A hedge school (Irish names include scoil chois claí, scoil ghairid and scoil scairte) were small informal illegal schools, particularly in 18th- and 19th-century Ireland designed to secretly provide the rudiment of primary education to Catholic children. Under the penal codes imposed by the British, the Catholic Church in Ireland was not allowed to have schools. Instead Catholics set up highly informal secret operations that met in private homes.
Historians generally agree that they provided a kind of schooling, occasionally at a high level, for up to 400,000 students by the mid-1820s. J. R. R. Adams says the hedge schools testified “to the strong desire of ordinary Irish people to see their children receive some sort of education.” Antonia McManus argues that there “can be little doubt that Irish parents set a high value on a hedge school education and made enormous sacrifices to secure it for their children….[the hedge schoolteacher was] one of their own”.