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On the Necessity
of a State Provision for the Education
of the Deaf and Dumb of Ireland

May 13, 1863 — Ninth Meeting, Dublin Statistical Society, 35 Molesworth-street, Dublin Ireland


The condition of the uneducated mute is worse than that of the heathen; the most barbarous and savage nations have some notion (however faint) of a Supreme Being, but a deaf mute has no idea of a God. The mind is a perfect blank; he recognises no will but his own natural impulses; he is alone in the midst of his fellow-men; an outcast from society and its pleasures; a man in outward appearance, in reality reduced to the level of the brute creation.

That the capacity for receiving education exists in most cases cannot for a moment be questioned, from the numerous instances in the present day of highly educated and even accomplished mutes. Seven years is the period thought necessary by experienced teachers to complete the education of a deaf and dumb person ; and mutes are found to be most easily instructed between the ages of eight and eighteen; but within the last year an experiment has been made at Claremont of establishing an infant school, which is found to answer well.

The average of those born deaf and dumb to the entire population of Ireland is about 1 to 1,380, which is very nearly the average all over Europe.

According to the census of 1851, there were in Ireland 5,180 deaf and dumb; of these, 3,000 were of an age and capacity to receive instruction, the remaining 2,180 were either too old or too young to be educated, or were idiots as well as mutes.

To meet the educational wants of this mass of human misery and ignorance we have a few private institutions, supported wholly by individual charity, in which about 400 are educated, leaving the remaining 2,600 to utter ignorance.

True, in the amended Irish Poor Law Act, in the year 1843, 6 and 7 Vic, cap. 92, Poor Law Guardians are empowered to pay out of the poor rates for the education and maintenance of deaf and dumb children under eighteen years old, at any institution where such instruction is given. But it is to be observed, that among the poor, who are so utterly destitute as to become inmates of the workhouse, there are comparatively few deaf and dumb ; only 82 are at present provided for under this Act, viz: — 80 in Cabra, 1 in Belfast, and 1 in Strabane.

It is among the mass of the people such as those for whom national education is provided, who, although not belonging to the class of paupers, are nevertheless unable to pay the sum necessary (or indeed, in most instances, any sum at all), that a state provision for the education of the deaf and dumb is required.

It is a startling fact, that while state provision is made in France, in Prussia, in America, and other countries, nothing of the sort has been done in Great Britain.

The neglect of this measure is the more astonishing, when England is known to provide so freely for the education of the poor of every other class, without distinction of creed. Why should the deaf and dumb be the exception? Why should not a privilege be granted to those speechless poor which is so liberally bestowed on all others?

In New York, where the population is more than three times as great as in Dublin, and the number of mutes less — as in 1856 they had only 125, while in Dublin there were 163 — there is not only a State institution for deaf and dumb, but a church in which the sign language is used, and they were then about establishing a reading- room and library for the benefit of this class. Seeing that America and other countries have provided so amply and liberally for the education of their deaf and dumb, should we be so far behind in such a cause?

There are in Ireland (supported by private charity) four institutions for the education of the deaf and dumb. One at Claremont, county of Dublin — the first established of these institutions — has been in existence forty-seven years, and was founded in 1816 by the exertions of Dr. Orpen, a true philanthropist, who devoted his life to this cause; it has not only proved a successful experiment, but led the way to the formation of the other institutions now existing in Ireland. It contains 70 children, — one in Belfast contains 80, and one at Strabane (county Tyrone), 15. In these, 165 Protestant boys and girls are clothed, fed, educated, and (when of suitable ages) ap prenticed to trades. At Cabra, near Dublin, 235 Roman Catholic boys and girls receive the same advantages.

There was, until lately, a small industrial school for adult female mutes in Moneymore, which owed its origin and support entirely to one lady (Miss Wright), who for about 20 years carried it on with the help of a teacher. It was partly supported by the sale of wood carving, the work of the inmates, who usually numbered about 15. From pecuniary difficulties this good work has been stopped, for the present at least, and the public aid has been solicited to pay off the debts incurred.

These constitute the whole means at the command of the Irish people for the education of above 3,000 persons, cut off from the ordinary means of instruction and communication. I trust the time is near at hand when we will have national institutions, where the sympathy and encouragement extended to so many other classes of society may flow as freely for those so much more in need of it from their peculiar privation.

This subject is one of such national importance as would seem to call for the interference of the representatives of the people, who, by a zealous and united appeal to the Legislature, could scarcely fail to obtain a grant to meet so imperative a necessity as a National Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb.

While ample provision is made for lunatic asylums and reformatories ; while criminals are taught and provided for at a vast expense, and in the most careful and efficient manner; surely, if brought properly under their notice, the Government of this country could not refuse so reasonable a demand as the maintenance of an institution for instructing in morality and religion, as well as for fitting for some useful occupation, those who would otherwise remain bur dens on themselves and on society. Let us hope that the time is not far distant, when, for the instruction of Ireland’s 3,000 mutes, proper means will be adopted to bridge the gulf that divides them from their fellow-men.



Source: Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland, 1863, pp. 456-458.