« Co. Kildare Online Electronic History Journal Home »




Our local readers need not be told that it was at the Seminary in this comfortable, and as the English critics call it, Quaker Village, in Kildare, that the famous Edmund Burke received his early education. It was then kept by the Shackletons, a well-known and respected family belonging to the Society of Friends, and some members of which are still resident in Kildare. The first of the family by whom the school was originated and under whose charge the future statesman was placed was Abraham Shackleton, and the circumstance of his having been the preceptor of so distinguished a man, together with the fact of his having educated the youths of many of the leading families of Ireland, led to his acquaintance in some cases intimate with several eminent persons, amongst others Crabbe, the poet, and Mrs. Trench, mother of the Dean of Westminster, and whose graphic and interesting “Diaries” have recently been published. Abraham Shackleton was assisted, and we believe succeeded, in the Ballitore School, by his son Richard, who, however, did not long maintain it in its prosperity. Ballitore had been a classical school, but Richard was suddenly seized with conscientious scruples as to the propriety of having the seductive writings of the Pagan poets of Greece and Rome taught to the generous youth under his charge. He accordingly published a statement announcing his determination not to do so for the future. This was the death-blow of Ballitore School, as it rapidly declined, and a year or two afterwards Richard Shackleton relinquished the office of schoolmaster.

The scrupulous Richard had a daughter, Mary Shackleton, who afterwards married one of her father’s pupils named Leadbeater, and who was the son of another, a neighbouring member of the Society of Friends. The literary remains of this lady have now just been published in two interesting volumes issued from Bell and Dalby’s press, entitled, “The Leadbeater Papers, the Annals of Ballitore,” being in fact the reminiscences of an Irish Quaker village in the last century, and some correspondence which the former proprietors of Ballitore School had kept up with old pupils or their friends, who afterwards became famous. Mrs Leadbeater’s book, independently of any extraneous aid, is interesting and curious from the graphic simplicity with which she sketches many of the well-known persons and places in and about Ballitore. There is the minuteness of a photograph in the manner in which she draws some of the characters which lived and moved and had their being in the little Kildare village at the close of the last or beginning of the present century. We will take, for instance that of Joseph Wills, which, possible, some of our patriarchal readers still living may remember, as one of the chief men of the village. Here is Mrs Leadbeater’s amusing portrait of the man:-
Joseph was a man retired from business, who lived upon his income in a genteel, comfortable style, keeping what is called good company and a good table, and attentive to the cultivation of his land and garden, and to the provision of his household. He was elderly, rather low in stature, somewhat corpulent, and his nose large and carbuncled; he wore a gold-laced hat and waistcoat, and moved along the street with slow and stately pace, smoking out of a long, clean pipe. Thus arrayed, he frequently walked into his neighbour’s houses, which opened with latches, and enquired what they had for dinner, at the same time poking his staff into the pot, for they mostly sat in their kitchens in the forenoons. This familiarity was of course not always acceptable. Sarah Fuller’s servant ran in to warn her mistress of his approach; “Here’s Mr. Wills, here’s Mr. Wills!” but she was not quick enough. “Noble intelligence!” retorted Joseph, gravely, as he followed her, He had his singularities, but he was “respectable,” and Elizabeth Shackleton piqued herself on being always on good terms with him.

The happy village of Ballitore does not seem to have been blessed by the presence of an attorney, as we read that persons who had lost any of their goods at any time “sent stoutly to search suspected houses, having previously borrowed Ephraim Boake’s search-warrant, which though long very much the worse for wear, continued in use and esteem for a good share of thirty years”,
We have many pleasant touches of school-boy life at Ballitore. “Our dear honoured Edmund” is, of course, the star of the academy to all time, and his success in his martriculation and scholarship examination is heartily welcomed at his old school. We can hardly suppose, however, that Richard Shalkleton, senior, was a good classical scholar, as we find him asking Burke to procure in Dublin for him “Davison’s Metamorphoses,” a companion volume doubtless to that very incorrect crib, Davison’s translation of Virgil. The care, however, taken of the bodies of the pupils was such that delicate youths were packed off to Ballitore from all corners of Ireland. Here is a sketch of the last of twenty five children:-
Samuel Hudson, another pupil of my father’s was the only surviving child of a family of twenty-five. This boy, who was weak in body and mind, was exceedingly dear to his parents; but, alas! They outlived him also. When his father, a rich Connaught gentleman of rough manners, came to see him at school, the boy ran blubbering into his presence, dropped on his knees and cried out, “Your blessing, father!” The father, struggling with fond parental emotion, replied “You have it, you dog”. When my parents were travelling in Connaught, they accepted an invitation to Hudson’s Bay, the residence of this family. They were welcomed with the greatest kindness, and entertained with the utmost profusion. The fond mother, when walking with Elizabeth Shackleton in a retired part of the demesne, suddenly knelt down, and audibly poured forth her thanks to the gracious Providence who had put it into her heart to place her child under such care.

The future husband of the writer, and a companion, Charles Rawdon, came to school in 1777. We are told of these two boys, “both were amiable, and virtue perhaps appeared more engaging in their beautiful forms, for both were remarkable handsome”.
Ballitore was fearfully wasted in the rebellion of ’98. Orangemen and United Irishmen obtained in turns possession of the devoted village. The village doctor, who had bound up wounds and spent his substance for the sustenance of both parties, was foully slaughtered. Paul Cullen, the grand-uncle of the present Roman Catholic Primate of Ireland was condemned to death by one of the court-martials of the time. His father attended the trial; when he returned, the family anxiously inquired, “What news?” “Good news”, replied the parent sadly. “My child is to die, and he is willing to die!” Elsewhere, we are told that so keenly and successfully did the pigs lie in wait to devour dead men’s bodies, which were everywhere lying about, that “for several months there was no sale for bacon cured in Ireland, from the well-founded dread of the hogs having fed upon the flesh of men”.

The second volume consists of letters from Edmund Burke to Richard Shackleton; and from Crabbe, the poet, and Mrs. Trench to Mary Leadbeater. We subjoin part of a letter from Edmund Burke to his friend Shackleton, who had written a fulsomely laudatory letter upon the orator, which by some chance had got published:-

I feel somewhat mortified at a paper written by you, which some officious person has though proper to insert in the London Evening Post of last night. I am used to the most gross and virulent abuse daily repeated in the papers – I ought indeed rather have said twice a-day. But that abuse is loose and general invective. It affects very little either my own feelings or the opinions of others, because it is thrown out by those that are known to be hired to that office by my enemies. But this appears in the garb of professed apology and panegyric. It is evidently written by an intimate friend. It is full of anecdotes and particulars of my life. It therefore cuts deep. I am sure I have nothing in my family, my circumstances, or my conduct that an honest man ought to be ashamed of. But the more circumstances of all theses that brought out, the more materials are furnished for malice to work upon; and I assure you that it will manufacture them to the utmost. Hitherto, much as I have been abused, my table and my bed were left sacred; but since it has so unfortunately happened that my wife, a quiet woman, confined to her family cares and affectious, has been dragged into a newspaper, I own I feel a little hurt. A rough public man may be proof against all sorts of buffets, and he has no business to be a public man if he be not so, but there is as natural and proper a delicacy in the other sex, which will not make it very pleasant to my wife to be the daily subject of Grub-street and newspaper invectives; and at present, in truth, her health is little able to endure it. It is true that you have said of me then thousand handsome things, which are infinitely beyond anything I have deserved or can deserve; but this is only the language of friendship, which is always interpreted down to its proper level, possibly below it, by the severe scrutiny of the public.
The best letters in the volume are undoubtedly those of Mrs. Trench. Crabbe’s excessive egotism, kindly though it was, is by no means fascinating. We give one or two brief extracts from Mrs. Trench’s correspondence:-
“I have been presented to Buonaparte and his wife, who receive with great state, ceremony, and magnificence. His manner is very good, but the expression of his countenance is not attractive. Curran says he has the face of a gloomy tyrant. Another has compared him to a corpse with living eyes; and a painter remarked to me that the smile on his lips never seemed to accord with the rest of his features. I have the pleasure of sending you a little picture very like him, which may enable you to form your own opinion…..”
We may add, speaking of Ballitore School, that there were, until a few years ago, and possibly may still be, and old school desk or two, religiously preserved, on which the penknife of Edmund Burke, when he was a pupil there, had carved his own great name.

An article from the Leinster Express of 14 June 1862 on Ballitore school and the Shackleton connection

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2