St Patrick’s College Cavan.

Laying of the foundation stone for St Patrick’s College

In his latest Times Past column, Jonathan Smyth looks at Cardinal Cullen's visit and the laying the foundation stone for St. Patrick's College

St Patrick’s College, Cavan, was founded in 1871, as a new centre for the teaching and training of junior and senior students intended on a vocation for the priesthood, in the Diocese of Kilmore. Three years later, on March 12, 1874, building work on the college was completed, and was then opened to the purpose intended by Bishop Dr Nicholas Conaty.

The new college replaced the older St Augustine’s Seminary, situated on Farnham Street (St Augustine was also known by another name, that of the Kilmore Academy). St Patrick’s College quickly became an important and distinguished educational establishment within the diocese.

A portrait of Cardinal Paul Cullen became the central feature of the dining room in St Patrick’s College and it was the same revered Cardinal who had earlier been tasked the honour of putting in place the college’s foundation stone in 1871, having received an invitation amidst great anticipation and expectation: he agreed to travel to Cavan.

Cardinal Paul Cullen

The prolific Cardinal Cullen is described on Dublin’s Diocesan website, as ‘the most influential and powerful Irish ecclesiastical figure of the nineteenth century.’ His importance as a church figure received the recognition of Rome and as a result in 1832 he was offered the vice- rectorship of the Irish College during a period when ‘it was under threat’ from what were termed rebellious factions. He was warmly welcomed by most of the Irish bishops who were happy to have him be ‘their agent in Rome.’

Another side to Paul Cullen’s progressive thinking was his support for the Board of Education in introducing reforms for the necessary requirements of Catholic School children. Then in 1866, Paul Cullen was assigned by Pope Pius IX to the cardinalate and thereby becoming Ireland’s first cardinal. His motto was ‘Ponit Animam Pro Amicis’.

Laying of the stone

A sense of excitement must have prevailed throughout Cavan on 24th May 1871 when on the same day, the Freemans Journal published its account of Cardinal Cullen’s visit to the county town, reporting that on: “Cavan, Tuesday. – Today, his Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop laid the first stone of a diocesan seminary for the diocese of Kilmore at Cullies, near Cavan’.

The paper added, ‘the site at Cullies’ is located around a mile ‘northwards’ of Cavan town. The success of the old seminary at the Kilmore Academy was respectfully acknowledged, and all but for the fact that it was ‘very indifferently housed’, in ‘an old and inconvenient building’, it was otherwise considered an exemplary place of learning with a complement of learned professors to teach the seminarians of which there were a strong number of students in attendance.

Twelve months prior to the ceremony for the laying of a foundation stone, it was said that the respected Bishop of Kilmore, Bishop Nicholas Conaty, had made clear his determination to build a new seminary which he would have consist of a handsome building and with this ambitious venture in mind he purchased a fine estate at Cullies, that consisted of approximately ‘600 acres of land.’ The estate came at what in those days was a vast price, totalling £15,000, paid in part by the priests, the people of Cavan, and the pious contribution of the Irish in America. By the time of Cardinal Cullen’s visit, the Church had already paid-off a massive £14,400 of the cost owed for the land at Cullies.


The site upon which the new seminary would come to be built was situated in the middle of the estates’ grounds on the summit of what was described in the Freeman’s Journal as a ‘gentle and well-wooded hill’, approached by a ‘noble avenue’ with scenery most picturesque to the eye. Cardinal Cullen’s placing of the first stone in the foundations, happily commenced the start of work on the seminary whose elaborate architectural plans were based on those drawn up by the renowned Cavan architect William Hague. They were of a Gothic design and the reporter for the Freeman’s wondered if, ‘the beauty of the building’ would to a great degree be dependent ‘on the manner in which the varying descriptions of stone found in the neighbourhood’ would feature Hague’s designs showed a high tower, two low turrets and a statue of St Patrick placed over the central entrance.

As the time approached 2 o’clock on 24th May 1871, ‘his Eminence’ the Cardinal Archbishop in the company of Bishop Nicholas Conaty and accompanying prelates departed from the Episcopal Palace and headed over to the chosen site. As they made their way along the route through the town they met a strong ‘demonstration of affection’, and then at Cullies, they received much appreciation from the huge ‘concourts of persons’ assembled to watch the formalities. Afterwards, the prelates attended a meeting in the drawing room of the mansion house on the estate where Cardinal Cullen was formally presented with various addresses.

The other dignitaries in attendance during the event were: The Most Rev Dr Nulty, Bishop of Meath, The Most Ror. Dr Kelly, Bishop of Derry, The Most Rev Dr Donnelly, Bishop of Clogber, The Most Rov. Dr Conroy, Bishop of Ardagh, The Most Rev Dr Conaty, Bishop of Kilmore, The Most Rev Dr Brady, Bishop of Perth, and among the great number of clergymen present included: The Very Rev Fathers Dunne, Magausty, Mason, Brady, C. O’Reilly, B. Conaty, G. Boylan, P. Gilroy, T. O’Reilly, V. O’Reilly, Connolly, M. Ternan, and Galligan.


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