Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Education of John Martin

Glebe School
Most Irish children had no formal education at all. There were no schools to for them to attend, and no literate parents to teach them. John Martin was born lucky, as his parents were educated and there was a school nearly. Even before John was old enough to make the long walk to school, Jane Martin taught John to read and appreciate literature.

 Leaders of St. Bartholomew Church, the local Establishment church, opened a school directly across from the church gate. Though it was a church sponsored and funded school, it was open to local boys of all religions. Twenty nine of his classmates were Presbyterian, 26 were Catholic, and 12 were parishioners of St. Bartholomew's. John and the other boys of Loughorne walked several miles to school and back, sat in a cold room on hard benches to learn to read, write and do the simple math that farm life required. 

When John was just 12 years old, Jane and Samuel enrolled him as a boarder in Dr. Henderson's Classical School in Newry. There he joined the sons of the Newry's most prominent families to prepare to enter Trinity College in Dublin. John was an excellent student with a real thirst for knowledge. Almost immediately, John noticed something that made boarding school even more pleasing. While he was in school in Newry, he suffered no asthma attacks at all. But since he was used to sleeping with open windows winter and summer, he sometimes felt he was smothering in the closed air of the dorm room. Every 5 or 6 weeks, he would return Loughorne for the weekend. He would leave Newry at noon, immediately suffer an asthma attack from which he would recover on Monday in time to return to school.

While John attended Dr. Henderson's School, he met John Mitchel, the son of a local Unitarian minister. They became close friends, though young Mitchel was 3 years younger than John. Sometimes when he was free, John walked over the Clanrye River and up the hill on the other side to visit the Mitchel family at Ivy Cottage in Dromalane. John was a very popular student with other friends as well, such as the Henderson brothers, George and James, whose father owned the local newspaper, The Newry Commercial Telegraph. But it was Mitchel whose friendship lasted throughout John's entire life.

The battle for Catholic Emancipation was raging during John's time in Newry. Under the leadership of Daniel O'Connell, Catholics united in an effort to repeal that last of the Penal Laws which had constricted their lives for over a century. They wanted the right to hold seats in Parliament. John heard many arguments against Catholic rights in school, and began to join in their anti-Catholic sentiments. Fortunately for John, he made a derogatory statement about Catholics and their rights in the presence of his mother's brother, Uncle Harshaw. James Harshaw immediately reprimanded his nephew. "What! John, would you not give Catholics the same rights that you enjoy yourself!" Perhaps this scolding reminded him of the Barnmeen Martyrs. At any rate, he became a staunch defender of Catholic rights.

The year that Parliament first granted Catholics the right to serve in Parliament, John graduated from Dr. Henderson's school. In his final exams, he took first honors in Algebra, Euclid, Homer, Livy, Horace and Roman History. He was ready to enter Trinity College in Dublin. Though John was 17 when he first took the stage coach to Dublin, he looked much younger and had yet to reach his adult height of 5'8''.

Dublin was a bustling city of 180,000 people when John first arrived. For a country boy, it must have been an exciting place to be. Along the main street, known then as Sackville Street, there were many shops of all descriptions. Street hawkers roamed the sidewalks selling their handkerchiefs and candy treats. A grand new Post Office Building had just been completed on the left side of Sackville Street, and dwarfed any building John had ever seen. Trinity College was located on the other side of the Liffey, in a more quiet part of the city. With its great arch entrance and old buildings, his new school was worlds removed from the small country school where he started his education. John stayed in Dublin for about a week while he became acquainted with the city and signed up for his classes. He was an extern student which meant that he was responsible for mastering his course material and passing the tests on his own. 

A year later, in 1830, John was joined on his trips to Dublin by his friend John Mitchel. John remained an apt student, mastering 5 languages before he completed his Arts degree in 1832. By that time, John had noticed that when he was in Dublin, he was in perfect health. So he decided to move to Dublin and study medicine. John was to be a landlord, so he had no intention of practicing medicine as a profession. But he knew that the poor farm laborers of Loughorne lived and died without medical attention. With his medical training, he could provide free help for them. John had one major setback along the way. When he went into the disecting room for the first time, he was overwhelmed by the smells. John had a particular sensitivity to smells which often seemed to trigger asthma attacks. He was particularly sensitive to scented soap, flowers, smoke, and mold and mildew, and now dissecting rooms. To make up for his lack of disection experience, he studied anatomy books with great intensity, and was able to master the intricacies of the human body just as if he had spent days in the disecting rooms.

In 1835, John was suddenly summoned home to Loughorne, when his uncle John became ill. By that time, the other Martin brothers, including his father Samuel, had died. Uncle John Martin soon died as well, leaving John to assume the responsilities for which he had been destined. He was responsible for the lives and welfare of hundreds of tenants and farm laborers as well as the family assets. John moved from his childhood home in Loughorne Cottage to the large home that Uncle John had occupied, Loughorne House. It wasn't a grand home, but nicely furnished with such luxuries as mahogany furniture and fine silver. He received a yearly income of 400 pounds, enough to allow him a comfortable life. The happiest time of his life had begun.

Sources: Dr. Hyde Salter, Asthma; P. A. Sillard, Life of John Martin; Newry Commercial Telegraph - January 2, 1828.

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