Written and read by Paddy Neary (2018)
Saint Canice’s Cathedral
Dr. Richard Pococke, an Englishman, an Oriental scholar, and a traveller of immense energy, became Bishop of Ossory in 1756. Nine years later he transferred to Meath where he died after a very brief illness. In his time in Ossory he did work of great importance and lasting effect. His energies went to the renovation of St. Canice’s Cathedral which was almost in ruins to which Cromwell had reduced it more than a century before. More of his time was devoted to the founding of a linen weaving school, the purpose of which was to help Catholic boys whose wretched and miserable condition caused him great distress.
Although some minor repairs had been effected in the Cathedral, the financial conditions prevented speedy recovery. Pococke found it in a ruinous condition, roof tumbling down, galleries decaying, monuments scattered about. Shortly after his installation he started renovation, subscribing 50 guineas of his own and got the Dean and Chapter to subscribe 30 guineas per annum till the work was completed. He had collected fragments of the stained glass which were placed in the great West Window but later removed. The Cathedral was fitted out, Episcopal throne, prebendal stalls, galleries and pews were all in a fine dark grained oak. Purple velvet richly embroidered with gold lace brought home by him from Italy was used to cover the Communion table. On the outside he was responsible for the erection from the North transept door to the Palace garden of a Collonade started in 1758. This was a handsome piece of work but unfortunately it disfigured the Cathedral walls and covered some of the windows. None of this work remains except for the Robing room in the gardens. One part of the Bishop’s work is of exceptional value to us, for it was on his orders the monuments, effigies, and inscribed tombs were collected, repaired and arranged though not always in their original positions. The Dean and Chapter commented “they owed him the very being of the Cathedral”.
One reason for Pococke’s choice and interest in the Linen industry was the Woollen Industry had been annihilated by the Acts of 1698 and 1699. So he decided to establish a school and factory on Greens hill in 1752, which he named Lintown. Boys were brought in and were housed, fed and educated in reading, writing, arithmethic and religion. They were trained in every aspect of the Linen Trade. In a survey carried out in 1802 by the Royal Dublin Society, Lintown was reported as a thriving establishment, 24 boys are there and as many looms. The master Andrew Neelands carries on the business on his own account and is paid £7 per year for each boy, who is apprenticed to him for seven years.
John Cornielle, from the Board of Education reported in 1808 on all aspects of Lintown, the 28 boys were healthy, very robust looking lads fed on a diet of 1 lb of meal made into a stirabout for breakfast, and 3.5lbs of potatoes each at dinner. Meat was provided three times a week and bread at Christmas and other festivities. Their clothes were rough but serviceable they did have shoes but preferred to work at the looms in their bare feet. His only recommendation was about their clothing, suggesting that as they had only one suit they could not make a good appearance on Sundays and Holydays. He thought they should have some uniform to distinguish them and so make a more decent exterior appearance. In his will, Dr. Pococke left his estate to a sister and cousin for their natural lives after which his entire estate was to be devoted to a school “for Papist boys who should be bred to Linen weaving,” He desired that Lintown be applied for that purpose and so the Society came into possession and received the rents and profits thereof.
The Pococke School
The building situated about a mile from Kilkenny City in Brownstown and called The Pococke, was not built by Bishop Pococke, but was originally a Charter School to which Lintown transferred in 1823. The Charter Schools were established in 1733 from a Charter granted by George II to an Incorporated Society the function of which was to erect schools to which “children of poor Papists and other poor natives should be instructed in the English tongue which many cannot speak, and in the true religion and loyalty.” Kilkenny Corporation granted 20 acres at Brownstown to the Society in 1744, with the express condition that a school for 40 children be erected there. The school duly opened the following year with 30 children to look after, “transplanted from remote parts of the kingdom.” These children worked as is clear from the following description “They have stubbed and cleared up to 2 acres of furze for potatoes and four for hay. Cleared the quicks in fences trenched an old potato ground and sowed it. Brought home four acres of oats , spun and knitted eighty pairs of stockings, pulled , rippled and dressed one and half acres of flax. Spun 140 yards of linen for their own wearing, forty yards for the Master and 180 yards for sheeting. In 1785, a report presented to the Irish Parliament painted an unpleasant picture, the children there were of a wretched appearance were badly treated and badly cared for. A further report in 1791 under the chairmanship of the Provost of Trinity College into the affairs of the Charter schools of which there were about forty, showed them in a very poor light. The report produced was very scathing and referred to many malpractices on the part of those running these institutions. The report was not made public until about ninety years later when all the schools had long since closed down. The Kilkenny Charter School had closed by 1817 but got a new lease of life as the Pococke Institution.
By 1835, sometime after the transfer of Lintown to The Charter school premises, the curriculum included the three R’s with weaving almost an afterthought. This trend continued through the 19th Century so the intention of the founders was not being carried out. The school gave neither training in weaving nor did it confine itself to Catholic pupils. When the school was in Lintown the emphasis was on weaving , this work so effected the boys fingers they found it difficult to write. In the Pococke school more emphasis was put on the educational side that in a few years weaving was phased out altogether.
In 1887, the Endowed Schools Commission held an inquiry into the affairs of schools in Kilkenny. At that time Dr. Brownrigg put forward a case for St. Kieran’s College, stating the Pococke Endowment should be made available to Catholic boys. The funds were not being availed of as the original intention to teach Catholic boys a trade that they might gain a livelihood. Although Brownrigg’s claim was recognised the ultimate decision was to settle as near as possible to the intention of the founder. St. Kierans College got nothing and for some time the Pocoke school was classed as one of the Protestant foundation. Early in the 20th Century the Pococke school merged with Kilkenny College. Today the Pococke school building is a private residence.