The History of St. Macartan's College

The Seminary

St. Macartan’s College and Grounds in 1990

An early picture of the Seminary

 The need for Catholic colleges was recognised at the Council of Trent in 1546. There each bishop was instructed to provide, in his own diocese, a training ground or seminary where boys destined for the priesthood should have their teenage education. Because of the centuries of persecution that caused great deprivation to the majority of the Irish population it was not possible to establish such schools in this country. Instead because of their love of learning and indomitable spirit, many Irish students travelled abroad to continental Europe to receive their education and training for Holy Orders.

 The Great Gathering of Catholic Clergy at theCouncil of Trent

Those who did not travel abroad, were in some cases educated by local scholars in hedge schools or classical schools. A survey in 1824 showed that there were 9,300 hedge schools in Ireland with 400,000 pupils. In the best of these schools the standard of education provided was high.

The Hedge-School Master 

 Among those educated by hedge-school masters were Oliver Goldsmith, who has left a memorable account of his village school master in his poem, The Deserted Village:

“While words of learned length and thundering sound
Amazed the gazing rustics ranged around,
And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew
That one small head could carry all he knew.”

In north Monaghan the novelist William Carleton recieved his education in a hedge-school in Glennan. His tutor was Fr. John Keenan, a curate in the parish of Donagh.

The Works of William Carleton

 A classical school was established in Park Street, Monaghan at the turn of the 19th. century by Dr. H. O’ Reilly, Bishop of Clogher. In this day-school Classics, Philosophy and Theology were taught by Rev. Michael Mc Ginn who initially was the sole professor there. in 1806 the school was converted to a diocesan seminary by the next bishop: Dr. James Murphy. This first seminary went out of existence soon after 1814 but the desire to provide a proper residential seminary was still very strong. in 1824 Dr. Murphy provided funds to go towards the establishment of a seminary.

In 1829 Catholic Emancipation was won under the guidance of “The Liberator” Daniel O’ Connell. This allowed Catholics the right to receive an education and practice their religion without fear of prosecution. On 12th. July 1829 at a meeting of the Clogher Chapter presided over by Bishop Edward Keenan the decision was made to commence planning for a residential diocesan seminary on a site in Monaghan.

Daniel O’Connell speaking at a Mass Meeting circa 1825

Early in 1839 a lease was granted by Lord Cremorne,(of the Dawson family from Dartry) for a farm of 16 acres in the townland of Mullaghmurphy on which to erect the proposed seminary. The cost of the 999 year lease was £264.16s. The following letter is his reply to Dr. Kernan.

 “My Lord,- I take the first oppurtunity of acknowledging the receipt of a letter signed by your Lordship and the Catholic clergy of the Diocese of Clogher asking me to grant a lease for ever of some land on which to erect a Seminary for the purpose of educating catholics for the College of Manooth or for any professional or commercial pursuit.
An institution of such utility must, of course meet with my approbation, and I trust I shall have it in my power to accede to your wishes as to leasing the lands in question. I regret that my absence from Ireland should occasion any delay in bringing it into effect, but shall take the first oppurtunity on my return home in Spring of attending to this matter.

I have the honour to be, my Lord,
Your most obedient servant,
“To Right Rev. Dr. Kernan.”

Dartry House, Rockcorry, Home of Lord Cremorne.

Plans and specifications were prepared by the architect Mr. Thomas Duff of Newry. The work of clearing and preparing the site was immediately undertaken. Rev. Thomas Bogue, P.P.,  Rosslea undertook the role of contractor, clerk of works and general foreman for the project. At the peak of construction, he was supervising the work of 700 men. These included stonemasons who quarried the stone, carpenters and sawyers who were employed to cut large sections of timber to useful lengths. These tradesmen were paid 6p a day and labourers 5p a day.

       The Stone-Mason and his Tools &  The Stone-Mason Creating Sparrow-Pecked Effect.

The clergy of the diocese contributed most of the money required to finance the project. At a meeting of the Bishop and clergy of Clogher on 25th. May 1840 donations totalled £2607 were handed in or promised. the building fund eventually amounted to £3596. The impoverished laity did what they could to help, providing free labour where necessary. In August of the same year we note Fr. Bogue requesting Fr. Duffy (Scotstown) support for the transport of materials:

“I expect all the horses and carts of your parish to draw stones on Tuesday next. We had, on Thursday,138 carts from the “Mass Garden.”

On Wednesday 8th. July 1840 the foundation stone was laid by Bishop Dr. Edward Kernan. A celebratory dinner was held in a local hotel, a toast was drunk to Bishop Kernan and he was cheered enthusiastically.  When it concluded his Lordship responded by returning humble and sincere thanks to the company gathered and further added,

“I am an old man now, going down the hill of life. And what a source of gratification it was to me on this day, to have the honour and pleasure of laying the first stone on a seminary in my diocese, which will provide the blessings of religion and education on yet unborn generations. That seminary will tend to the glory of God, and the diffusion of literature and virtue. education raises the peasant to the level of gentleman – it makes a man respectable in this world, and prepares him to be happy in the next. “

The central section of the building was ready by the Summer of 1848 and the first students arrived. Boys like John Cassidy from Drumully arrived and Francis Lennon from Tyholland, Hugh Maguire, Clones, Richard Owens, Brookboro and Peter Hughes from Clontibret to name just a few of the 32 who attended St. Macartan’s Seminary between 1848-1857. The subjects they studied were Classics, English Literature, Italian, Mathematics, Philosophy and Theology.

Over the next 50 years the facilities of the school were extended considerably. In 1902 the school inspectors william Cassie and T.M. Edwards noted in their report after visiting the premises:

“There are fifty five students on the rolls…..The teaching staff numbered eight: six clerical, one layman and one unrecognised. A farm of about thirty acres supplies produce for the school. Outdoor recreational facilities include a cycle track, two large grass playing fields two ball courts  and a gravel-surfaced playground in the square formed by the main buildings on three sides and on the fourth side by a concrete paved ambulatory. All the rooms and corridors are heated with hot water pipes. There is a fine chapel, dining hall, study hall with separate desks, a bootroom, a museum, a fairly stocked library, a dormitory and many separate bedrooms besides classrooms and a dwelling for the staff.”

By 1920 St. Macartan’s was a well established and highly respested centre of education. It catered for educating youths who were interested in persueing professional careers as well as those continuing with further education for the priesthood.. Young men like Francis Darrigan travelled from Bundoran and Gerard Sweeny from Ballyshannon. More local pupils included Thomas Conlon, Monaghan and Terence Molloy, Latton.
Additional science laboratories and dormitories were added to the east wing and on their completion in 1908 St. Macartan,s was regarded as one of the best equipped schools in the country.

In 1919 Bishop Patrick Mc Kenna asked the Sisters of St. Louis to take charge of the domestic management of the Seminary. The Sisters were welcomed to the college on 25th. August 1919, St. Louis, day. Sister M. Claude wasin charge, with sisters M. Peter and M. Immanuel as assistants. One of the sisters took charge of the kitchen, another acted as matron looking after the health of the students and the third supervised the keeping of the college and sacristy. Their presence did a lot to soften the severity of life in the college.

A small convent was built on the college grounds ( now the building to the right of the canteen) for the St. Louis nuns and their domestic staff. The nuns continued to live as a community in the Seminary until 1984. Sister Conla then continued commuting each day from Louisville until June 1990 when the association with the college ended.

Canon Hugh Finnegan

Canon Hugh Finnegan was president of St. Macartan’s in 1940, the year which commemorated the commencement of work on the Seminary a century previously. Many notable dignitaries of church and state were present to celebrate the occasion on Whit Monday, May 11th. The attendance included His Eminence Cardinal Mc Rory, his Excellency Dr. Pascal Robinson, Papal Nuncio, a host of bishops including two eminent past pupils of St. Macartan’s, Dr. Mulhern, Bishop of Dromore, and Dr. Mc Namee, Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise and the Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera,  Mr. James M. Dillon, TD, and Justice Martin Maguire. Almost all the parish priests of Clogher diocese and most of their curates were there.

A report  in the Centenary Souvenir booklet indicates that it was a day of 

” of impressive ceremonial and pageantry. Up to eleven o’ clock a stream of motor cars turned underneath the arch inscribed Fortis et Fidelis at the main entrance and roared up the avenue through a tunnel of green trees gaily festooned with bunting round to the massive grey front of the college on the hill. at the front door they halted to unload the guests who were received by Very Reverend Hugh Canon Finnegan, President of the College.

The College was looking its best on its birthday nestling away in seclusion behind its screen of trees, the brilliant green of the terraced lawns crowned with the vivid glory of tulips in bloom contrasting wonderfully with the grey, weather-beaten facade of the building itself-beauty, grandeur and solemnity, the keynotes of the occasion.

Decoration was everywhere, the black and amber, the school colours, being particularly prominent, flashing triumphantly in the brilliant sunshine as they swayed in the gentle breeze. St. Macartan’s was 100 years old, but its very appearance told one that it was vigorously alive.”
The celebrations began with Solemn High Mass in the College Chapel during which Dr. Mc Namee preached a sermon based on the history of the College. Afterwards the guests were entertained in the Concert Hall where the students presented two historical, costumed tableau, dealing with the lives of St. Macartan and  St. Enda. It was reported that the students performed their parts in a manner which not only must have satisfied their audience but also must have made the staff of St. Macartan’s very proud of them.

The Centerary Souvenir, an entertaining and informative book was published which recorded the events of the first 100 years of the College’s history. It also included articles related to the diocese, distinguished past pupils, and accounts of activities within the school.

Mr. Shane Leslie of Glaslough, Monaghan, wrote an epic poem: The Centenary Ode, which recounts in verse the story of St. Macartan, the struggle for Catholic education in Penal times and the growth of St. Macartan’s Seminary into a respected centre of learning.

All hail a hundred years of toil complete !
Lighthouse of knowledge in a land of peat
And little lakes and sloping pasture-side
The training house of youth: old Clogher’s pride.”

The beautiful opal glass Stations of the Cross which are at present in the College Chapel are the work of the artist, Richard King. These 14 stations were commossioned for the centenary celebrations and have been admired by successive generations of students.

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