Dr.C.E.H Orpen

The book, The Avenue: A History of the Claremont Institution, covers the remarkable story of the ‘forgotten school’ established in Dublin, Ireland for the purpose of educating the deaf. During the 18th century similar institutions had already been in existence in major European cities; but in the year of 1816 a young Cork-born doctor, Dr. Charles Edward Herbert Orpen (pictured), having realised that there was no such school in Ireland for deaf children, took action to rectify that omission.

The material in the book refers not only to history of education but also to the social history of Dublin, particularly Glasnevin and Monkstown. In addition, the book contains pen-pictures composed by pupils describing life during the early 19th century - on the streets of Dublin, at school and at home. The book refers to the great personalities of the day including those who were involved in the education of the deaf – the Abbe de L’Epee, Gallaudet, Braidwood and Laurent Clerc. Also to Sir William Wilde, father of Oscar Wilde (poet/playwright), and to the deaf son of the Young Ireland leader, William Smith O’Brien. Events such as the ‘Big Wind’ of 1839 and visits to Dublin Castle and the Phoenix Park were covered by the book.

Today, education is taken for granted, but in the early 1820s, it was perceived as an escape from poverty and dependence. With the hope of having their deaf son admitted into Claremont, the poor parents and the little boy walked from County Clare to Dublin, taking shelter under trees and hedges along the way. When they arrived at the city, they were informed that there was no money available to admit any more deaf children.

Rachel Pollard, author/researcher

Contained in this book are stories of some of the former pupils who went down the Avenue for the last time into the world of work in Ireland and overseas, including the girl, Eva Charlotte Weily, who touched the heart of her teacher, Joseph Keating, that he decided to marry her. Records from 1816 onwards of over 2,500 pupils, some with connections to the U.S.A., the U.K., Australia and Canada. have been taken note of, and this should prove a boon to genealogists.

Moreover, the book tells the story of yet another forgotten Dublin institution – The Dublin Working Boys’ Home and Harding Technical School (usually known as ‘The Harding’), of which some former Claremont pupils were resident.

Academics of all levels in the discipline of Deaf Studies – encompassing Irish Sign Language, pedagogy, sociology and history – have found the book, with index, bibliography, appendices and references, as a valuable resource. Mentioned are reports of the court cases involving Deaf people, one of them as a juror, and another of a former pupil assaulting two priests in a Dublin church. Covered is the will of a deceased Deaf millionaire being contested, and for those who love crime stories, there’s a good dose of murder cases. And there’s a chapter on the ‘forgotten’ social group – Deaf women, one of them as authoress and another as a faithful servant.

William & Samuel Rothwell, Co. Wexford