In 1431, Richard Talbot, Archbishop of Dublin, formally instituted and endowed a college of six minor canons and six choristers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This date also marked the beginning of St. Patrick’s Cathedral Choir School.
For the Choir Schools six pupils the relationship between the boys and the master of song was similar to that between a master in a trade and his apprentices. Like such a master, the choir master had to feed, clothe, house and generally maintain the choristers. This responsibility subsequently passed to the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral during the eighteenth century. By then arrangements for the maintenance and education of the choirboys had been transformed. The choristers were by then day pupils and their fathers paid fees in lieu of their sons maintenance as choristers.
In 1547 Edward VI established a Grammar School within the Cathedral precincts and the choristers were enrolled in the Grammar School following their education at the Choir School. This Grammar or Latin School functioned throughout the elizabethan period and its masters continued to instruct all the pupils in latin grammar. At this time latin was the essential key to literature, science and public life. It was the medium of learning and all who aspired to public position were obliged to study the language in school. Even the textbook, Lily’s Grammar, which pupils were to study was prescribed by law.
From 1660 to 1781 the Grammar School flourished under a succession of able masters, and many of its students went on to further study at Trinity College Dublin. However, the next seventy years saw the Grammar School undergoing many transformations including a change in location to Great Ship Street for some years. By 1853 the school was re-established in The Close beside the Cathedral, and by 1856 there were one hundred and ten pupils on the roll of which twenty-four were boarders.
The curriculum had expanded considerably from the traditional latin grammar to provide a sound classical and mathematical education. English, French, Italian, Mathematics and Natural Philosophy all formed part of this curriculum.
The subsequent years proved turbulent ones for the Grammar School. The Irish Church Act of 1869 no longer required the Dean and Chapter to maintain a schoolmaster and so for a time at least the historical Grammar School of St Patrick ’s Cathedral came to an end.
The education of the choristers was still an issue however, and Dean West built number 39 Kevin Street in 1870 as a schoolhouse for the choir school.
The 1885 Education Endowment (Ireland) Act fused the choristers school with the two charity schools operating in The Close. The Act established a Board of Governors of ‘St Patrick’s Cathedral Schools’. The Act provided that in the schools, in addition to the usual subjects taught in secondary school such as English, Latin, Greek, Mathematics and Modern Languages, the Governors were to provide instruction in Music, vocal and instrumental, suitable for the choristers. (Cathcart, Dr. H.R.; 1980)
From 1885 until the end of the First World War the choristers were taught by two full-time teachers. Following the 1914-18 war new classroom space was built which enabled an expansion of both staff and students. 1969 the Grammar School became co-educational with girls being admitted for the first time. Continued expansion of pupil numbers the meant Grammar School gradually outgrew its buildings. In 1988 the school was rebuilt and the current Grammar School was officially opened by the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey.
Today, the Grammar School continues to thrive with over one hundred and thirty pupils on the roll all of whom have access to a broad general education. In addition to the traditional subjects, namely: English, Irish, Music, Mathematics, Art and Modern Languages; History, Geography, Home Economics, Business, Information Technology and all three of the sciences, Physics, Chemistry and Biology, form part of the curriculum.
Source: Cathcart, Dr. H.R.; 1980. Irelands Oldest Schools