As the Christmas break approached, the Bishop of Limerick, Dr. Edward O’Dwyer was invited to present prizes to the students of Laurel Hill Convent. As part of his address to those present, the Bishop fired a strong warning shot across the bow of the Irish Parliamentary Party over their plans to reform Education in Ireland. John Dillon MP said they planned on fundamental reform of the Education system in Ireland “from top to bottom” under Home Rule. This clearly worried the Catholic hierarchy. Bishop O’Dwyer intimated that the management of schools might be taken out of hands of Religious Institutions.
Education in Ireland is, in my opinion, in a thoroughly sound and healthy condition. What contributes to [our schools] success is the profound religious peace in which they work. The Chief Secretary, says the states of things existing in Ireland is heaven [re: education]. And so it is. Protestants and Catholics differ on many things but all of them can educate their children in peace and in line with their religious beliefs. But unfortunately, it is not to last. A very influential Member of Parliament has given us notice that he is determined as soon as we get Home Rule, to recast the whole system of Irish education, in all its branches, from top to bottom. I do not like to introduce politics into the serene air of a convent, but this is not merely a political question. This touches religion in its most vital parts. When I read Mr. Dillon’s speech I confess that a shiver ran down my back. We are promised not a change here and there but a complete recasting of the whole system, but without any indication of what’s to come. For the Catholic clergy it is a serious prospect. Are they to be turned out of the managership? Who is to take their place? You might as well let out all the winds of Aeolus on the country and for what? To impose on Ireland the semi-secularism which is rapidly undermining all religion in the schools of England.
This appears to have been an influential speech, as a few weeks later Padraig Pearse addressed this issue in a journal article, wherein he agreed with Dr. O’Dwyer that the new Irish State should “leave that particular portion untouched” (that is, denominational schools) under Home Rule.
Of course John Dillon and Edward Thomas O’Dwyer had clashed before. During the Plan of Campaign, O’Dwyer (an ultramontane) took the side of the Holy See vs. the Land League. They responded bitterly..