Extensively researched and illustrated, the book, (ISBN 9780955323904), is full of anecdotes – some amusing, some sad. For instance, the first pupil – Thomas Collins, who gained fame for writing frankly to King George IV of England, appealed to the judge to show mercy to the drunken woman who stole his pocket-watch and who was later transported to Botany Bay, Australia. Another story which would tug at the heart-strings took place during the Great Famine. In the year of 1847, a starving deaf girl from Achill, Co. Mayo, named Ellen Tullis, arrived at the school. The children, seeing her plight, unanimously decided to forego their dinner, and donate the sum usually spent on their food to the relief of the starving poor.
During his investigations at the Workhouse in Dublin, Dr Charles Orpen (grand-uncle of the famous artist, Sir William Orpen) found at least 21 deaf children. The young doctor selected Thomas Collins, aged 10, for intensive tuition in articulation (speech), language and arithmetic. In the following year, Dr Orpen carried out a public demonstration at the Assembly Rooms in the Rotunda, Dublin, and consequently a committee (National Institution for Education of the Deaf and Dumb Poor in Ireland) was formed. Two rooms were rented at the Penitentiary, Smithfield, Dublin, for the purpose of educating and boarding a small number of young deaf boys. The news of Dr Orpen’s initiative led to a demand from rich parents anxious for their deaf children to receive education. Henceforth, the Committee issued a public appeal for funds, and in 1819 procured a large demesne called Claremont with a house and a long avenue (hence the title for the book) leading to a little village of Glasnevin, outside Dublin.
In later years, the house was extended, in order to accommodate the increasing number of deaf children admitted from all over Ireland, England, Wales and overseas (deaf children of the army and the navy). The school was divided into two parts – one for deaf children of the poor and the other for private pupils / parlour boarders, taken into care of the Headmaster, who gave these privileged pupils individual attention, while the rest of the children were assigned to other teachers. In the 1820s, tuition in articulation would incur an extra charge of 15 guineas on top of 30 guineas for board/lodging and 20 guineas for English Language Grammar and Writing. By 1844, the number of pupils reached 136, prior to the establishment of the Catholic Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in Cabra (St Mary’s for Girls – 1846 and St Joseph’s for Boys - 1857). In 1943, the number of deaf pupils educated at Claremont came to six.
The Department of Local Government requisitioned Claremont to use as an “Emergency Hospital”. The house still exists today as St Clare’s Home for Elderly People, Griffith Avenue, Glasnevin. The school moved to a smaller house called ‘Carrick Manor’ (pictured above and left) in Monkstown, Co. Dublin. Miss Harriet Rose Ferris, from Westport, Co. Mayo, received her early training at Claremont in Glasnevin, before moving in 1916 to Exeter School for the Deaf, having registered under the English Board of Education. Then she went to California where she studied at the State Teacher’s College. In 1946, she took up her post as Headmistress. Finally, in 1978, the ‘Claremont School for Deaf Children’ – the first ever school in Ireland for the deaf and until recently the “forgotten school” - closed its doors.