Bunscoil students in the Jes, 1963

In 1962, the Jesuit community in Sea Road celebrated the centenary of their school, and the following year they celebrated the centenary of the Church of St Ignatius. Eamon de Valera, who was president of Ireland at the time, attended the church celebrations, and our photograph today shows some of the students of the bunscoil applauding his arrival.

Included in the group are Ollie Daniels, Anthony Stephens, Pat Forde, Paddy Cunningham, Gerard O’Donnell, Dennis Callaghan, Tom Croke, Tom Lynch, Ger Savage, Cathal Blake, Dec Coogan, Johnny Brennan, Peter Healy, Seán Curran, Paul Moore, Seán Thornton, and Frank Phelan.

At the time, the Jes bunscoil and the secondary school were both housed in the stone faced building on Sea Road, the bunscoil occupying the ground floor and the secondary school taking over the first and second floors. This had been the case since 1862, but the school was about to undergo radical changes.

In 1968, a new school building was constructed on the other side of the church. It was named the Griffin Building after a much loved teacher, Danny Griffin. About the same time, Fr Seán O’Connor took over as headmaster and he introduced a very liberal regime. The first thing he did was to abolish corporal punishment, long before it was banned from all schools.

In 1971, the Jesuits built and opened a dedicated national school to be known as Scoil Iognáid, on Raleigh Row, with Niall Ó Murchu as its first principal. This was a major development and the numbers quickly grew. Today there are more than 600 pupils in this school.

In 1974, Coláiste Iognáid (the secondary school ) changed its policy of being an all-Irish school to education through English in the Xavier and Loyola classes, alongside a sraith Gaeilge which was known as the G stream. That G stream had a co-educational dimension and this started a perceptible change in the outlook and attitude of all the partners in the Jes. The co-ed experiment was an outstanding success and by the early eighties the entire school had become co-educational. This resulted in a significant increase in student numbers.

A new residence for Jesuit priests was built at the rear of the church, and this enabled the demolition of the old residence and boys’ chapel. A new state-of- the-art three storey school building was constructed on the site and this was formally opened recently by President Michael D Higgins. Today, the Jesuit educational complex is very impressive with some 1,300 pupils attending the two schools.

All of this information and much more is contained in a new publication entitled The Jes, 150 Years of the Jesuits in Galway, 1862 – 2012, an anthology of history, nostalgia, memories, and photographs edited by this writer. It is on sale in the school and in good bookshops at €30.

An Taisce is organising a tour of historic south Connemara on Sunday next, May 11, led by Seán Ó Coisdealbha. The coach will leave the bus station at 10am and you are advised to bring a packed lunch. Bookings can be made by calling Martin Byrnes at 091 794 435.

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