One hundred and ninety five years ago this week, the Presentation Sisters opened their convent on Presentation Road, on March 25 1819 to be precise. Some years before that, Doctor ffrench, the warden of Galway, went to Kilkenny to ask the sisters there if they could found a convent here. He had a fund for the purpose, and so, on October 27 1815, three sisters arrived to a house in Kirwan’s Lane. This building was not large enough for them and the 30 girls of the school which had been handed over to them by a committee of ladies, so they moved into a larger house on Eyre Square where they remained for three years.
The house they moved into in 1819 ‘at the west end of the suburbs’ had originally been built as a Charter school, and was later a military barracks and later left vacant for a period. The sisters set about renovating the building and, at the same time, the construction of a new school building on the river bank which opened in 1820. Soon large numbers were coming to the school. According to the constitution, “The Sisters shall with all the zeal, charity and humility, purity of intention and confidence in God undertake the charge and cheerfully submit to every labour and fatigue annexed thereto. The scholars shall be divided into classes of ten or twelve. There shall be a book in which the mistresses shall register the names and addresses of the children at their entrance, the names of their parents, their occupation in life and their places of abode. The children shall be taught reading, writing, needlework and spinning. The hours of the school shall be in the morning from nine till twelve and a quarter, and from one till half past three o’clock.”
When the National Board was established in 1831, the sisters adjusted the school programme to bring it into line with the department’s rules and regulations, but the spirit of their teaching remained unchanged.
As time went on, the building was extended and remodelled. During the Famine there were 900 girls attending, and the sisters set about procuring food and clothing with such zeal that the school developed into a very important Famine relief centre.
The school was a national school, primarily for girls, but a number of boys were admitted among whom two of the best known were Padraic Ó Conaire and Walter Macken.
Our photograph today shows a group of those male students taken in 1908. They are, front row, left to right: --- Condon, John Smith, ----------- , Jim Tobin. Second row: WJ Rooney, John Little, G Rooney, M Madden, Jack Madden, --- Concannon, M McGrath. Third row: ---- Murphy, P Holland, Frank Kelly, --- McGrath, M Fallon. Back row: S Cooke, --- Lavelle, P Smith, Stephen Roland, Robby Lydon.
Over the years, the Presentation Sisters and their schools have made an enormous contribution to the quality of life in Galway, and they have influenced the lives of many thousand of Galwegians in their formative years.