THE STORY OF OUR COMMUNITY
PRESENTATION CONVENT, ST. JOSEPH’S, TUAM
Our Community was founded in Tuam, on 10th May, 1835 at the request of Archbishop McHale on receipt of Mr. Burke’s legacy which was in Galway Presentation Convent. The founding Sisters were Sr. de Sales Coppinger (Superioress), Sr. Lewis Tighe, Sr. Ignatius Blake and Sr. Veronica Cunningham. The reason our school was founded was because no school existed for girls in the town other than a private, fee-paying school for the “well to do”. Mr. Burke requested that the Sisters be brought to educate the poor.
The Convent is located in Tuam town, beside the Cathedral. St. Jarlath’s College, the Bishop’s residence and the Mercy Convent are also located around the Cathedral. The Townland is Currylea and the Convent is build on property owned by William Burke and given for said purpose. Mr. Burke, a Dubliner, who lived in Currylea, Tuam, had made a lot of money in business and he bequeathed a legacy (£30,000) to Archbishop McHale for the foundation of the Presentation Convent and other similar Institutes in town. William Burke’s statue stands on the Cathedral terrace. A Ms. Anna Burke, no relation to William, also helped out financially.
Extensions to Convent were begun in 1848. There was a new wing added comprising a Kitchen & Dining Room and St. Brigid’s & St. Patrick’s corridors. In the early ‘60’s an annex was added to the dining room. In 1991- 1992 the building was converted to a Nursing Home.
Since 1835, the Sisters had taught in their own residence and in 1852 the first school was opened. The building consisted of a solid, masonry, two-storey structure. The school began with 300+ pupils and steadily increased to 500. A new school was built in 1956, just over 100 years later. Subjects taught were Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Spinning, Needlework, Christian Doctrine, Cookery and Laundry. There was also Sunday school Irish. An Inspector’s Report of 1889 also lists Music, Drawing and French. During the Famine years, the work of education had to be abandoned in favour of feeding the starving. The school became a kitchen and they erected sheds in their yard for this purpose. A Soup Kitchen was operated from near Bishop Street Gate.
Anecdotal Early Tales: Dr. McHale was opposed to the National Board of Education, hence there was no financial aid until his successor, Dr. John MacEvilly, acknowledged the Board and became Patron of the school in 1881. The Grant enabled the Sisters to extend the curriculum. Prior to this, the Sisters had greater freedom when the school was a voluntary school and even taught the forbidden subject “Irish”! They displayed religious objects in their classrooms – this was much ‘frowned on’ when they came under the Board. (See reference below re Sacred Heart picture). The Sisters also tried to set up an Alms House for aged women and appealed to the Public for help; however, the Scheme had to be abandoned for lack of funds.
The new Primary School opened in 1956 – to accommodate it on the site, the Cemetery had to be relocated to its present position. The school celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2006. This particular year also marked the end of the Sisters in the school after 171 years. Many events took place in the course of the year 2005-2006, culminating in a great celebration in November, 2006. A Commerative Book was launched and a plaque unveiled in the school to honor both events.
The old primary school building is now used as extra accommodation for the Sisters and is called St. Veronica’s, after one of the founding sisters, noted for her generosity towards the poor. The first lay principal, who was also the first lay teacher in 1977, was appointed in 2007.
Rising enrolment and the requirement of extra rooms for Resource Learning and Language Support necessitated the erection of two large pre-fab classrooms. Ground space being limited, meant that a piece of ground had to be supplied by Convent. A Shelter had to be removed to provide extra playing space and another Shelter developed into small classrooms.
Development of Secondary School: In 1882, a house at Bishop St. Gate, known as St. Joseph’s, became a Boarding House for pupils, beginning with 5 pupils. In 1897, three houses on Dublin Road, later St. John’s, were purchased for £300 to accommodate the increasing number of Boarders. In 1905, a building of St. Jarleth’s was used also and in 1956 the Protestant Bishop’s Palace was purchased – this is now known as “Joe O’Toole’s” Restaurant. In 1912 the school came under the Intermediate Board of Education and, with payments received, four new classrooms were added, together with a Library. From 1956, the old Primary school housed the Secondary School. The introduction of ‘free education’, announced in 1967, led to increased enrolment and to the building of a new boarding secondary school in Currylea in 1971. A convent on the Currylea site was finished on 1972 to accommodate the community of teaching Sisters.
The Boarding school was phased out completely by 1990, as it was becoming increasingly difficult to supervise Boarding accommodation and, in any case, children had easier access to a greater range of local schools.
Development of Other Ministries from late 1970’s onwards: Sisters were invited by the Archbishop to do home and household education with the women in Estates. Sisters also became involved in visitation of homes, adult literacy classes organized at night for Travellers, Religious adult education, teacher exchange between Currylea and St. Jarleth’s, provision of religious classes for Technical School, involvement in Parish Pastoral Team, involvement in Parish Pastoral Council, classes for handicapped in Toghermore and in Prayer ministry in the Parish and in Knock. In addition Sisters assisted various voluntary Organisations – handicapped, wheelchair, cancer care, St. Vincent de Paul and social services. A Sister also acts as Diocesan Advisor and some are involved on Boards of Management.
Foundations in Ireland from Tuam: Athenry (1908), Headford (1910), Keel, Achill (1919), Tiernea (1935), Carraroe (1956) and Currylea (1972).
Foundations/Missions Overseas founded from here: New Zealand (1950) founded by M. Zavier Curran, Sr. Asicus Shanaher, Sr. Pius Carney, Sr. Catherine McHugh and Sr. Perpetua Leahy.
The Presentation Mission in Peru and Chile, founded from New Zealand, has a special link with St. Joseph’s, Tuam. Two of the religious working in this depressed and underprivileged part of South America began their religious life in Tuam.
FROM AN OLD ARTICLE (in Out of the Shadows):
WHEN ARCHBISHOP McHALE arrived in Tuam in 1835, he bemoaned the fact that there ‘was not a solitary convent in the diocese‘. This was quickly put to rights by the response to his invitation to the Presentation Sisters in Galway to found an institution in Tuam town. Thus, the Presentation Convent of St Joseph’s, on Bishop Street, is the oldest extant convent in the archdiocese.
As a cloistered Congregation at the time of their arrival in Tuam, the sisters were confined to their own grounds and could engage in education and works of charity only in their own premises. Even to participate in the Sunday schools of the time at the nearby Cathedral was beyond their remit in those days. This stemmed from the canonical classification of their Order as an Order with solemn vows in the approval given by Rome after the death of the founder, Nano Nagle.
Their first primary school was a long, low, thatched building, adjacent to Bishop St, which was accessible through a gate now used only as a pedestrian entrance, from the street itself. In 1848, the Sisters built their Convent on the Cathedral terrace behind their school. There was, at the time, only one school, a ‘pay school’, in Tuam. This was of benefit only to the children of the well-off. When the sisters opened their primary school, they immediately had a massive intake of 300 children.
As was the case with other religious congregations in the diocese, the sisters had to provide their primary school out of their own resources. The embargo by Archbishop McHale on joining the government scheme for National Schools, and the consequent loss of government aid, made life hard for the sisters. The reason for the embargo only became clear to the Sisters many years later, when, under the regime of Archbishop MacEvilly, the sisters were at last permitted to apply for recognition as a National School. Whereas the school got an excellent report from the Government inspectors, they were directed by letter to remove all Catholic emblems from their classrooms during times when subjects other than Religion were being taught. They were specifically instructed by the Commissioners that they were to remove the picture of the Sacred Heart in a certain classroom.
In an interesting reply from Mother M J McTucker, dated 7 December 1898, the case is made that only Catholic pupils were attending the school and that the work referred to was the work of the children themselves and that it served ‘as as a constant encouragement to them in their drawing, the aim being to do one like it for their own home’. The letter from the doughty Superior ends with a memorable line: ‘We took down the drawing according to your directions, but have replaced it again, awaiting your reply‘.
A Boarding School — 1890
In about 1852, the sisters commenced a type of secondary schooling and in 1890 began to provide boarding facilities. This school submitted students for what was called ‘the King’s scholarship’, but did not become a registered Secondary School under the Intermediate Board founded by the Intermediate Education Act, until 1912. Therefore it was not in receipt of any of the new Government grants which might be payable on the basis of the results achieved in these examinations. The school, however, was to gain a national reputation for the excellence of its results in the King’s scholarship. In one particular year twenty girls secured places in the Training College. In those years, the school was run by Sr. Aidan Murphy, a particularly gifted teacher.
An advertisement for the Tuam Presentation Convent School in The Irish Catholic Directory for 1912, for ‘young ladies‘, where ‘most particular attention was paid to the health and deportment of the children’ and where ‘pupils are taught such subjects as Shorthand, Drawing, Painting, Typewriting, Book-keeping and French as well as Cooking, Laundry and ornamental Needlework’. Significantly, the advertisement states, almost as an afterthought, that ‘an Intermediate School has also been started this year.’
This Intermediate school meant that the school was now recognised under the Intermediate Education Act and could submit students for the public examinations. Based on the results achieved, the school could qualify for small grants. This would be the origin of the Presentation Secondary School from which the huge modern-day Presentation College at Currylea, Tuam has grown.
At the time of its inception in 1912, the Intermediate school was based in part of the old Primary school on the Cathedral Terrace. Extra buildings were constantly being added, without any grants, and the Primary school itself was itself replaced by a new Primary School on Dublin Road only in 1956. In opening this school, provided at a cost of €88,880, Archbishop Walsh remarked that this was the first building for which the Presentation Sisters had ever received a government grant since their arrival in Tuam in 1835.
The Secondary School continued to use the Cathedral Terrace building until the late 1950’s. All the time the school was expanding as its reputation as a boarding school and day school spread and a new interest in secondary schooling became more general in the country. The school grew from 65 pupils in 1935, lo 188 in 1952, and to 237 in 1960. Throughout these years, many of the boarders had their accommodation at the opposite side of the Cathedral Terrace in what was called the ‘Old Palace’ and which was subsequently taken over by St Jarlath’s for a time, until it reverted to the diocese in recent years. This ‘Old Palace’ had been, through the entire nineteenth century, the home of Archbishop’s Kelly, McHale, MacEvilly and Healy until the latter moved, in 1905, to the present location of Archbishop’s House at the rear of the Cathedral.
Space had always been a problem for the sisters on their constricted site so, in 1956, the Presentation sisters purchased the spacious grounds of the former Church of Ireland Bishop, together with the Protestant Bishops’ Palace, the substantial building, now the ‘Palace Restaurant’, on the south side of Bishop St. This became their new school for a number of years and remained as the boarding school accommodation until 1990. The spacious grounds to the rear of the building allowed the construction of the present Presentation College at Currylea in 1972. Since then, the numbers have increased dramatically to almost 500 pupils.
As Tuam town is unique, for its size, in having four Secondary Schools and a Vocational School, the Mercy and Presentation Sisters decided, in 1998, in order to guarantee a continuity of service and a better level of choice to the girls attending their schools, to institute steps to amalgamate their two secondary schools in Tuam town. For the same reason, a decision was reached, two years later, to amalgamate St Jarlath’s and St Patrick’s Colleges for boys. These projects were still at the planning stage at the time of writing in early 2008.