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By Charlotte M.B.Stoker, associate member

17, Upper Buckingham-Street

On the Necessity of a State Provision

for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb of Ireland.

By Charlotte M. B. Stoker.

(Heard Wednesday, 13th May, 1863.)

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 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 12 5, 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) apprenticed 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 burdens 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 fellowmen.


Dr. W. E. WILDE, (Census Commissioner), said that the subject was one of

such importance that it had engaged the attention of himself and his

colleagues in the Census' Commission of 1851, when they brought the

subject of educating deaf mutes prominently under the notice of the

executive, and urged upon the then Lord Lieutenant that a state provision

should be made for the purpose.

Their report contained the following passage :—"We respectfully suggest for your Excellency's consideration the expediency of engrafting upon the system of national education some institution for the instruction of this class of this community, or of granting aid to those schools already in existence." The actual number of the deaf and dumb in Ireland at present was 4,990. The result of statistics and investigations showed that this permanent malady might be classed as hereditary. Although not always transmitted direct from parent to child—a generation, or two, or three might elapse—but still they found the disease breaking out, if not in the direct descent, in some of the collateral branches.

The statistics of the deaf and dumb showed the following results :—Average

in Europe, 1 in 1,526 ' in Ireland, 1 in 1,700. The number of the afflicted in

Ireland susceptible of instruction—that is, being within the ages of 8 and

i5—was between 600 and 700. The importance of the subject brought under

the notice of the Society should be admitted by all; and he sincerely hoped

that the great object in view would be carried out by the government either

engrafting institutions for the education of deaf mutes on the national

system, or affording state aid to the institutions already in operation, and

which had done so much, although necessarily on a limited scale, for the

amelioration of the sad condition of this class of their fellow beings. The act

of parliament referred to, had been in existence for a number of years, under

which it was usual for boards of guardians to transmit blind persons to

asylums, but it was much to be regretted that they had not done so with the

deaf and dumb. It was quite true that according to the Census returns the

number of deaf mutes amounted to over 3,000, but there were two important

facts to be borne in mind—first, that not more than 600 or 700 of that

number were suitable for instruction, being within the ages of 8 and 15; and,

secondly, it should be remembered that the country was now in an abnormal

state, the effects of the famine years and of the exodus of the population not

having passed away, for when such large numbers of the people emigrated,

the diseased, the blind, and the deaf and dumb were left behind.

Mr. HAUGHTON, J.P., said the truth was that, generally speaking, the

boards of guardians had not been applied to. He had no doubt, if application

were made to them, they would be willing to use the powers conferred on

them by act of Parliament, in all cases where it was expedient to do so.

During the entire time he had been a member of one of the metropolitan

boards he had never known an instance of such application being made.

Mr. O'SHAUGHNESSY concurred in the opinion as to the necessity of State

provision being made for the training of deaf mutes. The objection made by

some as to deaf mutes being helpless, was met by the fact that in the census

for 1851 it appeared that a large proportion (1,68.3) of the total (4,747) in

Ireland were engaged in remunerative employment. The Christian Brothers,

under whose superintendence the Cabra Institution was, were now. making

arrangements for increasing the industrial training of the pupils, and these

efforts should be assisted, especially by increasing the stipends allowed for

the pupils by Poor Law Guardians. In the Cabra Male Institution there were

altogether 138 or 139 inmates, of whom 86 were supported out of the poor

rates, 9 were maintained by friends, leaving over 40 supported wholly by

voluntary charity. If to the number supported at Cabra were added those

maintained and educated in other establishments for the training of deaf

mutes throughout Ireland, there would be a total of only between 350 and

400 provided for, so that the great bulk of the deaf mutes in the country,

3,000 in number, were wholly unprovided for. It should be remembered how

slow the process of instruction was. It took six years to instruct any of these

subjects. At present £10 a year was about the sum yearly allowed, whilst the

expense was considerably greater for each. It would be real economy to

expend money on the industrial training of this class. There was no doubt

that the deaf and dumb might be made self-supporting, and the matter was

well worth the attention of the members, of poor law boards. When one of

the deaf and dumb went back to the workhouse, no matter how high his

intellectual training in the institution, he was still helpless; but give him a

trade, and he became an earner, and, instead of being a burden, would be a

help to the community. The condition of the class entitled them to no less

considerate treatment than the criminal or vagrant boy. There was fully as

much necessity for some State provision for the training and instruction of

the deaf mute. If the legislature deemed it expedient to educate the vagrant

lad in an industrial school, and to train the juvenile criminal in a

reformatory, he could not conceive why they should not act in a similar

manner with the afflicted and helpless deaf mute. It should be the law that on

the certificate of two justices and a medical man any poor deaf mute should

(with the consent of his parents, if living) be sent to some approved and duly

certified institution, (such as Cabra or Claremont may then be), and their

support aided out of the public funds. This would be the true way to aid and

extend the usefulness of the excellent institutions now in existence, and

whilst it would be a mercy to the object, it would be the truest economy

towards the public.

Mr. C. MOLLOY observed that, of the entire number of deaf mutes in the

country, only a certain proportion were of such a class of society as would

admit of their being instructed in public institutions. Boards of guardians

could only provide for them when they were destitute orphans, or else the

children of persons entitled to workhouse relief.

Dr. STEWART mentioned, as an instance of the degree of intelligence and

efficiency to which deaf mutes might be brought by proper instruction, that

in an institution with which he was connected the most valuable servants

were two persons who were deaf and dumb. He was inclined to think that for

a much smaller sum than £ i8 a head a training institution, thoroughly

efficient and practical, might be obtained, provided, of course, that there

were a certain number of inmates, say 100 in each.

The Chairman (Sir THOMAS LAECOM) said the discussion had cleared away many difficulties, which had at first appeared. The great number, which

appeared to be startling, was shown by Dr. Wilde to be not all capable of

instruction. The remarks of Dr. Stewart proved the advantages resulting

from the judicious training of the class in question; and the help which the

State gave to their support through means of the Poor Law was explained by

Mr. O'Shaughnessy. Little remained but to make this operative, by bringing

the matter prominently under public notice, and this the excellent paper read

would, he was sure, be effective in doing. The best mode of removing the

evil at present admitted to exist was to enlist public sympathy on the subject.