL Deb 04 May 1888 vol 325 cc1335-45

said, he rose to call attention to two outrages committed on national school teachers and their families, the one on Patrick Robinson and his family at Knockagoshal National School, Co. Kerry, in the month of March last, and the other on John Curtin and his family at Knockatea National Schools, in the month of December last. The system of national education had existed in Ireland for over 50 years. It was established by Mr. Stanley, on the statesmanlike view of united secular education and separate religious instruction. The system had overcome great difficulties, and was a success. About£700,000 a-year was granted by Parliament, while the contributions in the country were practically nil. The system was controlled by an unpaid national board, consisting of men of great ability and eminence. There were between 7,000 and 8,000 schools, in each of which there was one or more teachers, who were appointed chiefly by the clergy, who were managers, but paid their salaries by the Board. Outrages had recently been committed upons national teachers and attacks on the system generally; and he thought it his duty to call attention to them, and to ask the Government whether there was any probability of the perpetrators being brought to justice. There were two cases in particular about which he had obtained perfectly trustworthy information, derived not from the newspapers, but from investigations on the spot. The noble and learned Lord then described the nature of the attack on Robinson, whose life had been previously threatened. Patrick Robinson was national school teacher at Loughfoodra, about nine miles from Castleisland, in the county of Kerry. The district was wild and remote, and the population few and scattered. About 11 o'clock the teacher was engaged in the ordinary duties of his office, and his two daughters were busy teaching, when his attention was directed towards the door by a stir of great excitement among the pupils, consisting of somewhere about 50 boys and girls. He there saw three men, armed, and one of them disguised by a mask. Two of them went to the head of the school, and the masked man, who was probably the leading ruffian of the district, ordered the teacher's daughter Margaret to go up to where they were and go on her knees. He then ordered Mary Ann Robinson, her sister, about 17 years of age, to come up and kneel down near him, and he ordered the teacher to go on his knees on another part of the school, saying that he wanted to swear him. Robinson asked him what he wanted to swear him for, when the man replied to prevent him talking about his neighbours. In the meantime Mrs. Robinson came out of her residence to come into the school, when the man at the door pointed a gun at her and ordered her back to her residence. The undisguised man put a pistol to Mary Ann Robinson's cheek, and snapped it three times, but it missed. fire. The masked man then, with a curse, ordered his companion out of the school, and took a gun and shot Mary Ann Robinson. The shot riddled a considerable portion of her dress, but, fortunately, did not injure her. He then shot Mr. Robinson, and wounded him severely in the abdomen, there being over 70 perforations. The three ruffians then decamped, firing shots outside. The scene became one of the wildest confusion, the wounded man lying on the floor covered with blood, and the children screaming in terror. The police station was at a distance, but a messenger was sent, and they came and removed the wounded teacher and his daughter to the hospital. On the night of the 17th of March last some men went to the hospital at a late hour and demanded admittance, which was refused. They said they wanted. to see Robinson, and. they were told they could not. They then wanted to see his daughter, which was also refused. These men, in order to get into the hospital, climbed over a high wall. No doubt their object in coming was to intimidate Robinson and his daughter from giving evidence against the perpetrators of these outrages. Subsequent inquiry disclosed. that this was not the first attempt on Robinson's life. The ruffianly perpetrators of these cowardly outrages escaped for the time; but one of the questions which he proposed to put to the noble Lord opposite was whether any clue had as yet been discovered likely to lead to justice on the perpetrators? In August last, while the teacher and his family were at dinner in their own residence, a party of men passed by, and one of them discharged a loaded gun through the door. The contents of the gun perforated the door in very many places and broke a pane of glass at the opposite side of the room. On a Sunday in January last, Mr. Robinson saw five men masking themselves nearly opposite his residence, when he ran into his house and bolted his door. Two carts shortly afterwards passed by, which he thinks, prevented the men from attacking the door. They went to the rear of the house and remained there for about an hour. They fired a shot through one of the back windows, breaking it, and then went away. Now, as to the case of John Curtin. Curtin is the teacher of Monteagle National School, in a remote district in Kerry. His school declined in the number of children in attendance, and the attention of the local Inspector was directed to the state of the school, and he paid it a visit in consequence. The teacher and his pupils appeared to be in au unsettled state of mind for school business, and on inquiry the Inspector found the cause to be as follows:—On the previous Monday, about 12 o'clock, as the teacher, Mr. Curtin, was speaking to the father of one of the pupils outside the school, he saw a masked armed man approaching the rear of the school, followed by five others. He ran towards his residence, which is situated near the school, when a shot was fired after him. Three of the men went into the school, and amid the screams of the children, some of whom clung round the assistant teacher, one of the men fired a shot into the schoolroom. They then went away, after firing some shots outside the school. Late in December last, a further desperate attempt was made, in broad daylight, to murder this national school teacher, but although the original design was not successfully accomplished, the would-be assassin succeeded in wounding both himself and his wife (Mary Curtin), the latter rather seriously. Curtin lived at Monteagle, a wild and desolate region. It is about three miles and a-half from the village of Brosna, and borders on the confines of Cork and Limerick. In this district Curtin has been engaged for the last 15 years teaching a national school, and, as far as can be ascertained, has always been on friendly terms with the neighbours. Yesterday, about ten minutes past 11 o'clock, accompanied by his wife and son, John Curtin, he started for the village of Brosna for the purpose of attending mass there. They travelled in a common cart, and reached a place not far from Brosna about 20 minutes past 11 o'clock. Curtin dropped his whip and his son got out to recover it for him. The young lad had taken the whip off the road, and was getting into the cart, when they heard the report of a shot, which shattered Curtin's arm and severely wounded Mrs. Curtin. After the shot had been fired, three men, who were in ambush, rose from their places of concealment and ran eastwards in an uphill direction. Curtin, though severely wounded, jumped off the car and across the ditch behind which they were ambushed and pursued them about 100 yards. He called on the cowardly assassins to stand, but the leader only turned round and presented a revolver at him and then passed it to the nearest man, who did likewise, but neither of them fired. Curtin, being alone and wounded, turned back to the assistance of his wounded wife. The men concerned in this cowardly and ruffianly attack were not disguised. When Curtin got back to his wife he found the poor woman bleeding from wounds on the right eye and neck. He then drove to Brosna for the priest and doctor. Curtin did not feel his own wounds very much owing to excitement, but subsequently he found his coat had been riddled with shots. Two policemen who were in the district from early morning heard the shots, and made towards the direction and discovered Mrs. Curtin wounded on the roadside. She was wounded in the eye, breast, right arm, shoulder, and knee with shot to the number of 42 grains, while her husband was wounded in the right hand, arm, and side. Such were the two cases which he brought under their notice. He felt deeply outrages like these, perpretrated on teachers of national schools, of which there were 7,000 or 8,000 in Ireland, and in which there was given a good primary education to the children who were willing to avail themselves of it free of cost. If there was a person who ought to be protected by the people of the locality, it was the national school teacher; if there was a place that should be sacred from outrage, it was the school in which their children were taught. He had not the means of tracing these outrages to their source. There was some organization—what it was he did not venture to say; but strangers were brought or sent from remote districts to carry out these crimes. In one case, in County Limerick, a school was Boycotted because shelter was given to some policemen during a heavy shower of rain. This village school was thus Boycotted at an expense to the Exchequer of £76. In another instance, the father of two pupils refused at the bidding of the local League to cease cutting timber for a gentleman, the result being that the school was Boycotted at a cost to the county of £75. Finally, he referred to the experience of St. Cronan's National Schools (boys and girls), King's County, the monitress of which, Agnes Sullivan, on July 5, 1887, went to the wedding of her cousin, who was marrying the sister of a Boycotted man. The following day the school was Boycotted, three pupils only would come to school, the day after that two, and the next day none. The object of Boycotting the school was to procure the discharge of the monitress. Similarly, in a boys' school Boycotting was decreed; the attendance fell to 0 in throe days. The cause of the Boycotting in this school was that two boys, relatives of the Boycotted man, remained pupils of the school. The manager, who was the parish priest, then proclaimed a vacation. The schools re-opened on the 16th of August, when four children only came to the girls' school in addition to the innocent but obnoxious monitress. Others came as far as the door, but left without entering, seeing her there. Having thus called attention to these very painful facts, he asked the Government if they were able to indicate what likelihood there was of the perpetrators of the two outrages to which he had more particularly referred being brought to justice?


said, that it would not be surprising to noble Lords who knew the long and honourable connection of his noble and learned Friend with the Board of National Education in Ireland that he took a keen interest in the painful circumstances to which he had drawn attention. It was impossible to listen without the deepest pain to the simplest statement of the way in which at this time of day, and at this advanced stage in the history of civilization, the course of education in Ireland had in recent years been sought to be arrested and interfered with by the Boycotting of schools and schoolmasters. The statement which he had submitted to the House was only too true. Unfortunately, National schoolmasters and their schools had been subjected in the cases referred to to such a barbarous and inhuman course of Boycotting as was a scandal to every community that permitted it to continue in their midst. The steady amelioration which was to be witnessed in the condition of the country would, however, tend in an increasing measure to put an end to the state of matters as it had been described. Boycotting, as the figures which had been presented to Parliament practically showed, had largely fallen off in number, and the instances were decidedly decreasing in vigour as well. Belief in the power of those who had previously had recourse to that terrible weapon was weakening and passing away. In many districts, faith in the power and authority of the law was returning, and with returning confidence came renewed courage. Owing to these influences, the Boycotting of school-houses had diminished, and would doubtless steadily and largely diminish; and he ventured to think and hope that, if on a future occasion his noble and learned Friend recurred to the subject, there would be a great and decided change for the better. With regard to the two cases referred to, he was not acquainted with the precise details; but, so far as he knew, Curtin's case well merited the grave terms of censure which his noble and learned Friend employed and the anxious way in which he appealed to the Government to direct their attention to it. A Constabulary hut had been erected in the neighbourhood, and the Government were using every effort in order to make amenable to the law those who were answerable for the outrage. The case of Robinson and his two daughters only occurred last March, and was also a painful and serious one; and anyone who was acquainted with Kerry, where it happened, would know that the locality was one requiring the close and attentive examination of the Government. There had been a difficulty in identifying, which he did not like to enlarge upon, and of getting accurate information. That might be accounted for in a variety of ways which he did not like to go into at present. His noble and learned Friend asked if the Government had any clue with reference to these cases? If he had the means of giving a full answer, he would beg leave not to do so, as it might interfere with the course of justice and the duo prosecution of the offenders, He would only say that the two cases in question were engaging the closest and most anxious attention of those answerable for public prosecutions in Ireland, and the Attorney General for Ireland would do everything reasonably within his power to see that those crimes should not remain unpunished.


said, he could not help thinking that the particulars referred to by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Fitzgerald) should be made available to their Lordships in the shape of a Return, and he gave Notice accordingly that he would move on Monday next for a Return of all national schools in Ireland, by provinces and counties, which had been reported to the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland as having been Boycotted at any time since October, 1880, with particulars of such cases.


said, he hoped the Government would not give their assent to the Motion of which Notice had been given. He was bound to say that he thought it was one of a very unsatisfactory character. His noble and learned Friend asked the Government for information with regard to two cases and what measures were being taken? The only answer which the noble and learned Lord gave to the House was that there was a general improvement in Ireland under the Act now being administered; but with regard to the particular cases he merely confirmed them without giving the slightest indication of the Government being able to punish the particular individuals. That did not appear to him to be consistent with the roseate description he had given of the state of Ireland.


explained that what he had said amounted to this, that the cases were before the Attorney General for Ireland, whose business it was to look into them, and that it was not desirable for him, even if he had the information, to go into specific details.


said, he entirely agreed that it was very undesirable for the Government to give any details while the matter was under the consideration of the Attorney General; but the noble and learned Lord had misunderstood what his noble Friend said, which was that he was afraid the explanation given as to this particular district was hardly so satisfactory as they hoped. It was said that the condition of the country as to Boycotting had considerably improved. Well, no one would rejoice at that statement more than he did and those who sat behind him. At the same time, the noble and learned Lord did not give a good account of the unfortunate district near Knockagoshal, and they on the Opposition side of the House would have been glad to hear that something had been done by this time towards tracing the ruffians who made the attacks on the schools. Castleisland was one of the worst districts in Ireland. Since he had known Ireland it had been very often under a reign of terror. There had been gangs of people in that district who had maintained a species of intimidation; and he certainly had hoped that the Government would have been able, by the special measures they had taken with regard to Kerry, to restore something like order in the district. He was afraid from the answer which had been given to his noble and learned Friend that the Government had done very little towards discovering the perpetrators of those two outrages. As to the Return which his noble and learned Friend had given Notice to move for, he suggested that the Government should also be asked what they had been able to do with regard to discovering and bringing to justice any of those who had committed outrages in these particular cases? He thought that this would be a very interesting addition to the Return.


said, he considered that the noble Earl was a little unreasonable in expecting that Her Majesty's Government should have been able within the few months which had elapsed since those outrages had been committed in all cases to trace them to their authors. Where could the noble Earl find a precedent for applying the same rigid law which he sought to apply to the Government, and which he did not apply to himself. The noble Earl had, when Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, enormous powers in his hands, and yet how long was it before the Phœnix Park murderers were brought to justice? The whole attention of Ireland was directed to that investigation, and yet those secret societies, with ramifications so wide, which were supported by influences so powerful, were able to set the noble Earl at defiance. It was not unreasonable that in a desolate district in Ireland where the population was sparse, and the means of tracking the criminals were scant, some time should elapse before they were brought to justice.


said, he did not believe that it was the intention of any Member of the Opposition to cast blame on the Government for not having succeeded in discovering the perpetrators of the outrages. They were only afraid that the Government had not succeeded better than any previous Government. In the unfortunate circumstances of Ireland, outrages of the description referred to by his noble and learned Friend, and which were disastrous to the peace of the country, had been committed, and yet it had not been possible to trace the perpetrators. All that his noble Friend meant to say was this, that while the noble and learned Lord opposite stated that the general state of the country had improved, the particular instances brought to the notice of the House did not seem to sustain the major proposition. Unfortunately, for long years there had been this one lamentable fact in regard to Ireland, that very often, he might almost say generally, in the case of a certain class of crime where witnesses came forward and stated what they had actually seen in order that the law might be vindicated, they had in many cases been subjected to persecution of the severest character, merely because they had given testimony in order to enable criminals to be brought to justice. That had been one of the most grievous symptoms of the social condition of Ireland for a long time. He and his noble Friends would be glad to hear whether the Government had made progress in breaking down this feeling of hostility in Ireland.


said, he hoped the Government would go very carefully into all the details of the cases which were to be embodied in the Return asked for by his noble and learned Friend. He trusted the noble Earl would also move to be included in the Return, as far as the Government could get at them, the causes for which those national schools had been Boycotted; also the person or organization which had caused the Boycotting in cases where it was supposed there had been any conspiracy.


said, the noble Earl (Earl Spencer) had stated that the district of Castleisland was not only a scandal to Ireland, but to Christendom; and that that was a state of affairs which had existed during his administration of the country. He thought the noble Earl must have referred to his last administration, because up to the formation of the National League in 1879 the district all around Castleisland, and the whole of that portion of Kerry, was one of the most peaceable in Ireland. It had been proved before the Commission on which he served, that for 40 years previous to the formation of the National League there had not been a single outrage in the whole of that district.