I was reading through some notes from the Annals of the Christian Brothers in advance of the class reunion last weekend and what I found may be of interest to some readers. It was a short history compiled of the early years of the Christian Brothers in Athy which opened as follows :-
“On the ground now occupied by the Brothers’ house and schools, stood formerly a monastery of Crossed Friars, built about the year 1253, by Richard de St. Michael Lord of Rheban. It was granted in the 17th of Charles II to Dame Mary Meredith.
The present dwellinghouse was built upwards of 100 years previous to its being handed over to the Brothers. During the above time it passed into several hands, mostly Protestant, until at last it and the adjoining fields were purchased by His Grace, The Most Rev. Dr. Cullen Lord Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough.
The whole concern containing about 12 acres, was handed over by His Lordship, the aforesaid Paul Cullen to the Very Rev. Andrew Quinn, P.P. Athy, and Canon of the Archdiocese of Dublin, who subsequently built two school-rooms by the aid of the parishioners and a few friends, but chiefly by the assistance of the generous and truly charitable Mr. Pat Maher of Kilrush in this county (Kildare), who principally at the suggestion of his eldest daughter, Mrs. Mary Teresa Maher, Superioress of the Convent of Mercy, St. Michael’s, Athy, gave £400.
When the Schools were finished in the August of 1861, three Brothers, viz - John Stanislaus Flanagan, director - Francis Luke Holland, sub-director - and John Patrick Sheehy, lay-brother, were sent by our Very Rev. Brother, Michael Paul O’Riordan, Superior General, to conduct the establishment, which was put into the possession of the Brothers on the 8th August 1861.”
The Annals, after making some references to the local Model School, continued :-
“The Brothers commenced the Schools on the 19th of August 1861 having some months previously obtained the consent and signature of the above Dr. A. Quinn to the following conditions :-
1. The Premises to be occupied by the Brothers to be put into proper repair, and furnished.
2. Two Schools to be built (each 36 feet by 26, with a lecture-room 10ft. wide between) on a site convenient to the House.
3. The Brothers to have the management of the Schools and to be allowed the observance of their Rules in the same manner as enjoyed by them in other places.
4. The School-pence paid by the children, to be at the disposal of the Brothers for the benefit of the Schools.
5. £30 a-year to be allowed each Brothers, this sum to be realised by subscriptions, collections, or sermon, as the Very Rev. Dr. Quinn may appoint.
6. The Brothers to be prepared to take charge of the Schools in the month of December, if necessary.
The part of the land not occupied by the Brothers is held by the Parish Priest who received the rent of it. The Brothers have nothing to do with the payment of taxes, etc. This being done by the Parish Priest.
Soon after the coming of the Brothers the above-mentioned Dr. Cullen, Archbishop said Mass in the Domestic Chapel, after which he blessed all the rooms and house. From that morning the Brothers have enjoyed the privilege of having the Blessed Sacrament in the house.
Shortly after the opening of the School it was found necessary to secure the services of a third School Brother. He was accordingly applied for by Dr. Cullen, who succeeded in obtaining him on the same condition as the three Brothers already mentioned. The salary of the fourth Brother (Hugh Francis Sweeney, novice) was procured for 2 years by the before-mentioned Mrs. M. T. Maher, from her father. Both Mrs. and Mr. Maher deserve the grateful remembrance of the Brothers.
The grounds about the dwellinghouse and schools continued in a very neglected state for about 3 months after the coming of the Brothers - then a few of the influential men of the town undertook to defray the expenses necessary to be incurred, and the place was rendered somewhat comfortable before the Brothers entered their Annual retreat before Christmas 1861.
The very necessary appendage of gas was introduced into the house in the beginning of January 1862 at an expense of £20, which sum was supplied by the benevolent Mr. P. Maher.
On the second Sunday of January this year, a Lending Library was opened for the benefit of the children and others who might wish to join it. Mr. Maher gave £5 for the purchase of books. For some months after it could only number 8 or 9 members.
According to the present arrangements the salary of the Brothers is procured by means of two collections every year, made at the doors of the Parish Church - one in February, the other in August. These collections are totally in the hands of the Parish Priest who, if they did not realise the required sum is bound to make up the residue as best he can.
On 31st July 1862 the Brothers held the first public examination of their pupils at which His Grace, The Most Rev. Paul Cullen presided. The examination was held in the room occupied by the junior pupils, the desks were removed, and a platform was erected at the lower end of the room on which the children stood while undergoing the examination. The visitors, who amounted to very near 300 persons, sat on chairs, or stood facing the children. The chairs, for the occasions were abundantly supplied by well-wishers in the town, who, moreover, sent as much carpeting as covered the whole floor and platform. The walls and window recesses were tastefully decorated with evergreen and flowers. There were present besides the Archbishop - the Very Rev. Canon Quinn P.P. of Athy; Rev. H. M. Manus, D.D., Rev. Thomas Doyle; Rev. Eugene Clarke, P.P., Narraghmore and many more. The examination commenced at 11 o’clock and continued until 3 o’clock during which time the audience displayed the greatest interest. At the conclusion the pupils presented the Archbishop with an address which was read by Master John Lawler.”
If ever you walk up St. John’s Lane past the entrance to what was the Christian Brothers Monastery you may notice that the crest about the doorway gives the year 1862. It was in 1911 that the high wall around the monastery similar to that which still encloses St. John’s Cemetery was lowered and a new entrance provided to the Monastery on which was surmounted the Christian Brothers’ crest with the date of the foundation of the Athy house. Clearly a mistake was made when 1862 was given as that date.