In 1790, the Rev Augustine Kirwan, Catholic warden of Galway, established the Galway Charity School near the Shambles Barracks for the education of poor boys. For a variety of reasons, the school failed and eventually, the Brothers of St Patrick, also known as the Patrician Brothers, an order founded in 1808, were invited to take charge.
Brothers Paul O’Connor and James Walsh arrived in Galway 195 years ago in 1826. They moved the school from near the Shambles Barracks to a site, also owned by the Charity School, to a disused former army barracks on Market Street. In January 1827, they opened their ‘new’ school. Three hundred boys attended the school that day.
Cash on hand was one shilling.
Social conditions in Galway were very bad. The Brothers had good friends in the local clergy and school committee, and this, coupled with their own zeal, firmly established the school, which was called 'The Monastery School', universally known as ‘The Mon’. Within a year, they had 700 boys attending, most of whom came from very poor backgrounds. They were often hungry and half clothed and it was difficult to get them enthusiastic for learning.
Brother O’Connor established two associations in the school, the Aloysian Society which concerned itself with matters spiritual, and the Breakfast Institute which was intended to provide a free daily breakfast for the poorest among the pupils. In 1835, the average attendance at these breakfasts was 135, but during the Famine, this figure rose to well over 1,000. During this period, thousands of Galwegians owed their very existence to the Patrician Brothers whose achievements are very well documented in two books by Brother Linus Walker called Fire Tried Gold and One Man’s Famine. Tradition has it that there were times that the Brothers were on the verge of collapse as they were sharing their own food with the boys.
This level of sustenance meant that attendance at school became a lot more regular and the boys' education continued so that the Galway Mercury was able to report that, “The Lombard Street school is far and away superior, not alone to any in Galway, but to any similar establishment in Connacht.” Sixty years after the foundation of the school, about one half of the money collected each year was still being spent on food, and the bulk of the remainder went on clothing. The importance of the charity lay in not only making attendance at school possible, but in making it attractive.
Some practical subjects such as carpentry were taught in addition to normal classes, a choir was established, a harmonica school band was set up, and sport, especially Gaelic games, was an important element of the curriculum.
In 1862, the Brothers set up St Joseph’s Secondary School (The Bish ) in Nuns Island and later a national school there. Rivalry between this national school and the ‘Mon’ was intense …. you could hear the war cries on the street, “Up the Mon and down the Bish, that’s the way to catch a fish;” “Up the Bish and down the Mon, that’s the way to catch a swan.” In 1954, these two schools amalgamated as St Patrick’s on Bridge Street and the Mon closed down.
The Patrician Brothers have unselfishly served the city of Galway for 195 years now and we are greatly in their debt. To honour their contribution we have two photographs today, one taken of the original building c1900, and the other of the cast of a play which obviously won a prize in a drama competition in An Taidhbhearc in the 1940s. The play was produced by Brother Dorotheus and the aisteóirí were, front row: Pádraic Hogan, Bohermrore; Seán Canavan, Long Walk; Michael O’Loughlin; Gregory Scally; Seán White. Centre row: Christy Mahon; Des Nolan; --- O’Connor; --- Conneely; Bertie McLoughlin; Paul Mahon, Mary Street. Back row; -------------- , Cyril Doyle; ‘Dickeen’ Flaherty; --- Burke; and Noel Keegan.
Our thanks to Bertie McLoughlin for the main image.