look at the old Irish £5 note (now displaced by the euro) and you'll
see something unique among the currencies of the world. The picture embossed
on the bill is not of a president or king. Instead, the scene is a classroom
presided over by a Nun.
Irish education began in earnest
only after a century of repression when the law forbade Catholic
children to attend school. It was the church which resurrected
the great tradition of the sixth through ninth centuries when
Ireland was a land of "Saints and Scholars."
Most schools today are national
schools presided over by the secular Department of Education,
but the Catholic ethos is deeply embedded in the school system.
There is no separation of church and state. It is the school
which prepares children for their first Communion and Confirmation.
Every class begins with a prayer, and Religion class, often taught
by members of the religious orders, is required until graduation
from high school. Big events - graduation, etc. - are generally preceeded by a Mass.
The national school system are mostly these Catholic schools now funded by state taxes and run by the Dept. of Education. However, the owner of the schools is usually the local bishop. Generally, this means little except that one board member on the governing councils is a representative of the bishop.
Following the horrific revelations of clerical abuse and official reports into the failings of church institutions when caring for vulnerable children, there have been calls for the church to be turfed out of its role as school "patrons". So far, not much has come of these calls for reform. Probably that's because the church really does not have much power or say over the running of the schools anymore. So, parents are not really worried about the safety of their kids or the cobbled together system currently in place.
Multi-denominational schools are owned by the parents. When religion is taught in these schools, it is a multicultural experience exposing kids to various religions. Educate Together is the umbrella group for these schools.
Historically, the Church of Ireland, the main traditional Protestant religion in Ireland, ran their own schools. Today, these are open to students of all denominations, just as the Catholic/public/national schools are.
Because these schools set up by non-Catholic religions serve smaller communities, many offer boarding facilities. Some of the most prestigious high schools in Ireland serve a local and also a boarding population.
are respected. For those seeking alternatives, in Dublin there
are Moslem schools, Hebrew Schools, and Protestant institutions
of learning. For those in the countryside, there is a tradition
of tolerance within the schools.
My older daughter, who is not
Catholic, never faced the slightest dollop of prejudice. As a
matter of fact, in our local Catholic schools are Jehovah's Witnesses,
Mormons, Protestants, Jews, Confucians, Buddhists and, most recently, a few Muslims.
It's one reason the North's history
of religious bigotry is so alien to folks down South.