There is historical evidence to show that there were Jesuits working in Galway in the early 1600s. Even before that, men from the west of Ireland were entering the Jesuits which indicates that their reputation had arrived here very shortly after the Order was founded. They had a chequered history here (as they had in the rest of the country ) in that they were banished several times, but they kept coming back.
They returned, at the invitation of Bishop McEvilly, in June 1859 and moved into a house on Prospect Hill. St Patrick’s Church was made available to them on a temporary basis and then they moved into a house on Eyre Square where they set up a college. The premises were not ideal so they purchased a site known as Sherwood’s Fields on Sea Road.
On March 21 1861 the foundation stone for a new school was laid, and remarkably, 11 months later it was sufficiently finished for the Jesuits to move in and begin teaching classes. The school grew rapidly in the first few years catering for boys aged nine to 13 and the curriculum included mathematics, Latin, Greek, and elocution.
1862 was a good year for Catholic secondary education in Galway with the Jes opening in February and the Bish opening in December. In March of that year, work began on the building of the Jesuit church and on July 31, the Feast of St Ignatius, the church, the residence, and the college were officially opened and dedicated.
In the early years, the numbers were inconsistent because many people still sent their children to the Model school and because many could not afford to pay the fees in the Jes. Academic standards were very high and over time, other subjects were added to the curriculum. In the early 1900s some ground was purchased to the rear of the college, and eventually adequate ground was bought to provide a playing pitch to the delight of the boys.
In the twenties, numbers were very low and the financial situation was critical so it was decided to close the college, but the citizenry protested and eventually this pressure paid off and the school reopened in 1929. This brought a new cohort of Jesuits and charismatic lay teachers to the school whose love of Irish culture and the Irish language changed the name from St Ignatius’ College to Coláisde Iognáid. It became an all-Irish medium school, Scoil A.
Since then the school has continued to evolve and change, it became co-ed, there are now English language streams as well as Irish, a dedicated bun-scoil was built across the road in Raleigh Row, the curriculum was greatly expanded and the level of extra-curricular activity is extraordinary. Between national and secondary level, there are now some 1,300 pupils.
All of this information is taken from an article by Paddy Lydon in a new book entitled The Jes, 150 years of the Jesuits in Galway, 1862 -2012. It is a wonderful collection of history, reminiscence, social history, and profiles, and is profusely illustrated. It is a wonderful addition to every Galwegian library. It will be launched in the new school building on Tuesday next, May 6, at 5pm by Seán O’Rourke and all Jes-heads are invited. The book is on sale in the school and in good bookshops at €30.