History Of St Patrick’s College Thurles

The foundation stone of St Patrick’s College, Thurles, Thurles, was laid on July 6th, 1829 by most Rev. Dr. Laffan, Archbishop of Cashel.  A sum of about £10,000 had been provided for the building of the College by Dr. Laffan’s predecessor, Dr. Everard, who had been engaged nearly all his life in education – in the Irish College at Bordeaux, as rector of a school for Catholics in Ulverstone, Lancashire and finally as President of Maynooth here in Ireland.

St Patrick’s College, Thurles

Dr. Everard was born in Fethard, Co. Tipperary of wealthy parents, in 1752. He was educated in the local Grammar school, and then went to Salamanca where he was ordained a priest.  During a short tour of the continent he visited a friend of his family, one Mr. Barton in Bordeaux.  In the city was one of the Irish Colleges on the continent, and the young Fr. Everard was appointed Rector by the Archbishop of Bordeaux, Monsignor de Ceci.  The year was 1789 and the French Revolution (1789–1799) a period of radical social and political upheaval in France had begun. The Civil Constitution for the Clergy forced the French Clerics who refused to accept it, to become émigrés (emigrants).  Monsignor de Ceci was one of the latter, but before leaving, he appointed Everard as sole administrator of his diocese. Foreign clerics enjoyed a fragile immunity from attack, but Dr. Everard remained at his post until 1793.  In October of that year a band of Jacobins, the most famous and influential political club in the development of the French Revolution, so-named because of the Dominican convent where they met, located in the Rue St. Jacques (Latin: Jacobus), Paris, broke into his house, dragging Dr. Everard into the street. He had struggled to get free, and his soutane, old and torn, gave in their grasp, and so Dr. Everard lived to become, in due time, President of St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth.  This position was held by him until 1814.

The following year on April 14th 1815, he was consecrated Coadjutor Archbishop with the right of succession to the then Archbishop of Cashel, the Most Reverend Dr. Bray.  Interestingly he was consecrated in Cork.  He succeeded as Archbishop of Cashel, on Dr. Bray’s death in December 1820.  His reign, however was tragically short.  Dr. Everard died within three months, on March 20th 1821.

However his will £10,000, his share of the Everard family fortune was left for the building of a diocesan College here in Thurles.  In the years between 1821 and 1829 various parcels of land had been bought with a view to begin building. There was no general contractor: a priest, Rev. Thomas O’Connor, was appointed to take charge of construction.  He personally set about purchasing materials, saw that the plans were carried out, and paid the workmen on a week by week basis.  His personal ledger, containing every item of income and expenditure, can be found in the archives of the College. He was afterwards to become first President of the College.
On July 6th 1829 the foundation stone was laid.  Just three months earlier Catholic Emancipation had been won, and Daniel O’Connell, “The Liberator,” was present to see Archbishop Laffan bless the corner stone of the College.  To commemorate this foundation ceremony, a bust of Daniel O’Connell still adorns the entrance hall of the College to this present day.

The total expenses of the building were £11,108.15.2.  Total funds available were £10,869.10.7.  Outstanding debt was £239.4.7.
The funds available were made up as follows: Dr. Everard’s Bequest £7,237.18.5. – Parochial contributions £1,038.6.4. – Clergy contributions £778.5.0. – Contributions from other sources £1,621.16.10. – Sale of timber etc £122.17.3. – Letting of College lands £70.6.9. – Total £10,869.10.70

Dr. Laffan died while the work was in progress and he was succeeded by Dr. Slattery.  The original legacy of £10,000 proved insufficient and collections were taken up from priests and people throughout the Archdiocese to complete sufficient work to bring it to the point where it could be opened to students. The interior of the east end of the main building was not in fact finished until thirty years afterwards.

The College was opened in September 1837 as a lay College, by Archbishop Slattery under the presidency of the Rev. Dr. Thomas O’Connor, for boarders and day-pupils.  A contemporary report describes the new College as follows:  “This noble building stands upon an eminence at a minute’s walk from the town and has the advantage of a demesne of 25 acres, washed by the river Suir.  The front house is 255 feet long, from which two large wings recede.  The façade is truly a majestic one surmounted by a parapet of beautiful cut stone, and set off still more by the justness of its architectural proportions, nor is the internal accommodation unworthy of the noble exterior.”

The builder of the College was Patrick Keely(Kiely).  His son, Patrick Charles Keely, born in Thurles on August 9th 1816, immigrated to the United States and was the architect of over 600 churches in America.  The Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston, Massachusetts- Cardinal Cushing’s Cathedral, was designed by Keely.

The then aim of St. Patrick’s, Thurles was phrased in the words of an early advertisement “To provide a course of liberal education and whatever is necessary for young gentlemen intended for the learned professions.  The course will include the usual branches of a Classical, Mathematical and Mercantile education.  To its extent, healthful position, and convenient arrangements, the College of Thurles adds the advantage of a most favourable situation, under the immediate eye of the Archbishop, midway between Cork and Dublin, in the heart of an abundant country.” The Catholic Directory for 1838 states:  “The course of Education comprises English, Latin, Greek, French, Italian, Spanish, Arithmetic, Writing, Ciphering, History, Geography, Use of the Globes, Algebra, Geometry, Natural and Experimental Philosophy, Rhetoric; and in a word, whatever enters into a liberal education, or is necessary for young gentlemen intended for the learned professions.”  Eighteen boys were admitted as boarders in September and during the first year the number increased to thirty.

In 1842 an ecclesiastical side was set up in the College, with the intention of catering especially for the Foreign Missions.  A Rescript (Meaning: Written Back in response) from Pope Gregory XVI and dated July 31st 1842, granted Dr. Slattery faculties which empowered him to promote ecclesiastics to Holy Orders, including the Priesthood. The plan for a Foreign Mission College did not immediately prosper.  Appeals for funds met with little success, and the Great Famine (1845) came soon afterwards, disrupting the whole social and economic life of Ireland.

Meanwhile in 1847 the first president of the College, Dr. O’Connor, had been succeeded by Dr. Leahy (afterwards Archbishop); and in 1850, the National Synod, the first since the “Reformation,” took place in Thurles. Dr Leahy was intimately connected with the Synod, and with its consequence a Catholic University.  He was one of the secretaries of the Synod and of the Catholic University Committee appointed at the Synod.  The first meeting of this Committee took place in the College.  Later a sub-committee was appointed, consisting of Dr. Newman, Dr. Leahy, and Myles O’Reilly, Esq., to draw up a report on the organisation of the University.  Dr. Leahy and O’Reilly visited Newman in Birmingham and in October 1851 Newman paid his first visit to Ireland, coming here direct to Thurles, where he stayed in the College (where he caught a severe cold), and with Dr. Leahy and O’Reilly drew up the report.

Suggestion were made that Thurles should be the site, at least temporarily, of the new University and had found many supporters.  A letter of Newman’s from Thurles to his friend Ambrose St. John gives his opinion of this suggestion : “Entre nous,(Translated “Between us,”) this would never do for a site – a large fine building, but on a forlorn waste, without a tree, in a forlorn country, and a squalid town.”  Time and later events have remedied the treelessness of the College, and the squalidity and forlornness of town and country around; but no doubt it would never have done.  The vision of Thurles as the Oxford of Ireland was merely visionary.

When the University was formally established in 1854, Dr. Leahy was appointed Vice-Rector and Professor of Exegetics, and for a short time held these appointments, in addition to those of Vicar-General of the Archdiocese and President of the College. From September 1st 1837, when the College opened, to September 1964, 2,980 students were admitted to St. Patrick’s, Thurles.  Among the distinguished past students, have been, the Most Reverend Dr. John Cantwell, late Archbishop of Los Angeles, Bishop James Byrne of Toowoomba, Australia, Dr. Edmond Gleeson of Maitland,  Most Rev. Thomas Quinlan of Chun Chon, Korea, Most Rev. Patrick Winters of Mbulu, East Africa and the Most Rev. Thomas Ryan, Bishop of Clonfert.

St. Patrick’s College In 1921

Rev Fr. Tom Fogarty,St. Pat’s and Professor Don Barry, UL

St. Patrick’s College, Thurles, was inspected by representatives of the Crown Forces on three occasions and an inventory taken of the accommodation there available.  The President, Very Rev. M. J. Ryan was informed that forty-eight hour notice would be given before the arrival of any occupying force.  Although no official information has yet been made the College authorities were last week making preparation for eventualities.  The students are on holidays.  His Grace Most Rev. Dr. Harty, in the Cathedral on Sunday (January 9th 1921) referred to the matter and having thanked the people for their sympathy, gave it to be understood that the last word was not yet said in regard to taking over the College.”  (The Tipperary Star, Saturday, January 15th 1921.)  Monsignor Patrick O’Dwyer of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles recalled the occasion during a visit to St. Patrick’s College.  He was then a student and with some others was asked by Very Rev. M. J. Ryan, President, to remove the books and clothing of the students to the College Library.  Meantime the Archbishop was, according to Monsignor O’Dwyer, preparing an appeal to the American Hierarchy.  At any rate the Star of January 22nd 1921, announced under the heading “WELCOME NEWS“:  “St. Patrick’s College is not to be occupied by Crown Forces.  The decision has given much relief to all concerned.”  It is also worth noting that the Third Tipperary Brigade of the I.R.A. were prepared to defend the College against any occupying Crown forces.

In 1963, a new extension to the College was begun.  On Sunday, August 29th 1965, this new wing was blessed and opened by the Late Most Reverend Dr. Morris, Archbishop of Cashel.  This addition to the building was designed by the late Chevalier P.J. Sheahan, Limerick, and Messrs Malachy Burke, Galway were the contractors.  The extension cost almost £200,000 to complete and furnish. Accommodation in the new building included an addition to the College Oratory, 58 students’ rooms, an assembly hall, shower baths, locker room and apartments for six priests. In this age of renewal within the church, one may justly claim that the College is true to its motto, “Renovabitur sicut aquilae.”

The College has been running a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Education, Business Studies and Religious Studies since 2003 and held its first graduation for students of this course in 2008. The success of this programme and a demand for Irish and Religious studies degrees prompted the introduction of a second full-time teacher education degree – Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Education, Irish and Religious Studies in 2009.

In May 2011 the University of Limerick, with effect from 2012, announced an academic alliance with the University Of Limerick (UL), marking an historic occasion for this College. It was agreed that with effect from September 2011, Teacher Degree programmes at St. Patrick’s College would be accredited by the University of Limerick and from 2012 graduates of the College would be awarded University of Limerick degrees.

On February 5th 2012, TV station RTE I broadcast Sunday Mass live from the College, to mark the 175 years of this historical College’s existence and on April 19th last, Thurles Town Council, on behalf of the people of Thurles, held a civic reception in its honour.

A new report announced this month recommends that smaller teacher training colleges, like St Patrick’s here in Thurles, Co Tipperary, should now be closed, thanks in no small way to bankers, creeps, snake-oil salesmen, politicians and spoofers, who have been allowed to roam uncontrolled and without a leash, in this our fair land.


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