The first co-ed class in the Jes

St Ignatius College’ on Sea Road opened its doors for the first time in 1862. The Jesuits built a residence and a church at the same time and the move proved to be a success for them. Attendances at Mass and ceremonies grew rapidly. The college, however, was more of a challenge. The boys ranged in age from nine to 13 and the subjects taught included mathematics, Latin, Greek, and elocution. The numbers at first were as expected. They grew steadily to 90 in 1865 and reached 110 by 1874, but they began to fall thereafter and were inconsistent from year to year. The number recorded for 1899 was 49. 

The reasons for this were that a number of Catholic families continued to send their boys to the Model School despite the bishop’s objections, and that the Jes was a fee paying school and thus beyond the means of many. Academic standards, on the other hand, were very high. Over time, new subjects were added to the curriculum. Towards the end of the century, a new wing was added to the school and things began to improve. However the 1920s presented significant political, economic, and social challenges and dwindling numbers of pupils forced the school to close in 1926.

A lot of pressure was applied to the Jesuits because of this decision, and they reopened in 1929 with a very different teaching staff, many of whom were very young and involved in the Irish language revival. The school was now known as Coláiste Iognáid, and all subjects were taught through Irish.

The school evolved and went through many changes. In the early 1970s there was a growing resistance to the teaching of all subjects through Irish and considerable time and discussion in the school went into reviewing the future. At the end of the 1974 summer term, a decision was made to change to a three form entry, one of which was to be co-educational and known as the Scoil Gaeilge and was the Irish medium section of the school. The other two forms were to be taught through English. It was a difficult decision for some but this new policy was to prove successful, and within 10 years, Coláiste Iognáid would be completely co-educational.

Our photograph today is of the very first co-educational class in the school taken in 1974/75. They are, back row, left to right: Aidan Murphy, Eoin Foyle, Dermot ‘Doc’ O’Connor, Joe Kelly, Pádraic Fadden. Third row: Éamonn MacNiocaill, Richie Byrne, Martin Savage. Second row:  Sheila Dunne, Máire MacNiocaill, Cáit Conneely, Dónal Ó Murchadha. In front are Frank Canavan, Fr Paddy Tyrrell SJ, headmaster, Brother Michael Crowe, and Paddy Lydon. This is one of the many illustrations in a book entitled The Jes, 150 years of the Jesuits in Galway, 1862 – 2012 which is still available in the school and in good bookshops. An ideal Christmas gift for old Jes boys or girls.

Speaking of which, the annual Mass for deceased past pupils and staff of the college will take place on Sunday at 11am in the Jesuit Church. It is always a special occasion, a nice way of remembering friends and colleagues who have passed away, and of catching up with many of those who are still with us. All are welcome.

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