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The Royal Hibernian Military School (1765-1924)
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Chapter 1
The Hibernian Society

Editorial note: As stated in the preface, this text is based on the Hawkins' manuscript (the original of which is in the Library of the National Archives, Kew), supplemented with footnotes and references to have meaning the readers not perhaps familiar with some names, places and events to which the Hawkins refers.

In 1764, moved by the plight of the many impoverished and destitute children of soldiers who had left Ireland for garrison duty overseas or who had died while on active service, a group of citizens in the parish of St. Paul's, Dublin, formed the Hibernian Society and raised sufficient funds by subscription to open a school on 1 January 1765 to house 20 children. The Treaty of Paris on 10 February 1763 had marked the end of the Seven Years War that, politically at least, had decided nothing. Militarily, the Royal Navy had firmly established the British domination of the sea. Just as firmly, the war destroyed France's pretensions for a colonial empire (1). The social cost to the population of Europe was enormous, however. The increased number of orphans had a sufficiently profound effect on the public consciousness of Cork and Dublin, but why this should affect the citizens of Dublin more than, say, the citizens of London or Edinburgh or Cardiff is a matter for speculation.

Celtic society, based on a matrilineal tradition (2), had a strong foundation of fosterage that predated the arrival of Christianity (3). One might suppose that membership in the new Hibernian Society was restricted to the influential Protestant society of Dublin, but there is no strong evidence for this supposition despite the wording of the petition presented to King George III within six years of the formation of the Society with the intention of

"...raising a Fund to support the Establishment of an Hospital in order to preserve such Objects from Popery, Beggary and Idleness and to train them up so as to become usefull Industrious Protestant Subjects (4)..."

Whatever the case - and this will discussed more fully in due course - one suspects that fund raising was largely confined to the Protestant communities of Cork and Dublin. Nevertheless, contributions from a generous public flowed in more freely than was at first expected so soon after the end of the war. Regiments in Irish garrisons were equally generous. King George III himself contributed £1,000 and pledged an annual payment of this amount. When the Irish Parliament voted £3,000 for the construction of a 'hospital', King George donated three acres of land in Phoenix Park (5) as its site.

The origin of Phoenix Park

Phoenix Park had 1760 acres of parkland, with 22 miles of roads within its boundary walls. In the late 18th century, a stand of trees covering 15 acres lay between the School and the Magazine Fort. The land was eventually cleared for playing fields and came to be known as "15 Acres". Later, the butt used by the gunners of the Magazine (6) Fort was the central point of 15 Acres. This was also the place where bucks settled their 'affairs of honour' by duelling. The duelling ground was chosen to provide the officers of the fort with a view from the embrasures because they were forbidden to appear in person at duels.

The land known as Phoenix Park is closely connected with the village of Chapelizod (7) the inhabitants of which community had close ties with the RHMS throughout its existence. Men and women of the village were employed at the Institution, women especially after the girls were withdrawn in the middle of the 19th century. [The name Chapelizod is said to derive from the name Belle Izod, daughter of Angers, King of Munster, who had a chapel there. The King was reputed to have been baptised by Saint Patrick in the royal city of Cashel and was killed at the Battle of Cill Osmuch in County Curlow, AD 473.]

In 1176, the lands belonging to Chapelizod were given to the Hospital of the Knights Templars of Kilmarnham. When the order was suppressed the property came into the hands of its successors, the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem and remained under that order's stewardship until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. The Phoenix Park property then passed through various hands until 1665, when Charles II bought the manor house as the residence of the Lord Lieutenant and enclosed the property.

In 1690, General Douglas camped in the Park en route to Athlone. Soon after, William II spent several days in the 'King's House' . In 1760, the King's House was converted into quarters for the officers of the Royal Irish Artillery. (8) The 'House by the Churchyard' by J. S. Le Fann, born in the Chaplain's quarters of the, by then, Hibernian School in 1814, includes a description of the "balmy days of Chapelizod at the turn of the 19th century when the Royal Irish Artillery garrisoned the pretty village on the banks of the Anna Liffey and when it was the resort of the military and the fashionable classes of Dublin."

Construction site

The place of the proposed hospital in Phoenix Park was such that the front of the building would face south and give one a view of the distant Wicklow Hills over Rathfarnham. To the west, the ground fell sharply to Chapelizod in the valley of the River Laffey. Outside the Park wall, east from the main gateway of the Hospital, stood the Viceregal Lodge, the Chief Secretary's Lodge and the Magazine Fort, all forming an arc a thousand yards away from the Hospital.

Construction began immediately, the Society planning to eventually to house up to 800 children. When opened in 1767, the Institute had 140 children. In 1769 with construction still not finished, the Irish Parliament granted the Society £4,000 to furnish the building with necessities to accommodate 400 children.

While the main building was under construction, the 'Hibernian' children were housed in two large houses (9) rented from the Corporation of Carpenters in Oxmantown, Dublin, until they could be moved into the Phoenix Park premises. The move, recorded in the Governors' Minute Book, was made on 6 March 1770 by 140 children, of whom 50 were girls.

"This day the children, in their new clothing, appeared before the Committee and were afterwards received into the Castle Gardens by His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant, the Marquis of Townsend, and thence marched to the Phoenix Park, to the new Hospital, attended by Artillery Musick". (10)

On completion, the main Hospital and surrounding buildings formed a close and aesthetically attractive group of structures on level parkland, with a seven-mile long road running an undulating course around the inside boundary of the park. Although in 1747 the Earl of Chesterfield erected a column of Portland stone in the Park with a Phoenix mounted on top, the Phoenix from which the Park derives its name is supposedly not the mythical bird of classical literature but a corruption of two Gaelic words, pronounced 'feenick', meaning 'clear water' (11). The spring that supplied the water is supposed to be the spa near the Zoological Gardens of Dublin.

First Board of Governors and Committee

The Governors of the Society decided that a committee of fifteen members would direct the affairs of the Hospital and appointed Samuel Burrows, Esq. as Secretary. The Governors selected a Captain Nesbit, styled Inspector, to be responsible for the general care and supervision of the establishment, with the assistance of an Inspectoress, his wife, who was in charge of the girls. The Governors engaged an Assistant Mistress at an annual salary of £12. At Oxmantown, the Chaplain, identified as a Dr Disney, received neither salary nor emoluments from the Society. In 1770, Disney was succeeded by the Reverend Nathanial Smyth, who was later provided with furnished quarters, fuel, light (candles), and other allowances. All officers of the Hospital had to swear an oath on accepting office (12).

Vacancies in the Hospital were advertised in the Gazette and commanding officers were requested to send the names of children they wished to recommend one month before the date named for admission.


Some orders issued for the conduct of officers were decidedly strange. For example, those relating to an official known as the Messenger, whose dress was a blue and scarlet uniform, had to "Go to Irish Town and bring from thence a gallon of salt water," but how often is not known. Included in his duties, however, was that of cutting each boy's hair once every three months. The Messenger was to keep himself "constantly clean and sober and conduct himself quietly in the house." For the special benefit of the boys, they were to be punished "in an adequate and exemplary manner". Conversely, those who behaved well were to be rewarded with "publick approbation". Further, "A detestation and abhorrence of vice, and an esteem and love of virtue were to be inculcated" in the young minds.

The regulations clearly stated that "no dogs were to be kept in the house of the Hibernian Society by any person whatsoever".


Little information is to be had on the daily diet offered at the Hospital. All we know is that food was supplied to the Inspector at an average daily rate per child of 3 1/2d; the daily rate for servants was 4d. Meat was considered to be the important ingredient in the child's diet, supplied to a fixed scale according to age: under eight years of age children had an allowance of 4 ozs of dressed meat, meaning full weight without bone. (This seems an excessive amount for a child.) From eight to ten, it was 5 ozs; those above ten years were given 6 ozs. The quantities given applied to uncooked meat. "In order to provide the children with good and wholesome milk, instead of beer," the Lord Lieutenant allowed twelve cows to graze in the Park. In later years, thirty cows were allowed free grazing.

Trades training

In the earliest period of the RHM School (1765 - 1769), the Hospital as it was then was more of an industrial establishment than a military training school. The boys were employed at gardening, tree planting, weaving, net making, cobbling and other remunerative industries. The girls had little leisure from spinning worsted, weaving, clothes making, lace-making and other domestic work. From the military viewpoint, the boys were better trained for civilian occupations than military life. For the ten-year period beginning 1765, the boys were disposed of as follows:

Apprenticed 209
Returned to families 48
Died in hospital 13
Enlisted in the army 66
Total 336

The first recruits to enlist from the Hospital joined the 24th Foot (13) in February, 1770. An account of their army careers is given later.

Spiritual welfare

The foundation stone of the Hospital church was laid on 10 May, 1773. It opened for its first divine service on Sunday, 4 July, 1773, the sermon being preached by the Archbishop of Dublin. The King's Garden, so called, was made over to the Hospital in 1777 for use as a tree nursery, and continued to be used in this way until 1833, when the Commissioners of Woods and Forests notified the Governors of the Society "that the part of the Park known as the King's Garden must be returned" to them as it was "required to carry out certain improvements in the Park".

To help the girls in making a settlement in life, the flourishing Irish Society of London gave an annual benefit theatrical performance. The proceeds were given to the Governors to provide "portions for such girls that married with their consent". Regarding the girls, their establishment in the Hospital was not to exceed fifty.

Good neighbours

The Hospital had as its neighbours in Chapelizod the Royal Irish Artillery. Good-neighbourly sentiments existed between them - perhaps clouded for a time in 1797 when faulty marksmanship on the part of the gunners at the Fort played havoc with the Hospital's churchyard wall. The Royal Irish Artillery (14) was permanently resident in its quarters.

Continued in Chapter 2

1. R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy in The Encyclopaedia of Military History, Harper Row, NY, 1977. Back to (1)
2. J. Markdale in Celtic Civilisation, Gordon and Cremonesi, 1978. Back to (2)
3. Fostering provisions contained in Ancient Laws of Ireland quoted by J. Boswell in The Kindness of Strangers, Penguin, 1988 [p 208, n 96]. Back to (3)
4. See the petition to King George III dated 18 April, 1769. Back to (4)
5. The premises of the RHMS in Phoenix Park, Dublin, are today occupied by St. Mary's Hospital. Back to (5)
6. Magazine in its military sense, meaning a place for the storage of arms, ammunition and supplies for use in time of war.   Back to (6)
7. A district of Dublin today, but in the second half of the 18th century a distinct village in its own right. Back to (7)
8. The Royal Irish Artillery barracks in Chapelizod became a distillery by the time the RHMS was disbanded in 1922 and the Royal Hibs were transferred to the Duke of York's Royal Military School, Dover. Back to (8)
9. Near to the site of the Blue Coat School. Back to (9)
10. The Royal Irish Artillery stationed in Chapelyard provided the 'Artillery Musick'. Back to (10)
11. H. Murray, a gaelic scholar, takes issue with this argument. The word for water in gaelic is uisge, as in uisge-beatha, the water of life, or whiskey. Back to (11)
12. The words of the oath sworn have not been traced. Back to (12)
13. Since about 1875 The South Wales Borderers. Before that, the 24th Foot was known as The 2nd Warwickshire Regiment. Back to (13)
14. The Royal Irish Artillery was formed in 1755 when, on a requisition from the Lord Lieutenant, a party of 24 NCOs and men of the Royal Artillery under the command of a lieutenant was posted to Dublin from Woolwich. The party formed the nucleus of the Royal Irish Artillery. By 1760, it was styled the Regiment of Royal Irish Artillery with a strength of 1 major, 1 captain, 3 lieutenants, 5 sergeants, 5 corporals, 106 bombardiers, 34 gunners, 102 matrosses [gunners' assistants] and 2 drummers. The Regiment's first foreign service was in the American War of Independece. In March 1977, one officer and 70 men embarked for that theatre of action. Back to (14)

Table of Contents - Royal Hibernian Military School
1769 Petition
1806 Pay and Allowances
1806 Weekly Governor's Report
1806 Time Table
1819 Charter
1819 Diet
1819 Staff Duties
1819 General Regulations
1844 Return of Religions
1849 S.S. Pemberton Orphans
1856 School Inspector Gleig
1857 China
1873 Religion
1900 Review at Phoenix Park
1918 Lost Boys
1919 Roll of Honour
1919 Recollections
1919 Lives of the Hibernians
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
1922 Last cricket match
1924 A soldier's orphan's story
1924 Last roll call
1924 Laying up the colours
1924 The final era
1937 A military misfit NEW
1969 The bicentenary reunion
1994 Capt. Harry Bloomer MBE
2001 IGS No.25 History
2004 Newsletter
2005 The last known Hibernian
2007 Sources of Hibernian documents

Delta Tech Systems Inc
  Duke of York's Royal Military School
Royal Hibernian Military School
Reminiscences of a Queen's Army  Schoolmistress
World War I letters and Reports
Books and Militaria
Wellington on Waterloo
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© A. W. Cockerill 2005

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