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Festival to celebrate noted educators the Longford Edgeworths
Festival-goers at Edgeworthstown

08 Feb 2023 / culture Print

‘Begin with justice and end with generosity’

The annual Maria Edgeworth Festival of Literature and Art, which is now in its 27th year, will take place in early May this year. 

As educationalists, Richard Lovell Edgeworth and his daughter Maria were the catalyst for the development of Ireland’s national school system.

The father and daughter duo wrote the radical document Practical Education, urging non-sectarian schooling, which was published by Joseph Johnson of London in 1798.

The pair were innovators and free thinkers who were prepared to challenge accepted ideas. They were non-sectarian and believed in opportunity for all.

The document was remarkable for the breadth of topics to be included on the curriculum – traditional subjects such as ancient literature, chronology, and history, but also modern ones such as chemistry and mechanics. The book also discussed moral education.

Maria's grandfather Richard Lovell and her father (also Richard) were both educated in Trinity College and qualified in law.


The Edgeworths believed that a child’s early experiences are formative, and they encouraged hands-on learning and made suggestions for experiments that children could perform and learn in a fun way. 

Maria Edgeworth writes: “Facts are often stored in the mind, which lie there useless, because they cannot be found at the moment when they are wanted. It is not sufficient, therefore, in education, to store up knowledge; it is essential to arrange facts so that they shall be ready for use, as materials for the imagination, or the judgment, to select and combine. The power of retentive memory is exercised too much, the faculty of recollective memory is exercised too little, by the common modes of education.”

The treatise was translated into many European languages and was widely read throughout Europe and America.

To celebrate the 225th anniversary of its publication, a conference called ‘The Education of a Nation and the Role of the Edgeworths’ will take place as part of the annual Maria Edgeworth Festival of Literature and Arts.

Six international educationalists will present papers and the conference will examine whether the Edgeworth vision has a message now, when school patronage and religious instruction is still a contested issue in Ireland today.


Johnson’s original copy of the Practical Education document is on display in the renowned Maria Edgeworth Centre.

The Edgeworths followed up their treatise with an Education Bill of 1799, which failed for various reasons, including opposition from the main church denominations, and the dissolution of the Irish Parliament in 1800, followed by the Act of Union.

Richard Lovell Edgeworth went on to sit on two Commissions for Education and saw the first Education Act passed in 1831. Though a committed supporter of the established church, Edgeworth was a courageous supporter of religious tolerance.

Edgeworthstown in Co Longford was once a place of pilgrimage for educationalists from Europe, and the organisers hope it will be so once again, in 2023.

On his deathbed, Edgeworth requested that he be buried with as little expense as possible.

I have always endeavoured to discountenance the desire which the people of this country have for expensive funerals,” he wrote to his executor, Charles Sneyd Edgeworth.

'Neither velvet nor plate'

“I would have neither velvet nor plate nor gilding employed in making my coffin, which I would have carried by seven of my labourers – William Tuite to be the foremost.

“Whatever debts may appear to be due to me by these men upon the settlement of their accounts must be cancelled,” he instructed.

“I trust entirely to my excellent son Lovell for the ease of all the persons about me in proportion to their respective merits – and I recommend it to him most earnestly not to begin his career in Ireland too liberally – let him begin with justice and end with generosity. And above all things, let him resolve to avoid giving promises as much as possible and if ever he gives any promise of land, to put it immediately in writing”.

The Edgeworth festival takes place from 4-7 May, and the organisers can be contacted at festival@mariaedgeworthcentre.com.

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