Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Athy's Christian Brothers

It was twenty years ago that Brother Quinn, the last Christian Brother then living in the local Christian Brothers Monastery, left Athy.  His departure brought an end to 134 years of education in South Kildare by members of the religious order founded by Edmund Rice.

The first Christian Brothers arrived in Athy on Thursday, 8th August 1861 to open the primary school in a newly built single storied, two roomed building.  It had been built by local workmen and financed by local contributions, while the adjoining Greenhills House, once a private residence, was adopted for use as the Brothers’ Monastery.  The first Christian Brothers to arrive in Athy were Brothers Stanislaus O’Flanagan, Luke Holland and Patrick Sheely.  They travelled by train to Athy and were brought from the Railway Station by horse carriage to Greenhills House. 

The Christian Brothers School opened on Monday 19th August when 120 young boys were enrolled.  Over the next 134 years thousands of local school boys were educated at primary and secondary levels by several generations of Christian Brothers.  I have identified 180 of those Christian Brothers, but between 1870 and 1874 the monastery’s annals were not recorded and gaps also occurred at other times which did not allow a full list of the Christian Brothers in Athy to be compiled. 

On Sunday 24th September 1994 a celebration dinner was held in the local G.A.A. centre to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of Edmund Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers.  It was organised by a small group of local men and women who first came together the previous February but who learned soon afterwards of the proposed closure of the Christian Brothers Monastery and the handing over of the Christian Brothers schools to a lay Board of Management.  My first publication was the booklet ‘Christian Brothers Athy 1861-1994’ in which I attempted to set out the history of the school.  The following is an extract from that publication.

‘In 1931 owing to the large increase in the numbers in the Primary School an additional primary teacher was employed.  In that same year the school presented five boys for their Intermediate Certificate and three for the Leaving Certificate at the exam centre in Carlow.  That same year it is recorded that 75 schoolboys accompanied by 5 teachers attended the Spring Show in Ballsbridge which was noted as “a new venture for Athy.”  The sports and drill display was held in the Showgrounds on the 4th of October 1931 after 250 boys had paraded through the town from the school.  An aeroplane from Iona National Airways was hired for the day to give joy rides over the town and may possibly have been the first occasion on which an aeroplane was seen over Athy. 

In October 1931 work commenced on a new school hall by local contractor D. Carbery on ground donated by the Sisters of Mercy to relieve overcrowding in the Primary School.  Afterwards dedicated to the Sacred Heart it provided accommodation for manual instruction.  At the same time the playground was enlarged.  Fr. Maurice Browne, curate in Athy at that time and later the wellknown author of “In Monavello” and “The Big Sycamore” gave the first lecture in the hall on the topic “From Dublin to Rome”.  Local papers described it as well-illustrated and well-attended.

Pupils of the school were also involved in amateur dramatics around this time and in January 1930 they produced in conjunction with the girls from the Sisters of Mercy the play “Paul Twyning” which was put on in the local Picture Palace for the Christian Brothers School Benefit Fund.  In 1933 another play was also put on by the local boys for the school fund and in the same year it is noted that Mr. Scanlon of Newbridge commenced lessons on the violin with 40 boys from Athy Christian Brothers school.

In 1934 Athy C.B.S. achieved a notable victory on the football field when they beat Knockbeg College and later O’Connell’s School Dublin on their way to contest the Leinster Colleges Junior Football Final.  Unfortunately in the Final itself they were beaten by St. Mel’s College Longford.

In 1935 the Athy C.B.S. was a centre for the Intermediate Examinations for the first time where boys from the school and girls from the local Convent School sat the exams.  It was also of interest to note that five young nuns attended at the Centre to sit for their Leaving Cert.  Pupil numbers attending the school continued to increase requiring in September 1935 the employment of Mr. Pat Spillane as the second lay teacher where he joined Liam Ryan who had taken up duties in 1934.  January of 1936 witnessed an outbreak of diphtheria in the town and four deaths were recorded.  The schools were closed as a result of the outbreak.’

One past pupil wrote after the departure of the Christian Brothers ‘so from one poor school boy of long ago I just say thank you from my heart for giving us so much, for helping us so fully – and without ever expecting anything in return.’ 

Contact me if you would like a free copy of the booklet.

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