by Tom Kenny
The Patrician Brothers, at the invitation of the last Catholic Warden of Galway, arrived in Galway in 1826 and a month later they opened St. Patrick’s Monastery and School on Market Street. They initially had 200 pupils but this figure rapidly grew so that during the Famine, there were over 1,000 boys being educated, fed and many of them clothed there every day. The school was a major success but there were no educational facilities for older boys in the ‘lower orders’ in Galway so Bishop McEvilly invited the Patrician Brothers to set up a secondary school.
In 1862, 140 years ago, the Brothers managed to organise the funds to secure a house on Nun’s Island which had previously been occupied by Captain Thompson, superintendent of the Royal Atlantic Steam Navigation Company. It was a large building and by December of that year ‘four of the principal rooms had been organised as classrooms in the very best style without any regard for expense. There will be ample accommodation for about 200 boys’. And so ‘At a quarter past ten on Monday, January 12th, 1863, the first punctual pupil entered the Catholic Seminary of St. Joseph’s, Nun’s Island’.
They had 2 departments, The Initiatory English Department (fee £1 per year) and the Progressive English, Mercantile and Science Department (fee £2 per year) which aimed to prepare the senior boys for careers in commerce, the civil service, religious life and professional offices. The word ‘Seminary’ was soon dropped in favour of ‘College’ and the school became known as ‘the Bishop’s’ because of his patronage and the fact that he visited regularly and sometimes taught classes. This quickly abbreviated to ‘The Bish’ and that is how the school has been known since. In the early years, the enrolment was about 120 boys.
Eventually, due to an increase in numbers, extra classrooms had to be built but by the early 1930’s the student body had outgrown the building. Happily, the Brothers managed to buy the former Persse’s Distillery building across the road. A new school was built there and the secondary school moved across the road in 1931. It has a new motto, ‘Sanctitas et Scientia’− Holiness and Knowledge carved over the door but it retained its title of The Bish. The National School remained in the original building and became known as ‘The Sem’. It remained until 1954 when the Sem and the Mon were merged into St. Pat’s. A year later, the old National School was knocked and a residence built for the brothers. Parts of the building were later converted into classrooms. In the early sixties, the Secondary School was knocked and replaced by a new building.
Today the school motto is "Love God, work hard and take care of one another". Bishop McEvilly's decision all those years ago has made an extraordinary contribution to life in the city and to the lives of thousand of young Galwegians who spent their formative years there. Many congratulations to the school on their 140 years, Go maire sibh an dá chéad!
To celebrate, we have two photographs for you this week. The first is of the school building taken about 1932 and the second was taken a few years later at a time when the school did a lot of drilling and gymnastics. They often put on major displays of their skills in the Sportsground. You can see their motto "Sanctitas et Scientia" carved over the door behind the gymnasts. Come to think of it, in four years’ time we will be celebrating the bicentenary of the arrival of the Patrician Brothers in Galway.