As the Penal Laws began to relax at the beginning of the 19th century and conditions became a little more lenient for Catholic religious orders, some of them began to think of a return to community life. The Dominican Nuns, whose community had flourished during Penal times, was now reduced to six. There was a lot of building going on in the area of their nunnery in Cross Street, and houses closed in their convent on all sides, making a life of strict enclosure very difficult. The sisters began to search for another house, more secluded, where they could follow their Rule, free from distraction.
They found a house called Seaview on Taylor’s Hill and moved in on June 4, 1845. It had eight rooms, a medley of kitchens and stables behind the house, as well as five acres of land. The first thing they did was to build a small chapel. They bought some cattle and sheep and ran a successful farm which proved beneficial almost immediately, as the scourge of the Famine spread. A kitchen was set up to feed hundreds of the poor sufferers of the locality and surrounding areas. People travelled from as far away as Spiddal to be fed here. A workshop was set up where girls were taught to knit and sew and whatever articles they produced were sold off for their benefit.
Their financial situation was becoming increasingly difficult so they decided to open a boarding school for children of the better off classes in order to improve their straitened finances. One hundred and fifty five years ago this week, on September 8 1858, they opened a day school with just two pupils, Mary Mullins and Margaret Wade. By the end of the year, the number had risen to 30. The pupils of this school for young ladies had to observe the following: Each young lady to approach the Sacrament of Penance once a month; out of school no pupil is to associate with a companion unless she has the sanction of her parents and the Religious. The lessons marked were to be well studied at home and music pupils were to practise for one hour every day.
The daily duties in the curriculum were religious instruction, English reading, parsing, dictation, needle work, and tables. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday they had grammar, arithmetic, history, chronology and French conversation. On the other days they had sacred history, geography, spelling, mythology, writing, and French dictation. In addition, on Monday they had English letter; on Tuesday, object lesson; on Wednesday, natural history; on Thursday, astronomy; and on Saturday, long religious instruction.
Our photograph today, which was originally taken about 100 years ago, shows a number of classrooms which are normally separated by sliding partitions. These have been opened up to make one large room which probably doubled as a chapel, if one is to judge by the altar at the far end. The desks were the type that flipped open and had a groove near the top to hold your pen or pencil, and also a ceramic inkwell.
The Dominican Sisters have now been involved in education in Galway for 155 years. Their school complex has expanded greatly in that period and they have made an outstanding contribution to the quality of life in our city.
The above information comes from A Rich Inheritance, a History of Galway Dominican Nuns 1644-1994 by Sister Rose O’Neill.