Thursday, June 20, 1996

Sr. Xavier

She came to Athy in the year of the Eucharistic Congress to take up the Principalship of Churchtown National School. Delia Cosgrave was but 25 years of age but the Galway girl having spent four years in University College Galway was well qualified to replace the previous Principal the formidable Bridget Darby. Delia obtained lodgings in the home of Mrs. Cox at 26 Duke Street where she soon made friends with the daughters of the house Rita, Mossie, Thelma and Millie. The last named was later to marry Newcombe Empey's son and their son is soon to become the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin.

Athy appeared a depressing place to the spirited West of Ireland girl who had spent her early years on a dairy farm in Dangan on the outskirts of Galway city. However her friendship with Maureen Lawless, the first lay teacher in the Convent Secondary School in Athy and Sheila Hickey of Kilberry who was the newly appointed Principal of Barrowhouse National School ensured a happy social scene. Late night dances n the Town Hall were then grand affairs unlike the cheerless, colourless events of today. Musical evenings in Cox's with Mrs. Cox on piano accompanying Mr. Gill, a local Post Office worker and fellow lodger, and Mossie Cox, two vocalists of quality are remembered with nostalgia.

For the good friends, Delia Cosgrave and Sheila Hickey both Principals of local schools, the religious life beckoned and so it was that in 1935 encouraged by their friend Maureen Lawless they both decided to enter the local Convent of Mercy. One last trip awaited them this time to Twickenham for the annual international rugby game. So it was that Delia Cosgrave, Sheila Hickey and their companions Tess Morrin, a local V.E.C. teacher and Paddy Broderick N.T. in Wolfhill travelled by boat to London in February 1935. A last dance in the Irish Club in London before the return trip was followed by what must have been a most unusual sight as Delia Cosgrave distributed her jewellery and money amongst her friends as the train pulled into Athy Station. Awaiting her was Paddy Murphy's hackney car to bring her straight away to the door of the Convent of Mercy. So it was that Delia Cosgrave on the 11th February 1935 started her postulancy which was to end with her final profession as Sr. Xavier six and a half years later.

Having retired as Principal of Churchtown she was replaced by Paddy Dooley, later our local T.D. Pupils remembered from the rural school over 60 years ago include Jim Connors and his sisters Ellen and Mary and Pat Fennin. Also remembered are Lily and Nellie Dillon whose mother was the school caretaker. As a qualified teacher Sr. Xavier was immediately deployed in teaching the sixth class in St. Michael's National School and as her class passed on into St. Mary's Secondary School she also transferred with them. She was to remain as their class teacher until they sat their Leaving Cert. five years later.

Amongst the pupils in her first Convent class were Kitty McLaughlin, Kay and Nan O'Brien, Sheila May and Anna Fennin, Mary O'Brien, Maureen Walsh, Sydney Gannon, Jo Mulhall, Jo Lawler, Vera Cross, Essie Slator, Vera Bellew, Mary Jo Coogan and Brid Bergin. Her friend Sheila Hickey was to enter the Athy Convent in June 1935 taking Sr. Michael as her name in religion. Sr. Xavier was soon to be joined in the Convent by her own sisters Margaret who took the name Sr. Rose and Agnes whom we all know as Sr. Paul. Margaret had been a teacher in Galway V.E.C. before entering the Convent and while in U.C.G. had captained the College Camogie team. Agnes was a Clerk in the General Post Office in Dublin for a number of years before answering the call to the religious life.

St. Mary's School which had been a private Secondary School from 1922 and whose pupils did not sit the State exams became a grant aided secondary school in 1934. In fact it was an all Irish School until 1948 or thereabouts and it was there that the Cosgrave sisters from Galway taught until the 1960's.

Sr. Rose passed away some years ago but Sr. Xavier now in her 89th year retains an absorbing interest in the town where she has lived for the last 64 years. Sr. Paul, also retired, is still very much involved in her art work and especially with Athy Art Group with whom she is travelling to the Burren in Co. Clare on a painting expedition next weekend.

It is sometimes difficult to unravel the paths which led so many young women to join the Sisters of Mercy Convent in Athy in the years before the Second World War. Even more so when those paths started in Counties on the Western seaboard as in the case of the Cosgrave sisters or for the late Sr. Brendan in Co. Kerry. The advertisement placed by the local Parish Priest Fr. McDonnell in the national newspapers in 1932 seeking a Principal for the two teacher school in Churchtown brought Delia Cosgrave to a town about which she knew nothing. She could not then have envisaged that the rest of her life was to be spent in Athy which her late father felt was too far away from her home in Dangan, Galway. Three of the Cosgrave sisters were to come to the "far away" place, seldom heard of in Galway where they devoted their lives to the people of Athy. We are grateful for the work done in Athy by Sr. Xavier, Sr. Rose and Sr. Paul and for what the Sisters of Mercy have achieved in our town since they first arrived in 1852.

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