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Pace of change afflicts RE in Ireland

07 August 2015


St Francis Xavier goes under the hammer: one of a collection of church stained-glass windows, commissioned for churches in Ireland, New Zealand, and Wales, but never installed (see story, below)

St Francis Xavier goes under the hammer: one of a collection of church stained-glass windows, commissioned for churches in Ireland, New Zealand,...

RELIGIOUS education in Irish schools is at a crisis point owing to a clash between secular and religious interests, a report published in the International Journal Teaching Theology and Religion suggests.

The authors of the report, Professor Áine Hyland and Professor Brian Bocking, both from University College Cork, found that the standard of RE needed to be closely investigated, as many students and teachers regarded it as a “doss” subject, not requiring serious attention.

The findings highlighted the claim that Ireland was highly unusual in using RE for faith formation in primary schools.

“The type of RE found in Ireland is, for example, utterly unlike that of the UK, where a multi-religious curriculum is well-entrenched,” the report says. It says that in Ireland RE is going through a process of “erratic and unpredictable transition”. The former dynamism at government level in reducing church patronage and promoting pluralism in the school system has been reduced to seeming inaction, it says.

The authors say that, despite the appointment of an education officer by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in 2013, there remains a failure to develop a planned programme on Education about Religion and Beliefs (ERB), as well as ethics, to ensure that children receive education “about religions” as opposed to faith formation in primary schools.

“It is difficult to predict when a national ERB programme will be available.” This leads to a continued imbalance in the teaching of RE to different age groups. Although RE is nearly compulsory at primary level, just three per cent of senior-cycle students take it as a Leaving Certificate examination subject.

“This number may rise in future years, but only if schools recruit sufficient teachers with relevant expertise in the study of religions, and in fact the proportion has not risen in recent years.”

The authors of the study conclude that experienced observers are in agreement that there is a need for very significant improvement at all levels across the subject.


Stained-glass windows exceed expectations

A COLLECTION of church stained-glass windows, commissioned for churches in Ireland, New Zealand, and Wales but never installed, from the famous Harry Clarke studio in Dublin, which closed in 1973, were auctioned in July.

The top bidder in a lively exchange at the auction rooms of Fonsie Mealy, in Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny, was a priest representing the Jesuit order, who paid €31,000 for a single stained-glass panel: St Francis Xavier preaching in the Orient. The price paid was ten times the auctioneer’s estimate.

The same priest also paid €21,000 for a three-panel window of St Francis Xavier, who was a co-founder of the Jesuit order. Both were originally commissioned in the 1930s for a church — identity unknown — in Co. Kilkenny, but were never installed and remained in the studios.

Five other lots — all sold separately — made for churches in Wales and New Zealand but uncollected from the studios, also commanded high prices from private bidders, achieving €36,500. This brought the total to €88,500, which was more than three times the pre-auction-valuation estimate.

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