By Samuel J. Maguire

Education in Penal Times

The penal laws rendered impossible an instinctive reverence for law; law which was recognised by the Catholics as a powerful immoral and vicious agent. It alienated the people from government and they looked at Catholicism as the centre of their affections and their enthusiasm. Arthur Young tells us of a "Protestant aristocracy of 500,000 crushing the industry of two millions of poor Catholics". So late as 1796 the problem of Irish poverty began to be taken seriously. The Whig Club in that year reported that the misery, dirt and idleness of the people were not really their fault, nor were their concomitants of crime, blasphemy, drunkenness and dishonesty. This fact lies at the very root of the social and political history of Ireland well into the nineteenth century. There was no confidence between the classes and this lack of confidence acute antagonism, in fact was "studiously aggravated by law", and for three centuries "English State Policy in Ireland persistently and constantly" used Education as a principal interest for that purpose. The penal laws failed to restrain the activities of the Catholic priests and schoolmasters who set the law and its penalties at defiance.

It was not until 1781 and 1792 that the Statutes of William III and Anne were repealed. These laws forbade any Catholic either to teach in Ireland or to send his children abroad for their education. The public money had been lavished on societies and schools during the eighteenth century, but these efforts had been so identified with proselytism that every fresh scheme appeared only to arouse the dislike and suspicion of the people and of their spiritual leaders. It is however, beyond question that popular schools did exist in Galway throughout the penal times in spite of the law. This has been testified by English travellers with evident sense of its significance. Hardiman records that few towns in Ireland were better supplied with schools than Galway, but regretted that classical learning was neglected and not

"generally estimated as it ought". He adds that most of the people of the town were content with a "plain English education" for their children. He records a classical academy kept by a Mr. Kearns; several boarding schools for young ladies, day schools for female children, and ends,

"and on the whole, though the town is not distinguished for a superior brilliancy of education, yet that blessing, in a moderate degree, is tolerably diffused among the inhabitants."

Lynch's School

Hardiman in his edition of O'Flaherty's Iar Connacht, gives the following extract from the report of a regal visitation to Galway in 1615:-

"Wee found in Galway a publique schoolmaster, named Lynch, placed there by the citizens, who had great numbers of schollers, not only out of that province but also out of the Pale and other parts, resorting to him. Wee had daily proof during our continuance in that City, how well his schollers profited under him, by the verses and orations which they presented us. Wee sent for that schoolmaster before us, and seriously advised him to conform to the religion established and not prevailing with out advices, we enjoyed him to forbear teaching; and I, the Chancellor (Thomas Jones) did take a recognizance of him and some others of his kinsmen in that city, in the sum of 400 sterl. To his mate, use, that from thenceforth he should forbeare to teach any more without the special license of the Lo. Deputy". Dr. Lynch in his History of Irish Bishops, referring to John O' Molony, Bishop of Killaloe in 1630, speaks of the school, "John having read Humanities in his native Province read Philosophy at Galway under Alexander Lynch to whose school had gathered a great number of young men from every quarter of Ireland. Within the memory of ourselves or of our fathers there was no school in Ireland in which the number of scholars was greater or classified in better order or trained in a fuller literary course or conducted with more exact discipline; in it the students by scholastic contents were constantly urged on to progress in their studies and by theatrical performances their confidence and courage were increased, but, alas Chancellor Jones damned the fountain from which flowed such great benefit to our nation..." The Rev. J. Rabbitte, S.J., writes, "A description of one of these schools at work in 1645 was written by Dury an English Purian, and has been preserved. He described the arrangement into classes, the competitions or camps, the preparing of verses and orations, the acting of plays etc., much as in Alexander's school in Galway."

The Presentation Convent School

Presentatin Convent, Galway

Presentation Convent, Galway. This photograph is from an original Hardiman print.

At the request of the Rev. Edmund Ffrench, Warden of Galway, a convent of the Presentation of nuns was established in Galway. His father, the Rev. Edmund Ffrench, had been for many years Warden of the Established Church, and had been elected Mayor in 1774. The name of the Rev. Edmund Ffrench appears among other signatures to the "black petition" against the Catholics in 1761. The petition was on the 10th November of that year presented to Parliament praying to prevent Catholic shopkeepers from manufacturing or selling their goods, or employing journeymen for this purpose. His two sons Charles and Edmund when very young became Catholics, and later on Dominican Friars. Edmund was elected vicar, and on the death of the Warden, Dr. Bodkin, he was in turn in 1812, elected Warden - an appointment which gave rise to great bitterness in the town. The other Vicars protested strongly against his election and charged the lay-patrons "with partiality and injustice". Hardiman writes:

"A disunion was accordingly the consequence; the chapter declared the proceedings invalid, refused to confer institution on the newly elected warden, and finally appealed to the Pope, complaining against the innovation of a regular intruding on a secular chapter ... The election, however, was afterwards, on 18th June, 1813, confirmed by the Pope; and the piety, zeal and exertions of Warden Ffrench, since his accession to the wardenship, justly entitle him to the respect and esteem in which he is so generally held."

The Presentation Order was founded by Nano (Honoria) Nagle, a native of Cork. After an elementary education at home, where Catholic schools were declared illegal, she was sent to France to complete her education. Some of her relations were then living in the suite of the exiled King James, and she entered on a brilliant social life in the court circles of Paris. Deciding to devote herself to the education of Irish Catholic children she spent a short time as a postulant at a convent in France. She returned to Ireland where she joined with some ladies who had privately organised a school in Dublin. On the death of her mother and sister she went to Cork, and in spite of the most adverse conditions in that city, she opened a school to combat the ignorance and vice there prevalent. Her first pupils were gathered secretly. In less than a year she succeeded in establishing two schools for boys and five for girls. She also organised and conducted an asylum for aged and infirm women at Cork. For the support of her schools and asylum she personally collected money from door to door in the city. In 1775 she founded the Presentation Order and established a convent, and the order spread rapidly all over Ireland. She adapted the rule of St. Augustine and a habit similar to that of the Ursulines.

Rev. Bartholomew Burke, one of the Catholic vicars of Galway, who died in 1813, bequeathed 6,000 (a great part of which was given him for charitable purposes) for founding a convent of the Presentation Order for the education of poor female children in Galway. The convent was established on the 27th October, 1815, in a house in Kirwan's Lane and a school was opened in November, 1815. A larger house was opened in Eyre Square in the following March. Here the nuns continued until 1819, when they removed to their present convent. This building had been built as a Charter School under the Society for Promoting English Protestant Schools in Ireland. On the 1st April, 1788 John Howard described this school: "Twenty two boys, one an idiot. All had shoes and stocking; but in general they did not look healthy, which might be owing to their late recovery from the measles. Allowance for soap, candles and turf only 14 a year. No towels. The house in good repair, but wanted white washing. This is a good situation for a bath". After this report the Charter School declined and was closed in 1798. During the rebellion of that year it was taken over as an artillery barrack and continued to be used as such until 1814.

The nuns held the building by lease for 60 years at 60 annual rent. "Each nun on admission to this order pays a sum of 500 towards the general fund, which is now considered sufficient, with the aid of annual sermons and occasional donations, to support this valuable establishment", wrote Hardiman. In 1820 thirty female orphan children were fed, lodged, clothed and educated, and according to the first Report of the Royal Commission on education, 1825, 395 children were attending the day school. The curriculum was needle work such as Limerick lace, Irish point and crochet, reading, writing and arithmetic. John Barrow in his Tour Round Ireland in 1835, wrote,

"I paid a visit to the Presentation Convent, with which I was much interested. The nuns, two and twenty in number, are all ladies of good family, and employ a part of their time very usefully in the education of children who are received from the age of seven to fifteen or sixteen. It was said there were at this time no less than four hundred under their tuition. They are instructed in the English language, but what books they read I did not learn. They are also taught needle work, and, when sufficiently skilled, are employed in making lace and tambour-work, the materials for which are sent for the purpose in large quantities from Nottingham; and the girls are paid, by those to whom the lace belongs, a certain sum for their labour, which assists their parents in clothing them, and in the payment of their rent. There chanced to be about forty or fifty girls employed in this manner when I passed through the rooms, and I was much pleased with their work, some of the patterns being very rich, and designed with great neatness and precision. The chapel attached to the convent is small but neat, and there is a good painting over the altar. Three of the sisters went through the apartments with us ... One of the ladies was inclined to be conversable, and we had a long chat together regarding the regulations of the convent... I thought she seemed not to have altogether forgotten the world of which she was once a denizen: she asked me about a family who formerly resided in London, and in whom she seemed to take some interest."

Barrow also quotes a letter from an anonymous correspondent on the school,

"In a school of several hundred girls belonging to the Presentation Convent at Galway, and assisted by the National Board we found the great girls writing out themes on virginity, priesthood, and martyrdom. The one state was glorious, the other more so, and the last, of course most of all... Several classes of little girls in the same school had their books open upon a catalogue of saints, male and female, whom they were to call upon in prayer, filling two pages. The children were apparently learning these names by heart; but when I asked if I might be permitted to listen, the nun who had charge of the class instantly began questioning one of them on a different subject, in so low a tone, however, that I heard scarcely anything but the name of Christ, which had no place in the lesson before them... The lady who conducted us over the convent, a beautiful and well bred woman, of about 30 years of age, was recognised by Lord ____, who had just preceded us in a visit to it, as the daughter of a baronet of ancient family, and large estate in an adjoining county. A few years before, she was a Protestant, as all her family are, and mixing with them in the world. This lady told me, that the estimated expense of entrance and profession in her convent was about 500. She expatiated to me with great complacency on the flourishing convent of the same order, which has been lately established in Newfoundland, by a colony of Irish ladies, who have also large schools under their tuition. It is well known, by those who are acquainted with Newfoundland, what strong reinforcements of Irish popery are pouring into that country. "

The circumstances under which the Galway nuns went to Newfoundland are worth a note. At the request of Dr. Fleming, Vicar Apostolic of Newfoundland, Sisters Josephine French and Mother de Sales Lovelock went from Galway to Newfoundland where they established a house at St. John's. Shortly before the arrival of the sisters on the island Catholics, who were mostly Irish, were looked on as a proscribed class by the governors of the time, who were generally commanders of British warships. Priests were hunted and persecuted, people who harboured them or permitted Mass to be celebrated in their houses were fined, imprisoned, and flogged, and their houses either burned or pulled down. These acts were undoubtedly illegal. The penal laws of Ireland were taken as applicable to Newfoundland, and even when Catholic Emancipation was granted to Ireland it was claimed by the legislature that it did not apply to the colony. Dr Fleming fought strongly against these injustices and finally succeeded in obtaining full freedom for the Catholics, and the denominational system of education was established by law.

The Patrician Brothers' Schools

In 1790 The Rev. Augustine Kirwan, Catholic Warden of Galway established the Galway Charity School near the Shambles Barrack, for the education of poor boys, who were to be "carefully instructed in reading, writing, arithmetic, and the principles of their religion. The school and the funds were administered by a president, vice-president, treasurer, and secretary, who were elected annually, under the patronage of the Catholic Warden, vicars and parochial clergy of the town. The institution was supported by the receipts from charity sermons, annual subscriptions, and occasional contributions. The number of children at the time of its establishment was limited to 150; 100 of them were clothed and 12 apprenticed to trades. The original foundation rules read:

"That as many boys, from the age of eight to twelve years, as the funds will bear, be admitted, when previously recommended and approved of by the committee; that they are to be supported by their parents, and sent to the school, at appointed hours, washed, cleansed and combed; that they are to be instructed in reading, writing and arithmetic, and supplied with books, pens, ink and paper at the expense of the society: and, as emulation is the great spur to the infant mind, premiums shall be distributed among the deserving; and such of them as shall pass three years at said school, without breach of moral duties, shall be apprenticed as soon as the funds shall admit; the incorrigible to be expelled". Hardiman states: "The school is under the care of Mr. Ulick Burke who is not only what the rules require the master to be, 'a sober, moral man', but also a well-informed, religious individual, whose care of the education and manners of the children entrusted to his charge is entitled to the highest praise. "

The system of dual control which, in theory, appeals to be its freedom and elasticity, failed because the merchant and the professional classes in Galway did not honour their obligations. Subscriptions dwindled, the better off classes took little personal interest in the school, and there was mismanagement. There was a lack of competent teachers, "the refuse of other callings" condemned in later years by Macaulay, was another contributory cause of the failure of the Galway Charity School. The school had definitely failed because 36 years after its establishment the Warden had to apply to Dr. James Warren Doyle (J.K.L.) Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, for a filiations of the Brothers of St. Patrick.

The Brothers of St. Patrick, or Patrician Brothers, had been founded in 1808 in Tullow, County Carlow, by Dr. Daniel Delany, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. After the Relief Acts of 1782-1792, many Catholic landlords established schools on their estates and among those who made educational provision for their tenants was Christopher Redington, the proprietor of Kilcornan. About 1817 he founded a monastery and a boy's school, under the charge of two Patrician Brothers, at Clarenbridge. The Warden of Galway aware of the work being done on the Redington estate, invited them to take charge of the Galway Charity School. In his letter to the Superior in Tullow he writes: "... by a meeting of the subscribers and committee of the Male Schools, Market Street, held on Sunday the 22nd inst. (October 1826), I am directed to request that you will have the kindness as soon as possible, to send some young man to undertake the concerns of the school at Kilcornan, pro tempore, in order that we may have the services of Brother Dawson until yourself arrive". Brother Paul O'Connor was sent to take over the school, which had in the meantime been changed from near the Shambles Barrack to a disused barrack (its present site) in Lombard Street. He was joined by Brother Dawson and the other Brother from Clarenbridge - the Redington School was placed in charge of the Sisters of Charity, who had charge of a Girls' school.

Brother Paul records: "January 15th, 1827. - On this day N.N. and I entered our new monastery after having recited the "Te Deum" in thanksgiving to the Almighty for this new proof of his love...; we commenced our labours in the school ...Cash in hands on entering the monastery, 0 is. Od. (one shilling")". Social conditions at the time in Galway were, as in other Irish towns and cities, bad. A printed document preserved in one of the school registers makes this clear: "As the main end and design intended by this school is to preserve a few of the growing generation from the horrid vices of blasphemy, drunkenness, and dishonesty, the boys admitted to it are to be carefully instructed in Christian principles by a clergyman appointed for that purpose". Before the school had been a year in operation, the improvement in the youth of the city was so evident that at a public meeting held in the school the thanks of those present were voted to the teachers "whose zeal, attention and excellent arrangements had produced such happy results".

The curriculum and organisation may be summarised; In the first or lower school, the children were very young and were taught merely the alphabet and words of two syllables, prayers and the small catechism; in the second, the children were taught words of three syllables, and progressively to read the catechism, and to write. In the third, they were taught spelling, reading, writing, and the elements of arithmetic; and in the fourth, the same course was pursued with the addition of English grammar, book-keeping, navigation, algebra and geometry. Some of the boys were 18 years of age, and there were a few sailors still older who were taught navigation. Reeves's History of the Bible was read in the third and fourth schools. The children were chiefly of the class of tradesmen, labourers, servants and clerks. The school opened at 10 o'clock in the morning; and "the Masters seldom have recourse to Corporal Punishment".

In 1831 the school came under the control of the Board of Commissioners of National Education in Ireland. In 1834, Brother Paul O'Connor reported to the Committee of the school;

"As a member of a Religious Community, I have always felt it a humiliating reflection that the schools in connection with the monastic institution of Ireland should, for any consideration, be subjected to the control of a Board of Education - one of whose rules is, that the Teachers are liable to be dismissed at the beck of the Commissioners on the suggestion of a prejudiced Inspector ... The National System refers not exclusively to any one establishment it extends its influence over the length and breadth of the land; the rising youth of the country will be imbued with its principles; these early impressions will give a character and complexion to their religious sentiments in after-life... From these reflections an important question arises; whether it would be advisable, on account of the grant made by the Board and the toleration of saying our prayers when we like, to continue the connection of this school with the Board, when that connection would, in all probability, be looked upon as a guarantee to the minor establishments of the country that nothing insidious against the faith of the Catholics of Ireland was contemplated in the National System; ... So far as this school is concerned, there is little danger now that the faith of the children will be endangered by our nominal connection with the Board of Education. "

In a letter to a friend in Rome, under date September 16th 1835, Brother Paul writes "We have two schoolrooms, each 100 feet long by 30 wide, usually attended by five or six hundred pupils. By the bounty of the kind and benevolent, we are enabled to give a daily breakfast to about 150 of the poorest of these poor children. We give public religious instruction in the parish chapel on Sundays ... The parish chapel is but one street distant from us". The Fiftieth Annual Report records that in the years 1847 and 1848 nearly 1,000 poor boys received a daily breakfast; and from the friendly aid received from the people of Galway, from America, Australia and New Zealand, the Brothers were able to provide food and clothing for all who required it.

A definitely higher education than the ordinary National School was given by the Galway Model School erected at Newcastle Road in 1849-50. Its aim was to promote "united education", to exhibit the most improved methods of literary and scientific instruction to the surrounding schools and to train young persons for the office of teacher. This school was managed by the Commissioners of National Education and subject to the same regulations as ordinary National Schools and gave what may be termed an intermediate education. After a time it aroused the antagonism of the Catholics and Catholic children were forbidden to attend it, as they were also forbidden to attend the Grammar School. The Bishop of Galway Dr. McEvilly, seeing the great need of Catholic intermediate education requested the Brothers to open a secondary school "to provide for the educational wants of the boys of the middle classes of Galway". On the 8th December 1862, the Seminary of St. Joseph was founded at Nun's Island. The course of instruction was classical, literary and scientific. The prospectus set out, inter alia,

"Throughout the course of the several departments, religion will be the living, moving and permeating principle of the instruction imparted in the Seminary; the language and history of our beloved fatherland will be encouraged and cultivated. Care will be taken to prepare the pupils for the respective positions which they are known to be intended for in after life and with the general advancement in view, the study hall and class rooms will be furnished, on a comprehensive scale, with the necessary appliances for accelerating the progress of all, and rendering the pursuit of learning light, interesting and agreeable. "

Galway Grammar School

So successful were the Catholic schools at the end of the seventeenth century that they threaten the school, endowed by Erasmus Smith, a Cromwellian Adventurer, at Galway with a total loss of its pupils and by their presence elsewhere undermined the health of Protestant schools "as succours do starve the tree". Erasmus Smith had set aside part of the estates with which he had been rewarded for his services to the Commonwealth to support schools for the children of his tenantry and of the country at large. In the Charter of Charles II, 1669, the King gave power to Erasmus Smith to erect three grammar schools at Drogheda, Galway and Tipperary respectively. He commanded that these schools should be free schools "for so many, not exceeding twenty poor children as should seem convenient besides the children of his tenants, who were to be instructed in writing and accounts, the Latin, Greek and Hebrew tongues, and to be fitted for the University if desired". By his Indenture of 1657 he directed that five grammar schools be built one in the town of Sligo, one on his lands in Galway, one on his lands in the Barony of Clonwilliam, County Tipperary, one on his lands in the Barony of Dunluce, County Antrim, and one on the lands to be given to him for 2,700 called his "deficiency". The Trustees appointed by the Indenture presented before the Court of Claims their petition and schedule on the 29th January 1665, that they had the right and on behalf of Erasmus Smith to, inter alia, build three Grammar Schools and residences for schoolmasters.

The lands and other property granted Smith in the liberties of Galway were described as, "One parcel called Barraghallagh, with a mill; some houses; an old abbey, ruined, and several cabins and gardens; a small parcel of land by Ballybridge; and the houses of Booremore and Boorebeg, with cabins and gardens; the town and lands of Ballibane and Glegnale; a parcel of land called Milebush; a parcel of land called Ranmore; a parcel of land called Westmurragh; a parcel of land called Murragh, being one quarter of Dohiesky; a parcel of land called Murraghbegg; a parcel of land called Ballybritt, and a parcel of land of Roscam, all situate in the liberties of Galway", with several other lands in the county at large. Dutton claimed that the estate in the county of the town of Galway may amount to about 1,400 acres, and may at a very moderate calculation, including, mills, houses and plots in Newtownsmith and Bohermore, be valued at five guineas an acre, or $7,900 per annum. He added that the tenants interest may be well worth three times that sum. He gives details: "Mr. Babazon has about 400 per annum profit rent; Mr. Cummin 350 per annum profit rent (most of the old tenants have been turned out, and few of the occupying tenants have been left). Roscam, 232 acres, lately set, pays to the charity two guineas an acre, and was immediately let at four guineas to some of the former tenants". These he describes as middlemen.

"The seaweed alone attached to Roscam is worth about 300 per annum , which brings down the rent to about a guinea an acre. The eastern and western parts of Roscam, 264 acres, pay to the charity about twenty five shillings per acre, and have been relent to poor people at about four or five shillings per acre ... Ballybanemore (west) divided into five parts of twenty acres each, was let at the same time for 3 5s. to 3 15s. per acre... and without the advantage of the kelp shore. Ballybanemore (north), formerly occupied by resident villagers who paid their rent immediately to the governors agent, were turned out, to give compensation to the tenants who occupied the western part, who pay the charity twenty five shillings per acre, and relent to three of the former resident tenants at about two guineas per acre. Mr. Burke of Murrough, for 140 acres, pays about twenty four shillings per acre with a kelp shore, worth about 100 per annum ... Mr. Blake (of Merlin Park) offered to lay out 1,000 in improvements and in building comfortable houses for the former resident tenants ..."

Rules Made By Erasmus Smith

The Report of the Governors of 1857 gives the rules made by Erasmus Smith for his schools.

Schools Founded by Erasmus Smith, Esq

  1. Lawes and directions given by Erasmus Smith Esq., under his hand and seal for the better governing and ordering the public schools lately founded and erected by him.

For the Schools

The schools are founded as free Grammar Schools in behalf and for the benefit of the children of the tenants of the said Erasmus Smith, as also for the children of the tenants of this corporation, together with the children of the inhabitants, residing in, and about the towns and places where these Schools are erected, that is to say:-

  1. The child or children of any tenants of the said Erasmus Smith, or to the said corporation, as also the children of any sub-tenant that is present occupier of any of the said lands or possessions. These all and each of them, if sent by their parents of friends, are to be taught free, and exempted from all salaries, and payments, in respect of their education, while they remain in any of those Schools.
  2. the twenty poor children of the inhabitants of each of these townes, or within two miles distant where these Schooles are, or shall be erected, and to enjoy the same privileges of their education in all respects as the tenants children.
  3. upon the death or removal of any of those twenty before mentioned, three or four of the Aldermen of Drogheda and Galway, respectively, and in Tipperary, the schoolmaster and two or three of the oldest inhabitants upon my lands there, may please to signify the names of such children to the Governors of he Schooles as are fitted in their judgement, for this charity, that the number from time to time may be made up.
  4. Those children are to be instructed in the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, according to their respective capacities and fitted for the University, if their parents or friends desire it; others of them to write, cipher, that they may be fitted for disposement of trades or other employment.
  5. There are further encouragements in relation to the poore children - as clothing while they remain in the Scooles, pensions for those that go to the University, and provisions also for those that are bound apprentices, some whereof are expressed in the charter all of which will be declared by the founder's appointment, when the revenue comes to be more fully stated.

For the Schoolmaster and Ushers

  1. None are to be admitted schoolmasters of the said Schools but such as are the Protestant religion ...
  2. The schoolmaster, and in his absence, the Usher shall publicily every morning read a chapter out of the Canonical Scripture and then pray, concluding at night also with prayer ...
  3. The weakness of children is such that many times varieties of Chatechismes confounds their understandings, and the Lord Primate Ushers Chatechisme being specially commended to those Schooles in the Charter, the masters are diligently and constantly to chatechise them in that forme.

The peculiar political and religious conditions prevailing in Galway where the tenants on the Erasmus Smith property were Catholics were responsible for the comparatively poor attendance at the Grammar School up to the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Catholics of Galway seldom sent their children to the school, which was situated in High Street. In 1788 the celebrated and great philanthropist, the English reformer of Prisons, John Howard, visited this school, and stated that it was well conducted and provided with an able master, Mr. Campbell. "With this worthy master", says Howard, "I had much conversation relative to a more general and liberal mode of education in that country. Mr. Campbell testified the readiness of many of the Catholics to send their children to Protestant schools; and he is of opinion that many would be these means be brought over, were the most promising of them enabled, by moderate aids, to pursue their further education in the University". In 1813, the present Grammar School was erected in College Road at a cost of 5,700. It was opened on the 1st August 1815, under the Headmastership of the Rev. Mr. Whitley. The subjects taught were English, Latin, Greek and Hebrew, composition in prose and verse, history, geography, the use of the globes, algebra, astronomy, and mathematics.

The Queen's College

"Who lasts a century can have no flaw:
I hold that wit a classic, good in law. "
- Pope-

If Trinity College deserved condemnation for being too sectarian, and not adapted, therefore, to the purposes of Irish national education, the Queens' Colleges of Belfast, Cork and Galway, which were in some degree established to remove that objection, and were so regulated that no jealousy at least could exist as to their being more favourable to one religion than another, were nevertheless denounced as godless and were quite as objectionable, in the opinion of many eminent men of different religious beliefs. In 1845, Sir Robert Peel being in office, the Act 8 and 9 Vict. C. 66 was passed providing for the establishment of three Queen's Colleges "in order to supply the want, which has been long felt in Ireland, of an improved academical education equally accessible to all classes of the community without religious distinction". The scheme had been suggested in 1838 in the report of the Select Committee on foundation Schools and Education in Ireland of which Mr. Thomas (afterwards Sir Thomas) Wyse was Chairman, and it was largely to his continual exertions that the scheme was due.

Queen's College, Galway

A photograph of Queen's College, Galway; this photograph is part of the Lawrence collection at Galway library.

A sum of 100,000 was granted for sites and buildings for three colleges at Belfast, Cork and Galway and each college received 7,000 a year. Three Faculties were established in each, viz., Arts, Law and Physic. The Colleges were strictly undenominational, and the professors were forbidden by the Statutes to make any statement disrespectful to the religious convictions of their classes or to introduce political or polemical subjects. They were opened in October 1849.

The Queen's College, Galway according to the provisions of the Act was a corporation by the style and title of the President, Vice-President, and Professors of Queens College, Galway; and consisted of a President, Vice-President and twenty professors.

The professors were divided into three faculties, the Faculty of Arts, being further divided into the Literary and Science Divisions:

  1. the Literary division of the Faculty of Arts included the Professors of
    1. the Greek Language (William Edward Hearn, LL.B);
    2. the Latin Language (William Nesbitt, A.M.):
    3. History and English Literature (Rev. J.P.O'Toole, D.D.);
    4. Modern Languages (Augustus Bensbach, M.D.);
    5. the Celtic Languages (Cornelius Mahony).
  2. The Science division of the Faculty of Arts included the Professors of
    1. Mathematics (John Mulcahy, LL.D.);
    2. National Philosophy (Morgan W. Crofton, A.B.);
    3. Chemistry (Edmund Ronalds, Ph.Dr.);
    4. Natural History (A.G. Melville, M.D., M.R.I.A.);
    5. Logic and Metaphysics (Thomas W. Moffett, A.M., LL.B.);
    6. Mineralogy and Geology (William King);
    7. Civil Engineering (W. Bindon Blood, A.B., C.E.);
    8. Agriculture (Thomas Skilling).
  3. The Faculty of Medicine included the Professors of
    1. Anatomy and Physiology (Charles Croker King, M.D., F.R.C.S.I., M.R.I.A., etc);
    2. Practice of Medicine (Nicholas Colahan, M.D., F.R.S.E.);
    3. Practice of Surgery (James V. Browne, A.B, M.D., L.R.C.S.I.);
    4. Materia Medica, and Medical Jurisprudence (Simon McCoy, M.D., F.R.C.S.I.);
    5. Midwifery and Diseases of women and Children (Richard Doherty, M.D., Vice-President, Dublin Obstert. Soc.).
    6. John Richardson, M.R.C.S.I., was Demonstrator of Anatomy.
  4. The Faculty of Law included the Professors of
    1. English Law (Hugh Law, A.B.);
    2. Jurisprudence and Political Economy (D. Caulfield Heron, A.B.).

Each of these bodies elected annually from among its members, a Dean of the Faculty, who presided at its meetings, and represented his faculty or division of faculty, in the College Council, which consisted of the President (Edward Berwick, A.B.); the Vice-President (Rev. J.P.O'Toole, D.D.); and the four Deans of Faculty; William Nesbitt, John Mulcahy, James V. Browne and D. Caulfield Heron. The Council exercised and general government and administration of the College. It had the power of making regulations for its government in cases not provided for by the Statutes, rules, or ordinances; of arranging the courses of instruction in the College; of making regulations for the maintenance of discipline and good conduct among the students, in cases not provided for by the Statutes; and of affixing penalties and punishments to violations of the same.

Students of the College were either matriculated or non-matriculated. Matriculated students were admitted upon payment of the required fees, and passing the prescribed examinations in their respective faculties. Non-matriculated students were permitted, without undergoing a preliminary examination to attend any separate course of lectures, but were not permitted to become candidates for scholarships, prizes, or degrees. The College was opened for the registration of students on 15th October 1849, and lectures began on 20th of the same month.

The following students matriculated from the opening of the College to 23rd December 1850; James Archbold, John Berwick (son of the President), Joseph V. Blake, Andrew Bligh, Anthony F. Browne, William A. Browne, George Bunbury, William Henry Comyns, Martin J. Comyns, Patrick J Comyns, Patrick C. Connolly, Dominick Dillion, James H Dopping, John Dowling, Charles Drysdale, Charles W. Duggan, Joseph Duggan, Richard F. Eams, Richard Eaton, John W. B. Ellard. Thomas Elliott, John Evans, Timothy Feely, Robert Ferguson, Peter Thomas Finn, Nicholas Fitzgerald, Patrick J. Ford, Martin Gardiner, John J. Gibson, Charles Gilmore, John Glynn, William Gordon, John H. Hearn (son of Professor Hearn), Exham Heffernan, John Howze, Patrick J. Hughes, Francis Hurly, Joseph Hurly, George Irwin, Burton Jackson, William Johnston, John Johnston, Christopher M. Heane, Patrick J. Kelly, Garrett H. Kilkelly, William King, Christopher Kyle, James Lawlor, George Lyons, Dominick McDermott, Robert McGowan, John McGrath, Thomas McGrath, George Y. McMahon, Thomas A. McMahon, James A. McMullen, Richard H. Maunsell, Robert J. Mitchell, James Montgomery, John Moorehead, Thadeus Murphy, Bernard G. Norton, John O'Brien, John O'Doherty, Thomas O'Hara, Charles O'Hara, Edmund O'Kelly, John O'Leary, William O'Meagher, Joshua Paul, Patrick Perrin, John Powel, Richard Power, John Richardson (son of the Demonstrator of Anatomy), Edward Roche, Dominick D.Ryan, Henry St. George, Patrick Scott, William A. Scott, Peter Skerrett, Thomas Skilling (son of the Professor of Agriculture), James Slator, John A. Smyth, Robert Stephens, Joseph Tully, Robert Walkingshaw, and James Worrell.

Candidates for the degree of A.B. were required to pass a Matriculation examination in English, Greek, Latin, arithmetic and algebra, geometry, and history and geography. After having passed the examination, every candidate was required to pursue a course of study extending over three sessions and had to attend the prescribed lectures during at least two terms of each session. In the first session the student could select either French or German; in the second session either Greek and Latin or higher mathematics; in the third session either metaphysics or jurisprudence and political economy. In all cases, one or other of the courses was indispensable. After having completed these courses of study, and having passed the required collegiate examination, students could them present themselves for examination for the degree of A.B. from the Queen's University in Ireland. Candidates for the degree of A.M. were admitted to examination one year after having obtained the degree of A.B., provided they had attended College Lectures for one term during the year, and followed a programme of (1) Languages consisting of an extended course of Greek, Latin and two modern languages; together with attendance on a course of lectures on one foreign modern language; (2) History and metaphysics or jurisprudence, made up of an extended course of logic, and of history and English literature; together with attendance on a course of lectures on metaphysics or on a course of lectures on jurisprudence and political economy; (3) Mathematics and Physical Science: an extended course of mathematics and of the physical and natural sciences, together with attendance on a course of lectures on mineralogy and geology.

There were also available a two sessions' course for matriculated students leading to the Diploma of Civil Engineer and to the Diploma in Agriculture. For the degree of M.D. candidates were required to pass the matriculation examination in the subjects of matriculation prescribed for students in Arts. Then followed a course extending over four sessions - three-fourths at least of the lectures had to be attended and to pass a sessional examination in the subjects lectured on during the session. Students were also required to give evidence of twenty four months attendance in a general hospital; or of eighteen months' out practice at a hospital or dispensary; and also a course of practical pharmacy of three months. Clinical instruction was given at the County Infirmary, Prospect Hill, by the professors of the medical faculty. In the faculty of Law candidates could obtain either a Diploma in Elementary Law requiring a course of three years; or the degree of LL.B. after four years. This degree required also the degree of A.B. For the LL.D. degree a candidate could not sit for the examination until three years after having obtained the LL.B.

A class in Celtic Langauges was open to all students, but chiefly recommended to students of the second year. The course and examination was based on selections from The Gospel of St. Matthew; Halliday's edition of Keating's History of Ireland; selected portions of O'Donovan's Annals of the Four Masters; selections from Hardiman's Irish Ministrelsy; and grammar and composition. Prizes were awarded to the best answerers provided they had attended the professors lectures during two terms of the session. Courses of supplemental lectures, open to the public, were delivered during the third term of 1850-51, by the Professors of Logic, Jurisprudence and Political Economy respectively.

The College was empowered at the commencement of the session of 1851-2, to confer twenty four literary scholarships and twenty one science scholarships, of the value of 24 each; also six medical scholarships and three law scholarships of the value of 20 each. These scholarships were divided in equal proportion among matriculated students of the first, second, and third years. Two scholarships in engineering and four in agriculture were also divided in equal proportion. During the session of 1850-51, prizes, varying in amount, were awarded in case of sufficient merit, to the best students in individual subjects, and separate prizes were awarded to each class in those courses which occupied more than one session.

At a general sessional examination held on 6th and 7th June, 1850 the students of the faculty of Arts were examined in the subjects appointed for the undergraduate course of study during the first session, and the most distinguished candidates were arranged in order of merit: 12 First Class and 12 Second Class. The other students who were allowed their examination, both at this examination and at the supplemental examination in October, were not classed in order of merit. All students who had passed the general sessional examination were qualified to present themselves for the examination in the special subjects to which prizes were awarded.

The total amount of fees payable to the College and to the several professors for the prescribed courses were: for the degree of A.B., 11, 10 and 7; for the first, second and third years respectively; for the Diploma of Civil Engineer, 11, 10s. and 10; for the Diploma in Agriculture 7 10s., and 7; for the degree of M.D., 13 10s., 13 10s., 6 and 6 (if a graduate in arts, 11 10s., 6 and 6); for the Diploma in Elementary Law, 7, 6 and 4; for the degree of LL.B and LL.D., 15, 14, 9 and 8. All fees for scholars were from 4 to 5 less. Fees were payable in two instalments. The first instalment included the College fee - 3 for the first year, and 2 for every subsequent year and a moiety of the class fees payable to the several professors. In the case of students of the first year the College fee only was required before the matriculation examination; and in the event of the candidate failing to pass the examination the fee was returned. Class fees varied from 1 to 3 3s. per subject. In addition to class fees non-matriculated students paid five shillings each session to the College and fifteen shillings for admission to the privileges of the library.

In accordance with the Act, clergymen of the several denominations were appointed as Deans of Residence: Catholic, Rev. Godfrey Mitchell; Church of Ireland, Rev. John Treanor; and Presbyterian, Rev. William Adair. Arising out of the Synod of Thurles in August, 1850 the Catholic clergy were prohibited under penalty of suspension, from taking part in the administration of the College, and the position of Father Mitchell was therefore an anomalous one; and although Archbishop MacHale had been appointed a Visitor by the Crown on 6th September 1850, he declined to act. The Bishop of Galway, Dr. Lawrence O'Donnell who was also a visitor does not seem to have refused to act in that capacity. But the danger apprehended from the constitution of the College did not arise so much, it seems, from the want of religious instruction, which all could have received at their respective churches, as the exclusive power vested in the Government to regulate the proceedings and absorb the whole patronage and control over the institution. The supreme authority was vested in the Board of Visitors appointed by the Crown.

At meetings of the Senate of the Queen's University in Ireland in October 1852, and 1853, degrees and diplomas were conferred on 14 candidates from the college. For the four years ended June, 1853, the number of admissions amounted to 379 made up of 358 matriculated students and 21 non-matriculated students. James Hardiman, M.R.I.A., was the Librarian and superintended its discipline. Professors and officers of the College, matriculated and non-matriculated students, persons who had made donations to the College, and all clergymen resident in the town's neighbourhood were by the Council privileged to read in the Library.

The Museum consisted of four departments: zoological and botanical specimens; geological and mineralogical specimens; a cabinet of physical and mechanical apparatus; and objects of art and antiquity. A collection of casts of fossils from the Siwalik Hills had been presented by the East India Company. Strangers as well as students were admitted to the Museum.

The Council had proposed to establish a boarding house adjacent to the College under its immediate control, by which arrangement it was hoped "to enable most effectually to secure and enforce regularity and good conduct amongst its students residing there and to afford them accommodation upon the most moderate terms". But by this time Sir Robert Peel was dead, and the Galway College like those of Belfast and Cork, received little support "even from the Government that founded them".

As already stated the Synod of Thurles proclaimed the Colleges as being dangerous to faith and morals. There were eight Catholic student since 1850 at all three Colleges, and strange to say, the number increased to twenty-one in 1851. on the whole, however, it would seem that the Catholics as a body would have none of them. The total number of students attending the College has varied considerably. They fell from 208 (87 being Catholics) in 1881-82 to 83 in 1898-90, of whom 28 were Catholics. In 1900-01 there were 31 scholars and 15 exhibitioners out of 84 matriculated students, of whom some thirty came from Belfast and the other Ulster districts. These Ulster students earned the name of "pot-hunters" through the regularity with which they carried off scholarships and prizes.

So long as our University College remains as closely linked with western society in general as it has been in our democracy for the past century, it will always be a live issue in our country. In spite of acknowledged academic glory, it would be against tradition if in Galway the logic of the learned community were pressed to its extreme, and the College became so academically severe as to find no place, among students or teachers, for any but the present scholars and searchers after knowledge.

The College has gone a long way since October 1849, without in fact losing its pedigree. How far dare it go in the changed conditions of today? In the report made by the President at the end of the session which terminated in June, 1850 it is stated that the College was opened under very unfavourable circumstances, owing to the smallness of the town population, the pressure of distress through the province, and "the almost total want of schools in it", to which may be added the death of the Very Rev. Dr. Kirwan, the president nominated in the charter, whose place has been supplied by the vice-president. Of the 68 candidates admitted at the entrance examination, 38 were Catholics, 22 members of the Established Church, and 8 of the Presbyterian Church.


Queen's University in Ireland. Calendars of Queen's College, Galway. Report of the Select Committee on Foundation Schools, 1838. Report of the Royal Commission, 1858; and Parliamentary Papers, 1858. Report of Queen's Colleges Commission, 1857. Lecky. - History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century. Balfour - Educational Systems of Great Britain and Ireland.