THE STORY OF OUR COMMUNITY
GALWAY – PRESENTATION CONVENT, PRESENTATION ROAD
Presentation Convent, Galway was founded on 27th October, 1815 with its origins in Presentation Convent, Kilkenny. The Founding Sisters were, Sr. Mary Gertrude Breen, Sr. Mary de Chantal McLoughlin and Sr. Mary Angela Martin, with “education of the poor in the spirit of Nano Nagle” its main concern.
It was Dr. Edmund French (1812-1831), last Warden of Galway, who brought the Sisters to the city of Galway, known as the city of the tribes. Elizabeth Nagle, Nano’s sister, had married Robert Ffrench of Rahasane in South Galway in 1758 and this was the connection.
The location of the convent (Oct 1815 – Feb 1816) was at “Kirwan’s Lane” taking over a small school which had been run by a Committee of ladies for 30 children since 1808. From 1816-1819, they moved to a larger house in Eyre Square (then known by its old name of Meyrick Square) in order to have accommodation for large numbers of children.
In 1819, they came to the present house (c1752-1798) which was once a charger school (1755-1791) which did not prosper, then a military barracks and later a fever hospital. It was derelict. The house was renovated and had place for the Sisters and the school.
The initial benefactor was Sr. Edmund Ffrench, warden of Galway 1812-1831. Rev. Bartholomew Burke, P.P., St. Nicholas Parish left £6,000 in his Will, £4,800 of which, he had collected for the foundation. In 1821-1822 side wings were added and in 1827 the upper storey was built.
The first Presentation Primary School was opened in 1820 and included a laundry and breakfast room, used during the famine. The building was of concrete and stone, two storeyed, L shaped, which housed between 900 and 1000 girls. An addition to this school in 1931 was called “The Infants School”. In December 1966 this building was demolished – after a century and a half!
When the school came under the Board of Education in 1831, the teaching of religion became a “problem”. One anecdote (oral) which has come down to us has the Sisters saying: “under the Board or over the Board, I am going to teach catechism”
During the Famine, breakfast provision became an integral part of the Education system. Presentation Sisters established a female breakfast institute, which grew to cater for 170 “destitute little ones” in 1844, this was a third of the total enrolment in the school.
A new Primary School was completed in 1965 – Scoil Chroi Iosa. A Secondary-top had begun in 1947 in the old school. During the building of the new secondary school (which began in 1966 and was completed in 1968) the pupils of the secondary school were accommodated in the new Gymnasium hall and also in Scoil Chroi Iosa. There have been two pre-fabs added to the new Secondary School.
Currently there are three Sisters in Primary Education in schools and one Sister in Secondary Education. Two Sisters are in Catechetics and Faith Formation at Diocesan level. In Vincent de Paul there is one Sister and 15 sisters in Prayer support, community and parish support as well as “living the present moment”
The foundations in Ireland from Galway are as follows:
8th May 1833: Blackrock, Salthill, Galway – 5 sisters – recalled again in 1835 (no pupils)
9th May 1835: Tuam – Sr. De Sales Coppinger, Ignatius Blake, Louis Tighe
2nd May 1833: Limerick -d returned in 1836 – 4 Sisters
1839: Ennis – returned in 1841 as funds had failed
1861: Oranmore – Srs Catherine Martyn, Teresa Donnellan, Joseph Oliver, Anthony Walsh
1955: Shantalla, Galway.
In 1833, Srs. Magdalene O’Shaughnessy, Xaveria Lynch, Bernard Kirwan and Xavier Moloney traveled to New Foundland and in 1919, Srs Stanislaus, Augustine Maum and Gerard O’Connor went to Pickering.
The first train arrived in Galway in 1851. There was a problem about the times of arrival because there existed “Dublin time” and “Galway time”, eleven and a half minutes in the difference. After 1870, the town clock had to be put forward by that amount, but Publicans persisted in serving drink beyond official closing time, pleading with Magistrates that they were keeping “Galway time”!
FURTHER INFORMATION (An older article – origin unknown):
PRESENTATION CONVENT, GALWAY 1815
In 1815, Dr. Ffrench, Catholic Warden of Gal way, visited Kilkenny to request sisters of the Presentation Order there to establish a convent in Galway for the education of poor children. His appeal was favourably received by the Kilkenny Superioress and her community. Dr. Marum, Bishop of Ossory, sanctioned the undertaking. Three sisters were chosen for the Galway foundation – Sisters Gertrude Breen, Mary de Chantal McLoughlin and Mary Angela Martin, who was appointed Superioress. On the 27th October 1815 they arrived in the city where the inhabitants received them “with great demonstrations of joy” and were anxious to provide them with suitable accommodation.
The sisters first resided in a house in Kirwan’s Lane, where a poor school had been established in 1808. At the time, about 30 poor children “boarded and lodged” there, superintended by a committee of ladies. This undertaking was handed over to the sisters on their arrival. On the 28th October 1815, Mass was offered in their residence in Kirwan’s Lane and this event marked the date of the foundation of the Presentation Order in Galway.
As the house in Kirwan’s Lane was not large enough to accommodate the sisters as well as the children under their care, they moved into a large house in Eyre Square where they remained for three years. On the 25th March 1819 the sisters moved again to a house in the suburbs, which had been vacant for some time. It had been built originally as a Charter school. Later it was taken over the by the Government as an artillery barracks and later still it was used as a fever hospital. By 1819 this building was in a dilapidated state. Much expense was incurred in repairing the house, garden and enclosure walls. The sisters performed their task of renovation and reconstruction with considerable care and endeavoured to preserve the main block, which was the Original Galway Charter School. This is now incorporated into the present-day Presentation Convent.
In the Autumn of 1819 Sister Angela Martin, who had been Superioress during their first difficult and trying years in Galway, became very ill and returned to the Convent in Kilkenny in October 1819. She died the following January at the early age of 38 years. On 8th November 1819 Sister John Power was sent as Superioress to Galway to replace Sister Angela. In 1821, just over a year after her arrival, she undertook the building of a new school close to the Sisters’ residence. Soon, children came in large numbers to the newly built school. The sisters realised that if they were to educate the poor children they would have to feed their bodies as well as their minds. The 20 “orphans” as they were called, being the really destitute of the city’s female youth, were housed, clothed and fed. As time went on it was necessary to accommodate a bigger number of such children. About 1829, an extension was connected to the new school built in 1820 and contained a special department known as the “Breakfast Room”, where hundreds of children daily received their morning meal, funded by voluntary subscriptions.
During the years of the Great Famine the sisters set about procuring food and clothing for their pupils with such zeal that the school developed into an important famine relief centre. Urgent appeals for help were penned by the members of the Community to relatives and friends not alone in Ireland but also overseas in America and Europe. The moving pleas from the sisters were in no small way responsible for the generous gifts of money, food and clothing which reached the community for distribution among the famine victims.
The custom of giving lunches at midday to necessitous children continued until the late 1950’s.
But the sisters never lost sight of the importance and necessity of education in the lives of the children. From the earliest days they were taught reading writing, needlework and spinning. When the National Board of Education was established in 1831 the sisters adjusted their school programme to bring it into line with Department “Rules and Regulations”, but the spirit of their teaching remained unchanged and their commitment to Religious instruction stronger than ever. It is evident from various official reports that the sisters’ aim was to train the children in skills which would prepare them to earn a living. The teaching of lace-work was introduced at an early stage and training was also provided in Domestic Economy, shirt-making, knitting and netting. As the number of pupils increased the sisters adopted the system of training some of them to instruct those “more ignorant than themselves” under the guidance of an adult master or mistress. The number of girls trained as monitors by the sisters was truly phenomenal. These Galway girls were appointed to positions not only in Galway but also in counties throughout the country, while one made her way to America, where she was employed in a teaching capacity. The last member of the community to fulfil the office of directing monitors was Sr. Baptist Smyth, who was a trained teacher before joining the sisters. The monitorial system ceased to exist in Galway in 1925 when the Department of Education under the Irish Government formulated new plans for recruiting national teachers.
Early on in the life of the Galway Community, the call to extend the Presentation Mission came in a plea for help from Dr. Fleming, Bishop of Newfoundland. In 1833 he requested sisters to establish a foundation there and four sisters answered the call. Reliable sources claim that they were the first Irish Religious to cross the Atlantic to educate and uplift the need in far away places.
Other foundations over the years include Tuam 1835, Oranmore 1861, Picketing 1919 and Shantalla 1955.
In 1965 the opening of the new primary School and the commencement of a new secondary school, coincided with the celebration of the 150th year of the Presentation Sisters in Galway. The dedicated service of the pioneering sisters of 1815, both in the social and educational fields, is still undertaken in Presentation Centres in the Galway of today.