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Jesuits of Tullabeg


Tullabeg (Rahan), 1818-1968 Tuesday, 12th June
By Francis Finegan

In Jesuit Year Book 1969, pp 5-24

Just a hundred and fifty years ago, the Jesuits settled at Rahan. It was the second foundation in Ireland of the Society since the opening of Clongowes Wood College in 1814. And throughout the century and a half that have just ended the Rahan foundation was adapted at different times to different purposes: it was a school (and a very famous one) from 1818 to 1930, next, a house of ecclesiastical studies, 1930-'62 and latterly a house for enclosed retreats. Here we offer a brief historical outline for this venerable foundation which, since the beginning, has been known to the Jesuits themselves as Tullabeg, a name however, that seems never to have become generally accepted in the surrounding district.

Tullabeg: 1818
Father Peter Kenny was the first superior of the Irish Mission of the Society, which was restored in 1814. And almost as soon as he had purchased Clongowes Wood his thoughts turned to the establishment of a novitiate. His project was encouraged by the Bishop of Meath, Dr. Patrick Joseph Plunkett who in his early days had studied at Father John Austen's school in Dublin before the suppression of the Society in 1773. Indeed before the opening of Clongowes, Father Kenney had been assured by Bishop Plunkett that a Jesuit foundation in Meath diocese would be heartily welcome. It only remained to secure a suitable site and such a one was offered by Miss Maria O'Brien, heiress of the Rahan estate. This was in the winter of 1814-'15. A lease on very favourable terms of part of the lands of Rahan, described by Miss O'Brien herself as ''Tullybeg'', was granted to Father Kenney and in early winter of 1815 work on the building site was undertaken under the direction of a Mr. John Molloy who lived at Red Gate, Tullamore. The new building was ready for use in June 1818. But an early date the project of using Tullabeg as a novitiate (at least for future priests) was abandoned. It was decided, instead, that the new foundation should serve as a preparatory school for Clongowes. For some years to come, however, Tullabeg served also as a novitiate for the coadjutor-brothers.Here perhaps it should be remarked that the remoteness of Tullabeg from any important town - Tullamore did not become the principal town of then King's County until 1835 - suited admirably the restored Society' desire to shun publicity. For by the law of the land the Jesuits were presumed not to exist in the country then, nor for that matter for the next half-century! Accordingly, a plain, domestic style was deliberately chosen for the new house of Tullabeg as it was felt that even had the very modest resources of the Jesuits allowed it, a collegiate style of architecture might invite undesirable comment from the country gentry most of whom were thorough-going partisans of Orangeism. Over the first decade or so, the short wings and Church flanking the principal fašade were constructed. Until the opening of the public church, one or more of the priests of the new community helped out the parish priest of Killina in serving a widely flung parish.

First Rector
The first Rector of Tullabeg was Father Robert St Leger, a native of Waterford, who held office until 1831. Almost at the same time that he entered on his period of superiorship, his widowed mother and sister entered the religious life in the recently established Presentation Convent at nearby Killina. A couple of years later the rector received into his community his younger brother, Father John St Leger, so that for a time, four members of this Waterford family found themselves united within the parish of Killina - a good distance from their original home. It should be recalled that Maria O'Brien, the benefactress both of the Presentation Sisters and the Tullabeg community, herself entered the religious life at Killina and for the short span she was destined to live was known as Sister Mary Clare.Until the 1850's, the school of Tullabeg rarely counted more than thirty or forty pupils, all of them below or just in their early teens. The pace of life was unhurried and vacations (in the sense of holidays at home) were unknown. Still, events that spelled Ireland's shaking off the shackles of the penal laws could not have failed to quicken the hopes, sometimes the fears, of the Jesuit masters and their young charges: Catholic Emancipation, the affair of Shinrone, the Tithe War, O'Connell's Repeal movement, The Great Starvation of 1847. But otherwise over these opening decades at Tullabeg there was not even a train's whistle from the direction of Tullamore or Clara to disturb the Jesuits' work in class-room or church. Some of the priests, scholastics and devoted brothers who laboured at Tullabeg died there and were laid to rest in the old cemetery of St Cathage. Others, after a time at Rahan were transferred to new scenes of work in the steadily growing Irish vice-province of the Society. And some few of the Tullabeg community in the early decades were destined to see new and strange horizons.

Notable Jesuits
Father Robert St Leger, his brother John, who succeeded him as a rector at Tullabeg and Brother Edward Sinnot sailed to India in 1834. Robert had been appointed by the Holy See as Vicar Apostolic of Bengal but, at the insistence of the General of the Society, was not consecrated as bishop. Four years later, however, the Vicar Apostolic was recalled by the Holy See over a disagreement with his policy for Catholic education in the vicariate. It is almost needless to add that Father Robert St Leger was accompanied back to Ireland by his brother- these brothers never lived apart. Brother Sinnot, however, remained abroad. Father John Ffrench, master at Tullabeg, 1833-'34 and rector 1850-'55, later became vice-provincial and finally assistant to the general at Rome where he died in 1873. Father Patrick Duffy, also a master at Tullabeg in the 1830's was later a military chaplain in the Crimea and after nearly thirty years work at Gardiner Street Church, Dublin courageously volunteered in his seventy fifth year for the Australian mission. Under the Southern Cross he got a new lease of life and died still in harness at the age of eighty-eight. Father Joseph Dalton, also a teacher at Tullabeg (1839-'40) and rector (1861-'65) likewise exchanged Tullabeg for Australia where even today his memory is green for his stupendous success as a church and college builder. His most notable achievement was the building of Riverview college, one of Australia's most famous schools. The Stately collegiate chapel of Riverview was later erected to his memory and is known as the Dalton Memorial Chapel.Father Alexander Kyan, a member of the Tullabeg community in the 1840's, was born in Calcutta, the son of an army officer, and spent his boyhood in the east. But one wonders whether his pupils at Tullabeg recognised that his family name had already passed into history. For he was the nephew of Esmonde Kyan, one of the gallant men of '98, who gave his life for Ireland on the scaffold for his part in the rising in Wexford. Later, Father Kyan went back to India where he laboured for a time. He returned, however, to the land of his ancestors and became one of the best-known of the Jesuit missioners in the last century.

Famous Pupils
On the present occasion only a very few of the distinguished pupils of Tullabeg up to the 1850s can be mentioned. These names have long since entered the history books and are chosen at random. Richard Dalton Williams, poet and contributor to the Nation, was at Tullabeg, 1832-'39. He joined the young Irelanders and died in America in 1862. His contemporary at Tullabeg, Patrick Joseph Smyth also joined the Young Ireland movement and his part in assisting John Mitchel's escape from Tasmania is recorded in the Jail Journal. In more peaceful times, Smyth returned to Ireland, became a defender of tenant right and served as a nationalist member of parliament. Alfred Aylward, a pupil at Tullabeg from 1855 to 1858, joined the Fenian Brotherhood and spent his life fighting British rule throughout the world. He was at the Manchester rescue on 1867 which resulted in the execution of the 'noble-hearted three', Allen, Larkin and O'Brien. Aylward was afterwards mentioned in dispatches as causing harm to British interests in South Africa. From the Transvaal he set out for India where for many years he acted as a secret service agent for the Russian government. The last field of his anti-British activities was Canada where he fought in arms in Riel's rebellion. Two years later, 1887, he died in a railway accident in the State if New York. Aylward must have known in Tullabeg the young William Francis Butler whose future career was destined to be so different from his own. Butler chose service in the British army where he attained the rank of General. Other honours conferred on him were a knighthood and membership of the Privy Council. He was a chivalrous soldier, an exemplary Catholic and a good Irishman. At the apogee of his career he was appointed to the chief command in the war against the Boers but for conscientious reasons declined the appointment- Butler rightly considered Britain's action in South Africa as undertaken for purely mercenary motives. As well as being a distinguished soldier, Butler was also a poet and a man of letters. He died at Cahir in 1910.

The College
For the first thirty years of its existence Tullabeg school only catered for classes up to and including Grammar but from 1851 onwards for the next twelve years the school had so developed as to bring the curriculum for al classes or to the level of that of Clongowes. This meant incidentally that by 1863 boys were remaining for all classes up to the level of that of Clongowes. This meant incidentally that by 1863 boys were remaining for all their secondary education at Tullabeg instead if leaving to complete their studies at Clongowes. New buildings had to be erected in order to implement the change in the school's status. During the rectorship of Father Matthew Seaver, 1855-'61, the fine large east wing, known ever since as the Seaver wing, was undertaken and completed and now provided extra dormitories, class-rooms and refectory. During the rectorship of Father Alfred Muphy, 1865-'70, the north wing was built parallel to the original house to provide the College with a commodious college chapel and study hall. By 1870 the school buildings at Tullabeg were in every way superior to those at Clongowes.In the first phase of the school's expansion, it was Father John Cunningham (1817-'58) who introduced science into the curriculum. It is unlikely that the poor in the surrounding districts ever heard much if Father Cunnigham's scholastic ability but certain it is they noticed his zeal and helpfulness as a confessor. In every kind of trial and distress his help was sought and that never in vain. Even in his lifetime he seems to have acquired the reputation of a thaumaturgus so it is hardly surprising that when he died at the early age of forty-one, his grave in the College grounds became a place of popular pilgrimage. Father Alfred Murphy, who was a former pupil of his, on becoming rector of the College had Father Cunningham's coffin exhumed and deposited in a vault outside the altar rails on the gospel side of the people's church. This was done, probably not so much to honour the memory of the good Father as to make sure that the poor that the poor and the sick who wished to pray by the resting place of their understanding friend should not be exposed to the inclemency of the weather. It was the same Father Murphy who added the modest but adequate campanile to the public church. By the end of his term of office Tullabeg had developed into one of Ireland's greatest colleges, yet as a college it was destined to endure only another sixteen years!

Last Years of Tullabeg College
Fr. William Delaney became rector in 1870 and guided the destinies of Tullabeg for the next decade. He had already served as a master at Tullabeg from 1860 to 1865, the years which saw the school draw level in scholastic standards with Clongowes. Needless to say with his fine abilities as an educationalist he saw to it that scholastic standards were excellently maintained but he was also aware that such standards for many of the pupils could only end in frustration when they had finished their schooling. For the Catholic University could not legally confer degrees while Trinity College, Dublin and the Queen's Colleges were distrusted by Irish Catholics, laity, clergy and hierarchy alike. Delaney was aware that his own alma mater, Carlow College, had for some time past availed itself of the facilities afforded by London University for conferring extern degrees. And by 1876 he had his first batch of Tullabeg boys entered for the London matriculation. The results were highly gratifying from the start and later results attained much favourable comment when it was noticed that young men from Tullabeg were high up on the list of the successful candidates for Arts and this against the competition of many thousands of English students. In 1881 a First Place and First Exhibition were secured by Tullabeg. Even today the small wing at the north east of the Seaver building is known as the 'B.A.'s'. It was here of course the candidates for the London University degrees lived and studied. The government, it is said, had these Tullabeg successes in mind, when it introduced the Intermediate Education Act in 1878 and set up the Royal University of Ireland (purely an examining body) in 1882. Henceforth, Tullabeg boys after their school days could prepare for the degrees of the Royal University under the guidance of the Jesuits at University College Dublin.From the start, Tullabeg eagerly embraced the new Intermediate system and immediately took its place in the van of Irish Schools competing for the medals and exhibitions. Not so Clongowes which gallantly tried to combine the glories of Academy Day- public oral examinations invariably attended by distinguished scholars and professional men- with the new system. Tullabeg had immediately dropped Academy Day for the simple reason that few outsiders ever turned up for these academic feats in so out of the way a place! It is then scarcely matter for surprise that the younger college was now outshining her elder sister.The end of Tullabeg's glory was sudden. The great school closed forever in the summer of 1886 to the consternation of boys and masters. The hard facts were these: both Clongowes and Tullabeg were in debt. But the real reason for closing Tullabeg as a school should be sought perhaps in the fact that the Irish province was suffering acutely from lack of man-power. Not only had the province opened three other schools over the preceding quarter-century but it had also taken on a large slice of the Australian mission. So the Tullabeg boys, regretfully leaving the college with its wonderful playing fields (laid out by a German refugee, the famous Father Wisthoff ), were transferred to Clongowes.In the year of the 'amalgamation', 1886, the Tullabeg boys who were a smaller school than Clongowes, secured seventeen exhibitions in the intermediate examinations; Clongowes secured thirteen.

Later Famous Names
The list of distinguished Tullabeg men during the last quarter century of the College's existence can bear comparison with that of any of our great Irish schools. Again we have place only for a few names and again they are chosen at random. Joe Dolan of Ardee, later graduated with distinction in ancient classics but chose to return to work in his family's business. An ardent nationalist, he was an early supporter of the Gaelic League and of Sinn Fein. He died as he lived, an exemplary Catholic gentleman. Timothy Corcoran became a Jesuit and was many years Professor of Education at University College, Dublin. In this branch of knowledge he enjoyed a high repute throughout Europe. Throughout his long and distinguished career he supported every worthy movement for his country's uplift. Joseph McGrath, who studied for his B.A. (London) at Tullabeg, became (Catholic) secretary of the Royal University - the secretaryship was held jointly by a Catholic and Protestant. On the replacement of the Royal by the National University of Ireland, Sir Joseph became the new university's first registrar. Mathias Bodkin, at Tullabeg, 1866-70, courageously declined the chance of studying for a degree in any of the then existing Irish universities for the good reason that he set high store on his Catholic heritage. Instead, he studied for the Irish Bar and having secured his B.L. took on journalism as well, -and wrote novels. He was appointed County Court Judge for Clare in 1907. He as a man of courage who, during the war of Irish Independence, denounced the atrocities of the Black and Tans. His indictment of English military misrule in the country was cited by Asquith in the British House of Commons. Novitiate of the Irish ProvinceFor two years, 1886-88, Tullabeg was maintained by only a few Fathers and Brothers to look after the church. Soon however the College buildings were assigned to a use for which they never had been intended. From the summer of 1888 down to 1930 Tullabeg was the novitiate of the Irish province when it was transferred to Emo. Portarlington where it still is.Much or little can be recorded of a novitate where the young men are initiated into religious life. It is enough to say here that up to the early 1940s every Irish Jesuit priest then living- many happily still survive- had spent his first two years in Tullabeg. For many who entered there since 1888, their journey through the religious life led to new strange horizons: China, Canada, India, Australia, and South Africa. It is almost a truism that the old and sick are not always the first to die. So at Tullamore a few novices rest in the community cemetery. One of them should be remembered here for the good reason that he was a schoolboy at Tullabeg before the amalgamation. He was Alexander Kickham, nephew of Charles Kickham the Fenian and celebrated author of Knocknagow. After the closing of Tullabeg College, Alexander went to Clongowes where after a career of outstanding brilliance- he was a gold medallist and exhibitioner- he returned in 1890 to what had been his old school but now the novitiate. In every way he was a novice of outstanding promise but he died shortly before his first religious profession in July 1892. Of the masters of novices who sojourned at Tullabeg successively to initiate their young charges into religious life, it is almost superfluous to say they were one and all specially picked men. One of them can be remembered here, Father Michael Brown, not simply because he was the master of novices of Father John Sullivan but for his own sake also. In his time he was a widely sought spiritual director and for the consolation of many whom he guided during his priestly life his biography was published as was also that of his well-known spirtual son, John Sullivan but for his own sake also. In his time he was widely sought spiritual director and for the consolation of many whom he guided during his priestly life his biography was published as was also that of his well-known spiritual son, John Sullivan.In 1911 the College opened its doors to the Jesuit tertians the young priests who made a third year's novice ship before their final profession. Many of them came to Tullabeg from England, America and different countries on the continent. Today there are Jesuits working working in English or American cities or on a wide variety of foreign missions that cherish unfailing, grateful memories of their year in Tullabeg.It would be ungrateful to pass over the names of those Jesuits English and Irish, who acted as Instructors of testians during this period, Frs Gartland, Welsby, Nolan and Bridges.

House of Studies
The novices were transferred to Emo in the summer of 1930 and a few weeks later another kind of Jesuit community took possession of the old Tullabeg College buildings: the young men of the Irish province fresh from their University studies and now taking up philosophy, the first part of their ecclesiastical training proper. For the next thirty-two years Tullabeg was faculty of philosophy. In 1962 it was decided that with drastically changing conditions the students of philosophy should be brought within reach of more extended research facilities than was now possible at Tullabeg. But in those decades of its existence as a philosophical faculty, Tullabeg served the Irish province well.Once more we may pause to recall the names of a few of the distinguished professors who lectured there and have since passed to their reward: Father Joseph Canavan, a very learned man with a flair for poetry and a active interest in so down-to-earth a subject as sociology; father Arthur little, philosopher, humorist, poet and a very accomplished violinist; Father Eddie Coyne, philosopher and economist who could make his abstruse subjects intelligible to the layman. All three gave the best of their high talents for the benefit of the young men who studied under them at Tullabeg. Their passing was long mourned by the Irish province and many friends of the Society.

House of Retreats
Tullabeg it seemed had exhausted all its possibilities of a school, a novitiate, a house of ecclastical studies. Still this old Jesuit foundation could be adapted to a new need of the later decades of the twentieth century; a house of retreats. Even its hey-day as one of Ireland's foremost Catholic schools back in the 1870s the Tullabeg community counted amongst its members some Fathers whose business it was to conduct missions and retreats for religious communities. And in the days when the train was the only known form of speedy travel, Tullabeg with the nearby railway centre of Tullamore was a convenient starting point for any direction of the country. A few missioners were ever afterwards stationed at Tullabeg when it served as a novitiate and later a philosophate.Notable names amongst the mission band at Tullabeg in the last century were those of Father Charles Young, Christopher Carton and Philip O'Connell. The last mentioned had been a distinguished priest in Kilmore diocese before he became a Jesuit and was in fact rector St. Patrick's College, Cavan when he applied for admission to the novitiate. Father Young, born in 1798 was thirty-four years of age when he entered the Society. He was the son of wealthy parents and after his school days lived in the south of Spain where probably he was engaged in the wine trade. A long sojourn in this agreeable climate may well have helped him to live so long as he did. He was fine missioner still, even in his late seventies, and for many years after he had retired from that exacting labour he was still on the active list. He was almost ninety-eight when he died at Tullabeg in 1896. He had the longest life ever recorded of any Irish Jesuit priest before or since.Other well-known Jesuit missioners who lived for a time at Tullabeg about the turn of the century were Fathers Andrew Macardle, Patrick Mac Williams, Tom Murphy and William Gleeson. Father Tom Murphy is said to have been one of Ireland's most distinguished pulpit orators since the days of the great Dominican Father Tom Burke. Father Murphy carried his remarkable talent modestly. He was proud of one thing only: he was a collateral descendent of Father John Murphy, the patriot Wexford priest of 1798. Father Patrick Barrett, another of the missioners once stationed at Tullabeg is still remembered, particularly in Dublin, for his zeal in organizing enclosed retreats for men at Rathfarnham Castle. Fathers Micheal Garahy, Richard Devane, Timothy Halpin and Frank Browne, all of whom were known and respected. Nearer our own times, the Tullabeg missioners included included throughout the length and breath of the country. Father Garahy, a native of Cloughan, was no stranger in the Tullamore district. He entered on his career as a missioner as a young priest and it was commonly thought that he was prepared by his superiors for no other work. In fact he was a distinguished scholar and had been groomed to be a professor of theology. But after one year in his professorial chair at Miltown Park was asked to be relived of his teaching duties in order to have an outlet for his desire to impart theology to the people. As a missioner he never spared himself until failing health forced him to retire from his long journeyings. Father Devane was recalled to Dublin for work at the retreat house of Rathfarnham Castle. He was also a distinguished writer and pioneer in sociological studies.Missions and retreat work therefore have a long tradition amongst members of the Tullabeg community. Today the Fathers at Tullabeg receive into their house men who wish to avail themselves of the peaceful surroundings of the old College to think of the great truths of the faith and in so doing, find peace of soul. It is a wholesome experience to retire from a short space from the feverishness of modern life. Even in earlier centuries when life was not feverish, it was characteristic of Irishmen to seek out the holy places - Lough Derg for instance - and then to come back to the work - a-day world the better for the experience. And so ends this necessarily brief account of the activities of Tullabeg over the past 150 years. Well does the foundation fulfil the motto if her sister college Mungret, "Your youth shall be renewed as the eagle's".


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