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James Nash

Margaret Aylward Dr Edward Barron Philip Barron Denis Cashman Raymond Chandler Paddy Coad Patrick Comerford Donncha Ruadh Val Doonican Sean Dunne Frank Edwards Alfie Hale John M Hearne William Hobson Dr Thomas Hussey Charles Kean John Keane Edmund Leamy D. P. Moran Gen Dick Mulcahy James Nash Peter O'Connor Jas Louis O'Donnell Pádraig Ó Fainín Gilbert O'Sullivan John Redmond Edmund I Rice James Rice, Mayor Lord Roberts V. C. John Roberts Frank Ryan Thomas Sexton Archbishop Sheehan Susan Smith John Treacy Luke Wadding William V. Wallace Cardinal Wiseman Bullocks Wyse Lucien Bonaparte Wyse



James Nash, the Waterford hedge schoolmaster has long been regarded as one of the greatest of that profession.  The Hedge Schools date back to the time of the Cromwellian Settlements but they flourished from the beginning of the 18th century when the English laws against Catholic education in Ireland  made teaching an extremely dangerous profession.  The law forbade schoolmasters to teach so they, perforce, had to teach in secret and, because it was also an offence to harbour a schoolteacher the latter had to resort to the hills and the remotest parts of the terrain.  The 'school' was a sunny side of a hedge or a bank of earth and, with one pupil stationed as a look-out (to give a warning of the coming of soldiers), the schoolmaster sat on a rock teaching his young pupils who lay on the grass round him.  The schoolmaster depended on the generosity of the people of the locality where he taught (he moved from place to place) and sometimes he worked on the farm to supplement his meagre income.  Later, when the laws were relaxed, slightly, the schoolmaster taught in a barn or shed.  The standard of teaching in those schools was of a high order, generally, and the reputation of the Munster hedge schools was very high.  The curriculum included reading, writing, arithmetic and, depending on the teacher's qualifications, book-keeping, navigation, geography, history, Latin and, sometimes, Greek.

  Nash was a constitutionalist in politics and, although he was a great friend of Meagher, he was dispproving of Meagher's ideas on the use of force to gain Ireland's freedom.  Meagher described Nash thus:         

The schoolmaster was full of humour, full of poetry, full of gentleness and goodness; he was a patriot from the heart, and an orator by nature.  Uncultivated, luxuriant, wild, his imagination produced in profusion, the strangest metaphors, running riot in tropes, allegories, analogies and visions.  Of ancient history and books of ancient fable he had read much, but digested little.  He was a Shiel in the rough.  Less pretentious than Phillips, he was equally fruitful in imagery and diction, and more condensed in expression.

Nash knew Greek, evidently, for his utterances are peppered with Greek allusions.  In one of his political speeches he said

                 Let them come on, let them come on; let them draw the sword; and
                 then woe to the conquered! - every potato field shall be a Marathon,
                 and every boreen a Thermopylae. 

Nash once said to Meagher (tongue in cheek, no doubt): "My school is below there, and I flog the boys every morning all round, to teach them to be Spartans."  P.J.Dowling, in his book The Hedge Schools of Ireland remarked that "The extent of the punishment which the gentle old Nash would administer is not actually known, but ... he would evidently take no excuse for neglect of study." Dowling described Nash as being "gifted but eccentric, patriotic but opposed to extreme measures in politics" and Thomas Francis Meagher wrote, on the death of the old schoolmaster

Like all the poor, honest, gifted men - the rude bright chivalry of the towns and fields - who thought infinitely more of their country than of themselves - he died in utter poverty, companionless, and nameless.

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