Tuam Schools in the Nineteenth Century

This article was written by Samuel J. Macguire and originally published in the 'Galway Reader' in the 1950s. The 'Galway Reader' is available from Galway Public Library.

Most Rev. Dr. Dillon was the first Catholic Archbishop of Tuam to reside openly in the town since the death of Archbishop O'Queely at Sligo in 1645. He was appointed on the 19th November 1798 and immediately took up residence in a two storey thatched house near the present corner of Tullinadaly Rd and Foster Place. In 1800 he decided to found a Diocesan College and it is interesting to note that although the Penal Laws had been considerably relaxed, he had first to obtain the permission of Dr. William Beresford the Protestant Archbishop. The following is a copy of the Licence which was granted:

The Place,
17th October, 1800William by Divine Providence Lord Archbishop of Tuam by Divine permission Bishop of Ardagh, Primate and Metropolitan of the Province of Connaught to our beloved in Christ, the Rev. Oliver Kelly, of Tuam aforesaid, greeting.

Whereas the Most Rev. Edward Dillon, Roman Catholic Archbishop of the Diocese of Tuam and Roman Catholic Primate of Connaught, hath by his nomination in writing, bearing date the 13th day of October in the year of Our Lord 1800 appointed and recommended unto us you, the said Oliver Kelly as a fit and proper person to keep a preparatory school for the Royal College of St. Patrick, Maynooth, to be by him holen in the towns of Tuam, County of Galway and diocese of Tuam aforesaid and we therefore being satisfied as to your abilities and due qualifications in discharging your duty therein and having therefore accepted of such, the appointment of the said Rev. Edward Dillon, do by these presents grant and confirm unto you the office or employment of school master of the said preparatory school for Maynooth as aforesaid, with all the rights, profits, and emoluments to the same belonging or in any wise appertaining so long as you shall continue to behave yourself well, and to master of said preparatory school, you the said Oliver Kelly having first taken the oath of allegiance as by law required. In testimony whereof we have caused our archiepiscopal seal to be therefore affixed on this the aforesaid 17th of October, A.D. 1800. WilliamTuam
Charles Davis
Not. Pub. D. Registrar.

The fact that this Licence was granted at all was probably due to the fact that Dr. Dillon and Dr. Beresford were very good friends. The latter was subsequently in 1812 created Baron Decies. He died on the 18th September, 1819, after an Episcopal reign of twenty five years, and his memory is perpetuated by the stain glass windows which he presented to St. Mary's Cathedral.

The first College was opened in two thatched cottages which stood in the Mall near the site of the present cinema. These premises soon proved inadequate, however, and the house at Bishop Street which is now known as The Old College, was purchased in 1817. this house had been built by one John Bermingham and for a time it was known as Birmingham's Folly. The owner having gone bankrupt, it was sold in 1809 to John Browne of North Frederick Street, Dublin, and 1811 the Ffrenches of Castleffrench acquired it and opened a Bank there. (It may be of interest to some readers to learn that one of the directors was Denis Brown, notoriously remembered as 'The Hangman'). This bank carried on for several years but like many other commercial businesses throughout the British Isles, it was forced to close its doors in 1816 owing to the general slump in business which followed the ending of the Napoleonic Wars. The house was offered for sale, again and with the help of contributions from all over the Diocese, the Archbishop acquired it for the College. In this connection it should be noted that Dr. Oliver Kelly, the first President of the College, had been appointed Vicar Capitular upon the death of Dr. Dillon in 1809 and in 1814 upon the return of Pope Pius VII from Fontainebleau, he had been appointed Archbishop.

In 1824, the facilities of the College were enlarged by the erection of additional houses in Bishop Street and in 1856 the site of the present college and grounds was bought by Archbishop McHale. This property was known as Keighrey's Park and portion of it was used as the town Fair Green. Dr. McHale continued to set it as a Fair Green to the Town Commissioners at a yearly rent of 30 until 1875 in which year the college was extensively enlarged by the addition of two wings to the first building which had been erected in 1858.

Because of the impoverished state of the Catholic population of the Diocese, the financial resources of the College were very limited in its early days. Each Parish Priest in the Diocese contributed 2 per year towards its maintenance and upon these contributions together with fees from lay boarders, the college had to exist. That it was able to do so was to a large extent due to the administrative ability of Fr. Thomas Feeney who was appointed President when the house at Bishop Street had been opened in 1818. Fr. Feeney was a native of Brossboyne and at the time of his appointment he could have been no more than thirty years of age. He continued as President until 1835 (when he was appointed Parish Priest of Kiltulla) and amongst the many brilliant students who passed through his hands during his term of office were Dr. McEvilly, Archbishop of Tuam, Dr. Derry, Bishop of Clonfert, Dr. O'Regan, Bishop of Chicago and Dr. DugganBishop of Killala in succession of Dr. O' Finan in 1839.

The following reference to the College appears in Duttons Survey which was prepared in 1823: "There is also in Tuam the College of St. Jarlath, for the education of Roman Catholics, under the superintendence of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tuam. Many young men are educated here for the priesthood and are sent to the College of Maynooth previous to their taking orders. I am well informed it is admirably conducted and every person who has been often to Tuam must bear testimony to the respectable appearance and remarkable property of behaviour of the students at such priests as are devoted to study".

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