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St. Colman's College --- celebrating 150 years

The school year 2008-09 marked the 150th anniversary of the opening of St. Colman’s College, Fermoy and was celebrated by numerous events throughout the year. The credit for the establishment of the College goes mostly to Fr. Timothy Murphy who was appointed to the parish of Fermoy in 1826 and who later served as bishop of the diocese of Cloyne. In 1856 he bought a potato garden from Robert Briscoe of Fermoy and immediately work began on the site with a view to the erection of the new college. Cork architect John Pine Hurley was commissioned as architect for the new project. Unfortunately in December of the same year, Timothy Murphy died but not before he had been taken in a stretcher, to observe the progress of the construction. In September 1858, scarcely twenty months after construction began, St. Colman's College opened its doors and received its first students.

                 

Dr. Timothy Murphy  &  Dr. Thomas Croke

Fr. Thomas W. Croke - a curate in Mallow - was asked by the bishop, Dr. William Keane in 1858 to be the first President of the college. He threw himself vigorously into the task of planning and executing the project from the ground upwards. He had a flair for organization and management coupled with a hard sense of business which was to manifest itself again and again throughout his career. Croke devoted most of his time to the direction of the building project and the provision of both teaching and domestic staffs. In 1856 his uncle willed him a considerable sum of money which he contributed freely to the college finances. 

St. Colman's College was constructed in dressed red sandstone with limestone facings and to this day is a handsome building in the Lombardo-Romanesque style with its tall Italian style tower and facade. It was constructed on a steep terraced hill overlooking the town of Fermoy and the Blackwater river to the north of it. The original edifice forms the main east-west axis and later additions are either extensions of this or projections from it The Library and west wing were added in 1887 while the Chapel was added in the early 1900s.  

In 1901 Fr. Michael Barrett was appointed to the presidency of the College. He continued in that capacity until 1916. While he was in charge of St.Colman's considerable developments took place: the grounds in front of the buildings were filled in and made into a sizeable playing field, surrounded by a broad walk. Fr. Barrett was responsible for giving the study of "Irish" a prominent place in the school curriculum. One reason why Irish began to be studied more widely was the spirit of nationalism which began to sweep the country in the last half of the nineteenth century. Writing in 1902 Padraig Pearse describes the work being done for the Irish language in Fermoy and particularly in St. Colman's: "The most heartening place I visited was Fermoy, like many other English speaking towns it is throwing itself into the Language Movement…. Fermoy has a strong Irish citadel in St. Colman's College. The young priests there, the whole professorial staff from the President down, are enthusiastic to a man that Irish is taught, cricket has been banned, the bats and balls are for sale and the "caman" now rules the playground. A piper is to be introduced to teach the boys Irish music and to march at the head of the hurling team. St. Colman's undoubtedly, deserves to rank with Newbridge as a real Irish College."

Padraig Pearse and Thomas McDonagh, both of whom taught for a brief-period in St. Kieran's College, Kilkenny and the latter, McDonagh, a teacher of English in St. Colman's from 1903-07, were actively involved in the Irish revival movement.

           

L-R : Padraig Pearse,  Tomas McDonagh,  John Joyce,  Fr. Peadar O'Laoghaire

 St. Colman's College, from the beginning had within its walls young men who were to contribute significantly to the culture of our society. One of the first pupils to enrol was John Joyce, father of the well known James Joyce. The College Account Books show that the boy was only ten years of age at the time; he was "the youngest pupil in the school and the favourite of Dr. Croke, the President, who always put Joyce next to himself at dinner in the refectory." He had special instruction in piano and singing and it is probable that at this young age, he was already showing signs of possessing a tenor voice of which he was justifiably proud. Incidentally, Joyce proved himself to be a great athlete: when he went to University College, Cork he held the record in that institution for the "hop-step and jump" and was an expert oarsman.  

The Account Books show that in the first years of St. Colman's College the average period spent by a pupil in the institution was two years and six months. Boys came to the school from all over Munster but the financial position of many students meant that they took lodgings in the town of Fermoy and attended classes during the day. An t-Athair Peadar O’Laoghaire, from Clondrohid parish, adopted this form of attendance in 1859. His later invaluable work for the Irish language is well-known. Among his most popular writings are "Mo Sceal Fein", "Niamh", and "Seadhna."

 One of the chief aims of St. Colman's College was to prepare for entrance to ecclesiastical Colleges to study for the priesthood. Some sixty-four students were examined in 1860 to fill three vacancies in Maynooth College. Students from St. Colman's College also went to other ecclesiastical institutions.

 St. Colman’s College students’ prowess on the sporting field is almost legendary. From cricket in the early days to hurling, football, athletics, track and field, swimming, rugby “Colmanites” enjoyed the fruits of excellent coaching and training facilities to record many, many memorable victories and championships through the generations.  St. Colman's have a proud history in the Harty Cup winning it on 9 occasions in 1948, 1949, 1977, 1992, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2002 & 2003. The Croke Cup for All-Ireland College has being won 4 times in 1977, 1997, 2001 & 2002. Past St. Colman's greats include Colman O'Donovan (Midleton), Billy Abernethy (Castlemartyr), Bertie & Dick Troy (Newtownshandrum), Willie Moore (Ballincurrig), Con Murphy (Bride Rovers), Denis Murphy (Grenagh & St.Finbarrs), Seanie O'Leary (Dungourney & Youghal),  CathaI Casey (St.Catherines), Pat Hartnett (Midleton) as well as many others who have worn the red of Cork.

Since the 1800’s the College has flourished and has lived up to it’s mission statement of continuing to “nurture the full academic and personal development of all it’s students” as well as enhancing the self-esteem of each person in an environment of mutual respect.

            

           The construction & 1969 official opening of the new classroom block at St. Colman's College

 Over the years Chemistry & Physics laboratories were added, the playing fields were developed and new tennis/basketball courts added. New gymnasium, locker rooms, pavilion and shower facilities were provided as was an all weather indoor arena. In 1969 a new twenty two roomed classroom block was opened on the eastern side to further expand the College’s capacity. This included a state of the art language laboratory and Biology Lab as well as an impressive assembly hall which has hosted many concerts and shows as well as being the hub of activity for the State Examinations each year. Boarding students were phased out in St. Colman’s College from the start of the twenty first century with the class of 2003 being the last. The same year also marked the tenure of the last President of the College, the distinction going to Fr. Donal Roberts; and the introduction of its first lay Principal Mr. John Hickson.

The anniversary year 2008 celebrated the great tradition that is St. Colman's College and will serve as a platform for the enthusiasm and vision that will drive this great educational establishment on to the next 150 years.

 

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St. Colman's College, Fermoy, Co. Cork., Ireland

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