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Offaly – Rahan



The convent in Killina, Rahan was founded on 16th July, 1817 from George’s Hill, Dublin, by Mother Angela Bigger and her sister Mother Mary Teresa. It was founded to secure perpetual succession of competent teachers for a school built by a Miss Maria O’Brien, who entered the Convent, taking the name Sr. Mary Clare. She died shortly after her Final Profession.

Killina was a town land with a rural community and the convent was situated beside the church and close to Rahan Lodge, home of the benefactor, Maria O’Brien.

The school and house appear to have been the one building with the school downstairs and the Sisters accommodation upstairs. From the earliest days, extensions were added as classrooms. The Chapel was added in 1824 and in 1874, a separate school building was erected. Farming outhouses were built across the road from the convent.

The first Presentation school dates from 1st September, 1817. It had been built by Miss O’Brien in 1812 and was extended in 1817. There were approx 100 pupils in one classroom and a wide range of subjects were taught – the 3 ‘R’s and also cooking, laundry, needlecraft, drawing, singing, drill and industrial training and also religion. The children were prepared for a Catholic and Christian life and the corporal needs of children were also looked after – sick children were brought to the convent and no child ever went hungry (they were brought to the convent for lunch).

Under the Education Act 1831/32, the nuns extended the primary school with a grant of £60 from the Commissioners; the sisters themselves had to provide the remainder of the cost which was £30.

During the famine, the sisters taught lace-making to the women of the parish. Their work was brought to Dublin by Mrs. O’Brien for sale and was a welcome income to families.

In 1948, 6th Class continued into 7th Class – this was the equivalent of 1st year in Secondary school. Extra subjects, French, Commerce & Domestic Science were introduced. By 1951, this group undertook the Intermediate Certificate and in 1953, the first Leaving Cert.

In 1965, a new school was opened across the road also – it was a bright, modern building. It catered for the primary pupils and also contained a secondary-top. At the request of Bishop Kyne, boys were began to be enrolled in the Secondary Top in 1965 and co-education was born in Rahan. Extra subjects such as Science, Physiology, Latin and Shorthand & Typing were added to the curriculum.

In 1972, the girls form the Island School amalgamated with Killina, while the boys amalgamated into the Boys Primary school in Rahan. The Girls and Boys Primary Schools in Rahan amalgamated in 2007.

From 1980 onwards, new renovations and extensions have been added – new classrooms, science, woodwork and construction rooms, a careers room, an art room, computer rooms and a library. In 2000 a new Unit for students with general, moderate learning disabilities was opened. The first of its kind at 2nd Level in Ireland, this unit was built to help the integration of all pupils.

Education was always free in Killina. No fees were ever taken from pupils. From the 1950’s, buses were organized for children from far away. These were subsidised by the Sisters. With the introduction of the ‘free education’ scheme in 1967, free transport was provided by the Department of Education to bring children to Tullamore schools from the Killina area. Although it was called a joint catchment area, it did not work the other way round. Children did not get free transport from Tullamore to Killina. This posed a significant challenge for the school. However, at the time of writing in 2008, the school has grown significantly, attracting a large number of applications from the town of Tullamore.

Current Ministries in the Rahan community include the Lourdes Invalid Fund, St. Joseph’s Young Priests Society, the Heritage Committee, and the Special Needs Unit in Secondary School.

Anecdotal early tales: Fr. Robert St. Leger was appointed Superior of the Convent by the Bishop. Some years later, his widowed mother, Mrs. St. Leger, entered the convent in 1822. Her two sons were Jesuit priests in Tullabeg College, a mile away. Her daughter, a novice in Carrick-on-Suir was transferred to Killina. The mother was Sr. Monica and the daughter was Sr. Augustine. The latter was the first to die at the age of 29 years. Rahan Convent once witnessed the unusual sight of the two brothers, Fr. Robert and Fr. John St. Leger both saying Mass for their mother and sis­ter, both Presentation nuns!

Significant visitors include Archbishop Dr. Murray of Dublin who was a frequent visitor to Rahan Lodge – he would have offered Mass in the convent. Sr. Kevin Curran volunteered for the Indian Mission and left for Madras in September, 1841, arriving in January 1842.


The Convent in Killina and its Schools

A more beautiful convent, a more heavenly retreat there is not in the diocese of Meath than Killina or Rahan” – writes Rev. A. Cogan in his book the Diocese of Meath.

In the 1754 Nano Nagle, later the foundress of the Presentation order, opened her first school and this event marks the beginning of a new era in Ireland.   In 1802 Brother Edmond Rice, following Nano’s tradition, opened his first school in Waterford for the education of Catholic boys. The history of these two congregations is the history of education in Ireland.

About 1810 Rahan Lodge became the property of the O’Brien fam­ily of Dublin. The owner was Miss Maria O’Brien. In 1812 there was a school in Killina beside the church. It is described as “a mis­erable hovel“. Miss O’Brien built a new school with accommoda­tion for a mistress. The building was afterwards enlarged by her so as to afford accommodation for a religious community for the sole purpose of securing a perpetual succession of competent teachers for the school. The Presentation sisters were invited to staff the school and on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 16th July 1817, four sisters of the Presentation community arrived by canal boat from George’s Hill, Dublin and entered into the pos­session of their new Foundation. The journey took 12 hours on a flyboat on the Grand Canal.   Two of the nuns, Mother Angela Big­ger and her sister – Mother Mary Teresa Patrick – came at the re­quest of Miss O’Brien and, along with Father Peter Kenny S.J., played an important part in the Foundation.

The convent was en­dowed with three acres and a yearly income from Miss O’ Brien. Most Rev. Dr. Plunkett, the Bishop of Meath, appointed Rev. Fa­ther St. Leger, SJ. superior of the convent. He worked hard and looked after the convent extremely well and when his widowed mother desired to give her remaining years to God in religion, she entered Killina on his advice. Rahan Convent later witnessed the unusual sight of the two brothers, Fr. Robert and Fr. John St. Leger both of the Society of Jesus, saying Mass for their mother and sis­ter, both Presentation nuns.

Miss O’Brien entered the convent herself seven years after its foun­dation where she died in 1827.

Madras Mission—September 1841: The story of the opening of the Presentation Mission in Madras, In­dia, makes interesting reading. It is of particular interest to the Presentation Sisters in Rahan, Co. Offaly, Ireland, because it was this generous community who of their few numbers encouraged their superior to lend the first band of missionary nuns of the Pres­entation Sisters to far-away India.

Rev. Mother Frances Xavier Curran listened to the call of Dr. Carew and Dr. John Fennelly who came back to Ireland in search of volunteers for the needy missions of Madras and Cal­cutta. The Loreto sisters from Rathfarnham agreed to travel with Dr. Carew (a Maynooth priest) to Calcutta while Mother Francis Xavier of Rahan Convent and three professed sisters from Maynooth, together with a postulant from Kilkenny, set sail with Dr. John Fennelly for Madras.

They set sail on the sailing ship “The Lady Flora” and for five months they braved the winds and high seas of the Bay of Biscay, then sailed south along the coast of Africa, round the Cape of Good Hope, were buffeted by rough gales across the Indian Ocean and eventually arrived in Madras on the 13th January 1842.   Their journey had lasted five months long. “The Lady Flora” dropped anchor well out to sea in the Bay of Bengal. From there, passen­gers and cargo were transferred to small boats called Bomboats and were rowed ashore —or nearly so.   Madras had yet no harbour so crowds of coolies waded into the water and lifted the passengers on their shoulders to dry land.

Rahan School—1817: The Rahan school under the management of the Sisters was opened on 1st September 1817. The first Superioress, Sister Angela Bigger (aged 44) wrote to Dr. Plunkett on 27th November 1817 to advise that since the opening more than 100 children continued constant until the harvest when the great number of grown girls were obliged to remain at home.

The original parish school was built by Miss O ‘Brien about 1812, extended in 1817 and further improved in the 1830’s with the aid of a government grant coming under the new National Board in 1832.

Following the introduction of the Stanley Education Act of 1831/32, the nuns applied for a grant of £90 to extend the school. They had accommodated 100 pupils approximately in one class­room for fourteen years, so it was small wonder that they sought to enlarge their premises. The Commissioners replied that they would provide £60 if the sisters would raise the balance of £30—a sub­stantial amount in pre-Famine Ireland. In any case, the extension was carried out.

The Dublin Sisters wrote in 1820’s “Thank God we feel no mate­rial inconvenience in going through much more labour than we were equal to in Dublin, and find our health greatly improved by the air of Rahan.   ‘Tis true we cannot be in all points as regular to every rule as in a more numerous community would be requisite, but we strive to manage as well as we can“.

The nuns taught a wide range of subjects from the ‘3 Rs’ to cook­ery and laundry, from needlecraft to drawing and from singing and drill to industrial training. Evidently the Presentation Sisters were over a century ahead of the 1990’s Green Paper on Education, which stressed training for industry. If the Rahan Presentation School had an educational purpose it also had a religious purpose — to prepare young people for a Catholic and Christian life. True to the ethos of their foundress, Nano Nagle, they also looked after the corporal needs of the children. Those who felt sick were always well looked after. They were put sitting beside the fire in the Convent and given hot milk and sympathy.   No child ever went hungry — those who had forgotten their lunch or who simply didn’t have it were sent over to the kitchen for a bite to eat at lunchtime.

In 1965 the New Primary school was opened. It was a bright, mod­ern building, newly decorated with polished floors and indoor toi­lets. In 1972, the Island school was amalgamated with Killina for the girls and Rahan for the boys. The Girls and Boys Primary Schools in Rahan amalgamated in 2007.

In 1948 the sixth class continued into seventh class or first year in the Secondary school. Pupils now took extra subjects—French, Commerce and Domestic Science, in preparation for the Intermedi­ate Certificate which they took in 1951.   In 1953 the first Leaving Certificate pupils were successful in the examination.

In 1965 at the request of Bishop Kyne boys were admitted and the school became co-educational.   The construction of a new school in the same year with six classrooms across the road disposed of the previous set-up whereby the three sisters Patrick, Oliver and Cannel administered secondary education from first year to Leav­ing Certificate in one classroom.   Extra subjects had been added to the curriculum at this stage, Science, Physiology, Shorthand, Typ­ing and Latin were taught along with the main subjects.

As early as 1981 Computers were introduced into the school. Killina in comparison to other secondary schools is not just a learn­ing institution but is representative of the rural educational system that once existed before urban development took its course.   Today the school has advanced dramatically. Recent renovations and ex­tension lead to new classrooms, a science room, woodwork and construction studies room, careers room, art room, computer room and a library.

In September 2000 Killina opened a new Unit for students with General Moderate Learning Disability. This special Unit is the first of its kind at second level in this country. It is a purpose built and integrated building with excellent facilities.   The main Secondary School and special Unit are uniquely linked to provide the utmost integration of all pupils around the country. To-day Rahan has a very modem well-equipped and integrated school, worthy of its community, staff, students and parents.   The new extension was officially opened by Dr. Michael Woods, Minister for Education & Science on 10th December 2001.

The Secondary School has integrated very well with the G.ML.D. Unit. It is fair to say that the work of education begun over 180 years ago still continues today, with the same high standards of teaching and commitment on the part of the teaching staff.

The history of Rahan, which began in 1817, is still being written; and what a glorious history it is.

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