Dr Joe Travers and Dr Elizabeth Mathews (Special Education Department, DCU St. Patrick’s Campus) attended special commemorative events recently to mark the 200th anniversary of the opening of the first school for deaf children in Ireland. The events took place on the grounds of St. Clare’s Home, off Griffith Avenue, originally the site of Claremont School for the Deaf. St. Clare’s grounds were purchased by DCU in 1998 and developed as the University’s Sports Campus, with St. Clare’s Home leased to the HSE.
Claremont School was established in May, 1816 by Dr Charles Orpen. Orpen, born in Cork, was a medical doctor. The school’s first pupil was a boy, Thomas Collins, who had been selected from Bedford Asylum for Children for instruction by Dr. Orpen. Thomas spent three months under Dr Orpen's care and was taught skills in writing, mathematics and articulation. He featured in Dr Orpen's lectures at the Rotunda Assembly Rooms in Dublin in early 1816, and was used as an exhibit for public demonstrations. Orpen’s lectures in Dublin and a later series across the country brought a great deal of interest, and funds were raised to open a school in Dublin which would eventually be housed in Claremont, Glasnevin (Rachel Pollard 2006, The Avenue Denzille Press). As part of the bicentenary, a plaque was unveiled by Rachel and Henry Pollard (past pupil of Claremont) at St Clare’s.
The bi-centenary of deaf schooling in Ireland presents a valuable opportunity to reflect on the the barriers still present in deaf education nationally. One such barrier is the absence of Deaf-Irish Sign Language users who are qualified as primary school teachers. At present, the requirement for Higher-Level Leaving Certificate Irish to access initial teacher education presents a significant barrier, given that many deaf and hard of hearing children do not learn Irish in school. In an effort to address this problem, Dr Elizabeth Mathews is in the process of designing an access route to the Bachelor of Education for deaf and hard of hearing individuals where the requirement for Irish would be replaced with a requirement for Irish Sign Language, with an aim to qualifying them to work in the deaf education system.
Pictured above: Dr. Joe Travers, Caroline Gourley (HSE), Henry Pollard & Rachel Pollard – presenting a picture of Claremont. Photo: Christine Daly