The Patrician Brothers in Galway

On this day, January 15 in the year 1827, the Patrician Brothers arrived in Galway for the first time. Brothers Paul O’Connor and James Walsh took up residence in the Charity Free School in Lombard Street. Three hundred boys attended that day. This school for the poor was originally founded in 1790 in Back Street (now St Augustine Street ). In 1824 it transferred to the Lombard Street barracks which had been built in 1749, and purchased from the government by Warden French in 1823. It had been a struggle to keep the school going so the Patricians were invited to take it over and manage it. The barracks formed three sides of a square, the Brothers lived in one wing and the school occupied another. It had one large room on the ground floor and one large room overhead.

The arrival of the Patrician Brothers may have been low-key, but it was to have a profound effect on the city of Galway. It was obvious to them from the outset that most of their pupils came from a background of desperate poverty. It was extremely difficult for pupils who came to school half naked and half starved to have any enthusiasm for learning. Attendance at school was irregular, and when they did come, they often fainted with the hunger.

To relieve the situation, Brother Paul O’Connor established an orphans’ charity, which was later called The Poor Boys Breakfast Institute. It began in May 1830 and continued seven days a week, 365 days a year, for many years. During the Famine, about 1,000 boys were fed here each morning.

The subjects which were taught at the Monastery School (known locally as ‘The Mon’ ) were designed to instil a sense of discipline and morality in the students. In 1828, school enrolment was 700. The Brothers taught the senior boys who in turn, as monitors, taught the younger boys. In 1848 there were four teachers in charge of 1,250 boys. In December 1906, one teacher had to cope with 78 pupils in the senior room. Our photograph of a junior class of approximately the same number of students was taken about that time.

In addition to the academic subjects, sport and music were major features of the boys’ education. The school produced many famous footballers and hurlers, and the harmonica band and choir were justly famous. Some very good singers graduated from this institution.

The ‘Mon’ closed its doors in 1954, and the pupils transferred down the street to the newly built St Patrick’s National School. The ‘babies’ class in the Mon were too young for St Pat’s, so they were sent to the Mercy Convent National School for a year. Some years later, in 1957, while the Convent of Mercy was building the new school, they held their classes in the old Monastery building for a time; in other words, the last pupils to attend the Mon were female. In 1993, the ‘Mon’ Old Boys Association erected a commemorative plaque on the site of their alma mater.

In 1862 the Patricians opened a secondary school, St Joseph’s College (The ‘Bish’ ) on Nuns’ Island, and some years later set up a national school, also on Nuns’ Island. This latter was amalgamated with St Patrick’s in 1954.

The Patrician Brothers have made an incalculable contribution to the quality of life in Galway over the last 188 years.

Most of the above is taken from James Casserly’s excellent history of the Monastery School.

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