How to meet Bob and Joan, children of eighteenth-century Cork …

When we tell the story of Nano Nagle founding her schools in Cork in the 1750s, we mention that there were three free schools in Cork city for poor children. These were Church of Ireland charity schools called ‘The Blue Coat School’ just off Tower Street, ‘The Free School’ at St. Fin Barre’s, and ‘The Green Coat School’ next to St. Anne’s, Shandon.

The foundation stone of the ‘Green Coat School’ was laid on 6 March 1715. The founder was Reverend Maule, rector of Shandon, who stated that the children attending should ‘be real objects of charity residing in or near the parish of Shandon, and between the ages of 7 and 12 years.’ The school was to cater for 20 boys and 20 girls.

Engraving of the Green Coat School
The Green Coat School, the elevation as it faced ‘Bob and Joan’s Walk’. Note the gates with the figures on top of them.

The school consisted of a central block with two wings that projected south and fronted onto the street, this street is now known as Bob and Joan’s Walk. The central block in turn was soon echoed just behind by another charitable building, Betridge’s & Skiddy’s Almshouse, the first stone of which was laid in 1717. The Green Coat School was demolished in 1955 but Skiddy’s Almshouse remains, having been saved from demolition in the 1960s by the Cork Preservation Society.

Reverend Maule, Rector of Shandon, later Bishop of Meath. He was founder of the Green Coat School and wrote a book about the project Pietas Corcagiensis
Reverend Maule, Rector of Shandon, later Bishop of Meath. He was founder of the Green Coat School and wrote a book about the project Pietas Corcagiensis

But what about Bob and Joan? Well, from the opening of the Green Coat School in 1716, a statue of a school boy and a school girl, in their Green Coat School uniforms, adorned the gates of the school. In true Cork fashion, they were immediately given names and those names, Bob and Joan, are recorded in the book Reverend Maule wrote about the school in 1721.

And wonderfully, you can still meet Bob and Joan if you go and climb the tower of Shandon Church, where the two lead statutes now live, surveying Shandon Street from the first-floor window.  And having met them you can continue up and survey the city, including Nano Nagle Place, from that amazing vantage point.

But what has this all to do with Nano Nagle? Well, Nano began to open her schools in Cork because she saw that there was no educational provision in Cork city in the Catholic faith. The Penal Laws forbade Catholic schools and even forbade travelling abroad to be educated in a Catholic school. Nano’s wealthy parents had sent her away to be educated. Against the law. And Nano brought her education back to Cork and shared it with poor children in her ‘free schools’. This too was against the law.

Both Nano Nagle and Reverend Maule brought education to children who were ‘real objects of charity’ in eighteenth-century Cork. Bob and Joan represent those children, frozen in time for us to meet today.

Read more about the Green Coat School here on Cork Past and Present

Plan to visit Bob and Joan yourself by visiting Shandon Bells.

Read more about the work of Nano Nagle here.

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