Our photograph today which shows the beginnings of the construction of St Mary’s College was taken in 1911.
The solemn blessing of the new finished building took place on August 25, 1912. An immense crowd assembled on the natural terrace in front of the college and surrounding grounds as High Mass was celebrated in front of the main door of the building.
The final fitting of the school had taken place during that summer and by the time the first students arrived on August 26, most of the staff had been appointed and reflected a mixed team of clergy and laity. The subjects taught were Latin, Greek, mathematics, English, French, science, history, and geography. Irish was not on the curriculum for the first few years. The number of boarders totalled 60 by the end of the first term, and there were 17 day boys. On August 27, the first scholarship examinations were held, “to discern what was our degree of intelligence and in what grade we should be placed — Preparatory, Junior, Middle or Senior, as the grades were then known. And then classes started in the normal way (on the 28th ) as if the place had existed for twenty years”.
The gymnasium was built adjacent to the school in 1914, and four years later the external grotto was added. Being a diocesan college, the Catholic ethos was very important to the school.
The grounds were in very bad shape; so much so that on a few occasions, blasting sent stones in through the windows of the main study hall. “Our games activities were hybrid, we started off with soccer and then switched to Gaelic and had a few games before Christmas. After Christmas we switched again — to rugby on this occasion! We were none the less patriotic for all this switching, Galway was then a garrison town”. Handball was a favourite game and a double alley was built behind the main building.
The granite bedrock made the laying of pitches very difficult, but finally, in the spring of 1929, the senior pitch was levelled at a cost of £600. More than 11,000 tons of clay and rubble had to be carted into the site. Almost all the stones and other filling material came from the then proposed site for the new cathedral, the former Shambles Barracks on Bridge Street.
Cultural activities played an important part in student life, a long tradition of drama productions began in March 1919 when the first plays in the college went on stage. In 1921, the school’s literary and debating society held its first meeting and another tradition was born. Proficiency in music was promoted from the beginning.
The school has undergone many changes since it opened.
The first major building extension started in 1939 and another took place from 1956-58. A new pitch was built in 1962/63. In the last 50 years Coláiste Mhuire has continued to evolve, to improve its facilities, to vary its curriculum, and to cater for many different kinds of sport. A new chapel was built as well as a gymnasium, study hall, and classrooms. New pitches were created, a ball alley erected, and tennis courts constructed.
Graduates of ‘Mary’s’ have distinguished themselves in commerce, in education, in the Church, and in sport at home and abroad. This major Galway institution has just marked its first 100 years with the publication of St Mary’s College, Galway, Centenary 1912-2012. This impressive book is a real celebration of the achievements, the staff, the pupils, the colourful characters, the victories and the disappointments which had such a formative influence and helped mould and improve thousands of lives over the years. It was compiled by Peadar O’Dowd and is lavishly illustrated. It is a must for every past pupil of the school, but it also of great general interest. Very highly recommended at €25 in good bookshops.
Finally, I would like to thank all those people who supplied me with suggestions, information, or photographs during the year. It would not be possible without you. Bliain nua faoi shéin is faoi mhaise daoibh ar fad.