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Kildare – Maynooth (Convent, 1823)



Presentation Convent, Maynooth was founded on 6th October, 1823 from Fairview in Dublin. The foundress was Sr. M. Augustine Dragooned – new to the religious life but at 50, brought as a dowry, property in Dorset Street, Capel Street, Anne Street and others. Other founding sisters were Mother M. Andrew McKeever, Sr. M. Peter Fitzharris and a novice, Sr. M. Aloysius Neville. Mother Andrew, as Elizabeth McKeever, had been 1st postulant of George’s Hill in James Street. Mother Andrew was Superior for 30 consecutive years.

Maynooth community was founded because Abbe Anglade, a French Émigré and Doctor of Theology in Maynooth College was worried that there was no school for girls in Maynooth. A colleague introduced him to the Sisters in Fairview and he begged them to make a foundation in Maynooth.

The village of Maynooth was a short street bordered by lime trees – an extension of the lime trees leading to the home of the Duke of Leinster – Carton House and then on the other side leading to the National Seminary of St. Patrick’s and so the Convent grew up under aegis of the College (Professor) and the great house. It was sited where the green avenue to Carton meets the street on grounds purchased from the Duke of Leinster – all on 99 year lease. The ‘cradle’ of the foundation was a disused Charter School. The old Charter house was transformed into a convent. But while it was being transformed, the Sisters took up temporary residence in a nearby cabin. They were in their new home, named Nazareth, by Christmas 1824.

In 1826, the foundation stone was laid by Duke of Leinster for their free school. The curriculum included Religion, ‘number’, English etc but also for items were made for sale, at the suggestion of the Duchess, straw hats, embroidered ladies wear, surplices for college etc., food for pupils. It was staffed entirely by Sisters until February, 1961, when the very sudden death of Sr. Carmel Healy left a vacancy we could not fill – being autonomous up to 1966.

Initial benefactors were the Abbe (Anglade) and other college priests and the Duchess of Leinster. The Duchess contributed to the breakfast fund, founded by the Abbe – and not, it was made clear, as a benefactor of the Convent. The Duchess saw that most of these girls were well trained and considered they would be an asset later to the array of servants in her employ.

In 1832, the convent chapel was built through the generosity of Dr. Anglade and his confreres. One year later a breakfast-room fund was formed The expense of the school building was defrayed by a Charity Sermon, preached by the apostle of Temperance, Fr. Theobald Matthew. By 1873, the Convent buildings were roughly seven times as large as they had been at the time of foundation. Six years later, a further extension was made through the generosity of a Scotsman, Colonel John McDonald, father of one of the nuns. In 1887, a laundry was built to accommodate St. Patrick’s College.

In the Convent is a CRUCIFIX made from a sliding coffin – a moving relic of famine times. It is made from white deal and has darkened with time. It was one of three such crucifixes made by Dr. Thomas Willis, of Upper Ormond Quay, a medical doctor who attended the plague stricken at the height of the Famine.

A daily visitor to Mass, during the October and June ‘Bishops Weeks’, was Cardinal McRory. Two of the old Sisters related how Dr. McRory and Bishop Fogarty had been refused the privilege of being ordained in the College with their class mates due to some of the ‘faults’ they were guilty of i.e. too often late for morning prayer. The Jansenistic touch had come with the early French Emigres from the Sorbonne. So they got an auxiliary bishop to ordain them in the convent!

In 1964, His Eminence Cardinal Conway visited the convent shortly after he received the Red Hat.

In 1833, Dr. Angelade inaugurated the ‘Breafast Room Fund’ to ensure breakfast and books for all the poor children were available. A reminder of the Famine is the beautiful statue of Our Lady in Carerra marble, presented by a Roman Prelate to be raffled for the benefit of the starving during the famine of 1847. It was won by a student who presented it to Professor Dixon, later Primate of all Ireland, who in turn presented it to the Convent in thanksgiving for a personal favour he attributed to the prayers of the Sisters. During the dark days of the Famine, the nuns helped by distributing food and clothing.

In 1870 the convent bought Cromabu Lodge and turned it into St. Joseph’s in 1870. It was demolished in 1970, one hundred years, later to make room for a carpark for the new school. With the influx of families into Maynooth, it became clear that a new school had to be built. It was completed in 1972 and blessed by the Most Rev Dermot Ryan, Archbishop of Dublin. A further 8-room extension in 1982 involved the vesting of the remainder of the field. A further extension was added in 2007-08

In 1828, an Industrial School was opened at the request of the Duchess. Here, the children made clothing – straw hats and surplices, frocks and shirts, bonnets and bibs. For their work, they were paid and got their meals. The Duchess was the chief patron. She paid the schools for embroidered garments, boating hats etc. for herself and other ladies. In 1841, the Industrial School was closed.

The history of the convent in linked to the history of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. In 1887, the Most Rev Dr. Walshe requested that a Laundry be built to accommodate the College by washing the laundry of the clerical students. On Presentation Day, 1911 it was gutted by fire but it had served its purpose well and a new laundry was built. It resumed activities in 1912 on a better site with extensive drying grounds and with modern machinery. It eventually became a public laundry, taking in laundry from other Institutions and from Prince Rainier and Princess Grace and movie star, Julie Andrews, who stayed in Carton House. In 1986, the Laundry closed.

In 1966, St. Patrick’s College had opened its doors to other religious – up to then it was open only to seminarians studying for the priesthood. At the request of Dr. Jeremiah Newman, the College President, the Sisters reshaped part of their convent into a small Hostel to accommodate the first extern Sister students.

The Presentation Sisters of the Dublin Arch-diocese had opted not to join the Union of Presentation Sisters when it was formed in 1976. However a decision was made to join in 1992 and Maynooth became part of the Northern Province. August, 1993 saw the closure of the Convent due to lack of numbers. The Sisters now live in a house in the town. There was some controversy within the congregation about the closure as the local community had not been consulted in advance of the decision being made by the leadership team.

Ministries in the town now include visitation in homes, nursing home, and Nagle Shelter homes (land donation) by congregation in1993; baptismal preparation in the homes concerned; rainbows, and two sisters help with classes in the all lay teacher school where we are all ‘family’

There were no foundations in Ireland from Maynooth.



Maynooth, 1823

Engage a jarvey and drive to Broad-stone station. Get a ticket for May­nooth. Fares: 1s 5d. Single tickets are recommended as the trains of this line run at long intervals“. Then comes the piece de resistance in this advertisement of 1901: “It will be more pleasant to walk leisurely back towards the city“. Pleasant indeed for anyone who deemed a fifteen mile stroll a mere trifle to give fillip to one’s appetite for supper. Tourist guides of 1901 assumed their clientele were thoroughbreds. Even for the phlegmatic, however, the exertion was rewarding.

For Maynooth is unique. What other village can boast of a national seminary which has been the Alma Mater of one out of every hundred priests in the world; a Great House which has been host to an empress of Austria and at least half a dozen of the royalty of Europe; and a castle whose ivied face and blank imperturbable stare yield us few secrets of its chequered Geraldine history. The short village street bordered by lime trees seems but an ex­tension of the long avenue of limes leading to one of the former stately homes of the Duke of Leinster — Carton House. Where the green avenue meets the grey street, on grounds purchased from the Duke of Leinster, stands Presentation Convent Maynooth.

It grew up under the aegis of the College and the Great House. Its founder was a Maynooth professor; the Duchess of Lein­ster one of its earliest benefactors. Abbe Anglade was, by any standards, an exceptional man. Professor of theology and sensitive lover of the poor, expert gardener and meticulous scholar, his name proclaims his origin. One of the émigrés who escaped the holocaust of the French revolution, he made his way to Wales where, disguised as a gardener, he worked for six years with a Protestant family. In 1802 he was appointed to the staff of newly-established Maynooth College. It was this French exile who brought the Presentation nuns to Maynooth.

A priest who had lost his home and country, he poured his energy and earnings into the village of his adoption. One thing worried him — there was no school for girls in Maynooth. A colleague introduced him to the Presentation nuns in Fairview. Dr. Anglade begged them to make a foun­dation in Maynooth. Did the request sound premature? After all, the community was but three years in Fairview! Did they taste the terror of un­certainty lest the shallow roots so recently put down be shrivelled by a partial uproot­ing? The annals keep an impersonal silence. There is just a factual entry: Mother M. Andrew McKeever, Sr. M. Augustine Drumgoole, Sr. M. Peter Fitzharrris and a novice Sr. M. Aloysius Neville left Fairview for Maynooth on the sixth of October 1823. As Elizabeth McKeever, Mother M. Andrew had been the first postulant of George’s Hill’s first off-shoot in James’ Street. The youngest of the group, Sr. M. Aloysius, was, twenty years later, to leave Maynooth for far away Madras where the Maynooth Presentations would make their first foundation . . . Meanwhile their most pressing need was at home.

Convents have begun in odd places — from cabins to mansions. Did any other ever begin in a charter-school — that symbol of the deadliest thrust of the Penal regime! While the old charter school was being transformed into a convent the nuns took up temporary residence in a nearby cabin. The exact site of the latter is not known. A tradition among the local people places it somewhere near the apex of the angle formed by the junction of Carton avenue and the Dublin road.

Christmas 1824 found the nuns in their newly-renovated home. They named it “Nazareth”. The old charter school formed the central part of the convent. Thanks to a faded plan, now suitably yellowed by the passage of two centuries, its exact limits can be identified. As you turn in the con­vent entrance you face a central block flanked by two wings. Narrow your vision until those wings disappear. Narrow it further until you blot out the two windows at each end of the central block. You are left with the charter school!

No sooner had it been made habitable than the nuns laid plans for their free school. In 1826 the foundation stone was laid by the Marquis, later Duke of Leinster. Two years later at the request of the Duchess an industrial school was opened. Here the children made clothing — the range included straw hats and surplices, frocks and shirts, bonnets and bibs; a comprehensive range considering their youth. For their work they were paid and got their meals. The Duchess was the chief patron. An examination of the oldest account book covering the years 1828-1843 shows one unchanging entry in the March of each year: From the Duchess — £20

It may seem small but a glance at the expenditure pages helps to get it in per­spective.   In 1828 the nuns bought two desks and 8 forms (presumably long wooden ‘benches) for the munificent sum of five shillings and sixpence; four pairs of sheets cost a grand total of two shillings; chalk for the term — one penny! Other items such as

Shoes for M. Little (2 pairs) — 8/3

Cloak for Betty Coyne — 11/6

Breakfast for first Communion children — 8/2

Meat for children’s dinner — 7/6

For washing schools — 9d.

condense a whole era of history into a dispassionate block of entries in a Cash Book. The school must have been whitewashed regularly for the entry “whitening school” turns up with the precision of recurring decimals. One cryptic entry defies exact analysis. It reads: “Straw woman — 5/-” A barely opaque light is shed on the puzzle by the succeeding entry ‘”Straw splitter — 1/2“. Was the former the lady who de­livered a consignment of straw each week for the hat making, and the latter an in­strument used in that mystic process? Modern technology is of no help here. After 1841 we never meet the straw woman again. An abrupt entry in the annals tells us why – the industrial school was closed in that year.

Meanwhile the convent chapel had been built in 1832 mainly through the generosity of Dr. Anglade and his confreres. One year later this tireless worker for the poor inaugurated the “Breakfast Room Fund” to ensure breakfast and books for all the poor children. The expense of the school building was partially defrayed by a charity sermon preached on the convent lawn by the apostle of temperance Father Theobald Matthew. The Duke of Leinster, it is said, helped to take up the collection.

The following decade was darkened by the great famine. The nuns helped to ease the distress by distributing soup and cloth­ing to the victims. In the parlour in May­nooth convent is a moving relic of those terrible days — it is a crucifix made from a sliding-coffin [1]. The cross, made of com­mon white deal, has darkened with time. It was one of three such made by Dr.Thomas Willis of Upper Ormond Quay, a medical doctor who attended the plague-stricken at the height of the famine. He fashioned them from the wood of one of the hinged or sliding coffins which were used to give some semblance of decorum to the mass-burial of the victims. A detailed account of them with special reference to the one in the convent is to be found in the booklet “On a Cross’ written by “J.O’R.” The initials are those of Canon O’Rourke, Parish Priest of Maynooth, and author of a history on the famine. The booklet is now in the archives of Maynooth convent. The inscription on the back of the cross, affixed by Dr. Willis and initialled by him, affirms that several hundreds were carried to the grave in” the hinged coffin of which it was made.

Another reminder of famine days is the beautiful statue of Our Lady in Cararra marble. In 1847 a Roman prelate moved by the news of famine presented it to May­nooth College to be raffled for the benefit of the starving. It was won by a student in the college who, on leaving for the missions after his ordination, presented it to Professor Dixon, who in turn presented it to the convent some years later in thanks­giving for a personal favour which he attributed to the prayers of the nuns. It was this Dr. Dixon who later, as primate of Ireland, received from Pope Pius IX for all Presentation nuns the privilege of wear­ing a silver ring as a sign of consecration to Christ.

By 1853 Maynooth convent was thirty years old and an extension was deemed to be essential. Between the convent and Carton avenue stood Cromabu Lodge named from the famous Geraldine war-cry. In 1870, after protracted negotia­tions, the convent bought it and turned it into St. Joseph’s school. Just 100 years later it was demolished to make way for the car-park of the new school under con­struction, but some of the stone of the old lodge may still be seen in the wall at the entrance to the school. By 1873 the convent buildings were roughly seven times as large as at the time of foundation. Six years later a further extension was made through the generosity of a Scotsman, Colonel John MacDonald, father of one of the nuns.

In 1887 a peripheral task was undertaken at the request of Most Rev. Dr. Walshe. To accommodate the college a laundry was built. It was an expensive job as the water had to be brought from the college through the village to the new site. When complete it provided welcome employment for some people in the village. On Presentation Day 1911 it was burnt beyond repair but within a year a new laundry with “extensive dry­ing grounds” was working merrily. Today the extensive drying grounds are an anachronism, for modern machinery has obviated the necessity for outdoor drying. A spirit of camaraderie characterised the laundry staff. Many tales were swapped during an ironing session. One such loses nothing in the telling. It quotes the remark of a patron in the days of pre-synthetic fabrics when shrinkage of woollens caused many a headache. Looking with distaste at a diminished garment he was overheard muttering:   “That laundry would shrink a tar barrel”!

Since 1966 Maynooth has expanded from village to university town. This had a double impact on the convent. Sisters arrived to do theology courses. At the re­quest of Dr. Jeremiah Newman the Presen­tation Sisters re-shaped part of their con­vent into a small hostel to accommodate the first extern Sister students. At the same time new families seemed to gravitate towards Maynooth. To cope with the in­flux of school-going children a new school had to be built. It was completed in 1972 and blessed by The Most Reverend Dermot Ryan, Archbishop of Dublin.

In the relentless passage of time there are moments of deep significance, precious moments which we try to   eternalize, moments which seem like still points in a turning world. In the life of every com­munity, as in each   private life, such moments bring a rare happiness. For the Sisters at Maynooth one such moment must have been that morning in 1964 when His Eminence Cardinal Conway visited the convent shortly after he had received the Red Hat. After Mass he greeted the assembled pupils on the lawn. Tots who lisped “my daddy knows you” were asked their names, and aglow with pleasure the Cardinal drawing on his ‘filing-cabinet memory would respond : “And I know your daddy too. He had charge of ………………in the college when I was there”. After inviting the children to sing he joined with them, his hand resting on the head of a little four year old mongoloid.

In 1973 another page was turned in the annals of the convent when priests and people joined to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the coming of the ‘Presen­tations’ to the village. During that century and a half the Sisters had grown into the hearts of the people, as they in turn had made the joys and sorrows of the people their own. What was their surprise, how­ever, when after last Mass one Sunday they were presented with a lovely car. No more laborious treks to the city by bus to collect consignments of books and school re­quisites. The fifteen miles could now be done in less than twice that number of minutes.

[1] The sliding (or ‘slip bottom’) coffin was designed as a re-usable box to transport the dead to the graveyard where the body was dropped into the grave by sliding open the coffin’s base.

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