History of ‘The Green’

Reproducted by kind permission of the school from the green website.

On September 5th, 1833, Mother Teresa Ball and a small group of nuns took possession of No. 58, Harcourt Street, Dublin. Here Mother Teresa proposed to open a Day School. Four years previously, Catholic Emancipation had been granted and the Catholic Church was emerging from the Catacombs. Catholic parents were looking for schools to educate their children. Eleven years earlier, Mother Teresa had founded Loreto House, Rathfarnham and now, owing to increasing numbers of vocations, she intended to extend her work of education to the city.

On the 13th of the same month, Archbishop Murray celebrated the first Mass in the new Convent and, on September 23rd, the school opened its doors to receive pupils. Mother Teresa had been told that there was a great demand for such a school but, on the opening day, only one pupil presented herself! After a few days seven children arrived but, five days later, five of them were removed by their parents, who said, “The confinement was injurious to their health”! This gave rise to unpleasant rumours about the school and its future seemed in jeopardy. However, the Sisters held on, with the encouragement of the Archbishop. These storms passed and by January 1834, there were 27 pupils. There were four nuns on the original staff: Mother Xaveria McCarthy, the Superior, Sister Bernard Blake, Sister Magdalen Lalor and Sister Ignatia Arthur. As the need arose, they were supplanted by lay professors. No copy of the original Prospectus has been found, but we may presume that the curriculum was similar to that followed in Rathfarnham at this time. The subjects taught were: “The English, French, Italian and Spanish languages Grammatically; History, Geography, the Use of the Globes, Arithmetic, Writing; every kind of Useful and Ornamental Needlework; Painting on Velvet, Satin and Wood.” Drawing, Dancing and Music were extra subjects.

The 1878 Government had set up a Board of Intermediate Education to re-organise and co-ordinate Secondary Education in Ireland. The Board drew up syllabi covering a fairly wide range of subjects, and divided into three courses: Junior, Middle and Senior Grades. Examinations were set at the end of each year and a generous scheme of rewards was provided, with Exhibitions, Medals and Prizes to be won by outstanding candidates in each Grade. For some time the Catholic schools held aloof from this scheme, being suspicious of the aims and objects of the alien Government. In January 1880, however, Cardinal McCabe, Archbishop of Dublin, visited Mother Xaveria, and urged her to introduce the new system into the Loreto schools. Mother Xaveria complied with his wishes, and at once directed the Loreto schools to enter for the Intermediate Examinations to be held the following July. This was no easy task, for the schools already in the system had been preparing for the examination since the previous September and it meant changing programmes and time tables and buying new text books. The challenge was accepted, however, and all the Loreto schools, including the Green, began preparing for the July examinations. The children duly sat for the examinations and, when the results were published, they surpassed all the expectations. The Loreto pupils carried off a number of Exhibitions, Medals and Prizes. Unfortunately, there is no record of the performances of the Green on that occasion.

Not until 1895 have we any records of the achievements of the Green in Intermediate Education. In that year Mother Michael Corcoran, then Mother General, began to publish the “Loreto Magazine”, which came out twice yearly up to 1902, when it ceased publication. All Loreto examination results were published in this magazine. During these years, the Green record is a glittering one indeed, with the pupils winning many Exhibitions, Medals and Prizes. In 1897, Green pupils won five Exhibitions and First Places in Classics, in Greek and in Latin, as well as a Prize for English Composition. In addition to the Intermediate Examinations, the girls sat for examinations of the Department of Science and Art, South Kensington, London, in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Magnetism and Electricity, Sound, Light and Heat, and in Geometry. They also sat for examinations in those branches of Art then in vogue: Freehand Drawing, Model Drawing, Drawing from Cast, and Geometrical Drawing. In addition, many of the girls learned the Piano, the Violin and the Harp, and did the examinations of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, London, the Royal College and Academy of Music, London and the Local Centre examinations. They were certainly well-occupied.

But that is enough about the Secondary School, or “High School” as it was called at that period. In 1899, Mother Michael had organised University Classes in Loreto, Stephen’s Green. The Royal University had been founded in 1878, but it was merely an Examining Body. Women were allowed to sit for the examinations, but were not allowed to attend lectures in the University College on St. Stephen’s Green, South. Arts Courses were provided in the Green in French, German, Modern Literature, History, Jurisprudence, Mental and Moral Science, Philosophy, Metaphysics, as well as in Catholic Doctrine and Apologetics. No. 54, St. Stephen’s Green, was purchased at this time and that house was allotted to the University Students. From that time forward, the establishment was known as “Loreto College.” Mother Eucharia Ryan, an excellent Classical scholar, was in charge of the University Department. The lay staff included Mr. James Macken, B.A.; Junior Fellows, Patrick Semple and Arthur Conway; P.A.E. Dowling for Mathematics and Science; Maud Joynt for German and Richard Carson Green for French.

In 1908, the National University of Ireland was established and University College, Earlsfort Terrace was glad to welcome women students within its portals. Until 1911, when Loreto Hall, 77 St. Stephen’s Green, opened, University students stayed on in the Green and attended lectures in U.C.D.

In 1907, a new three-storey block had been erected at the back of No. 53, with a Concert Hall on the ground floor; over that were a Science Room and three classrooms, and on top were nuns’ Cells.

As the century rolled on, stirring events succeeded one another in the outside world. In 1914, World War 1 broke out. In 1918, the Irish Bishops ordered a Black Fast day for peace. Like the rest of the country, the students of the Green, fasted on dry bread, black tea and fish.. At the end of 1918 the “Black Flu” broke out. It is said that 10 million people died of the Flu. The Green escaped lightly, as only one child died, a day pupil. The house was reeking with eucalyptus oil, which was supposed to prevent infection. The streets of the city were sprayed with Jeyes’ Fluid, and theatres and cinemas were closed. We got home on December 14th, a week early. During the holidays there was a General Election, and great was the jubilation when 73 Sinn Fein candidates were elected. Soon after that, the armed struggle between the Irish Volunteers and the British forces began, and the Black and Tans swept up and down the streets in their Crossley tenders. There was a curfew at night. Relatives of some of the girls were shot by the Black and Tans. There was great grief when Kevin Barry was executed, especially as his sister, Aileen, was then at school in the Green. (She later married The O’Rahilly, a noted National figure at the time). During the Christmas holidays of 1920 came “The Truce”. Alas! After the holidays when we came back, the school was split from top to bottom between Treatyites and Anti-Treatyites, according to the views of the families. On June 29th, 1922, those of us who had stayed on to sit for the Matriculation examinations were awakened by the “Rat-a-Tat” of machine guns. It was the attack on the Four Courts. The Civil War had begun. For a couple of days we braved the dangers of the streets and went to Earlsfort Terrace for the examination. Then we were told that the examinations were suspended for the time being. For the nest week or so ordinary life was suspended also, and we spent a lot of time in the “Lane” waiting to hear a newsboy calling “Stop Press”! Then we would dash out to buy a newspaper and see what was going on. There were no trains, so no one could return home.

After 1922, a new epoch began in Irish Education. The new Free State Government set up a Department of Education, which organised a new system of Secondary Education, with a six-year course of studies and two examinations within that period, the Intermediate Certificate Examination and the Leaving Certificate.

There were other developments, too, at that time. The Loreto Examination system was set up, with set programmes for each Grade and examinations at the end of each year set by examiners for the Loreto schools. It had been found that, having only two examinations during their whole school career, did not encourage application to study among the pupils. The Loreto Games League and the Loreto Debating Society were also founded and gave the girls new and absorbing interests, with Inter – School Debates and Matches throughout the year.

Science had always played an important role in the Green, and a number of Past Pupils who distinguished themselves in the field of Science. There was Mary Kehoe, M. Sc., Professor of Science at Carysfort Training college; Bridget Shelly, M. Sc., Assistant Lecturer in Zoology in U.C.D.; Carmel Humphries, M. Sc., D. Sc., Professor of Zoology, U.C.D; Mairin de Valera, M. Sc., Ph. D., Lecturer in Botany in U.C. Galway; Helen Doyle (Mrs. O’Reilly), M. Sc., Ph. D., Assistant Lecturer in Botany, U.C.D.

Perhaps the most famous of the past pupils of the Green is Mary Jo Lavin, who has won international acclaim for her novels and short stories. Elsewhere you will find a list of some other Past Pupils who have distinguished themselves in various fields, too numerous to include in this article. Neither is it possible to mention all those who down through the years have chosen the better part, and joined Loreto and other Orders. Many of them are still labouring in the Lord’s vineyard and passing on the torch, in almost all the countries of the world. Nor must we forget the ‘silent majority’, the thousands who have never hit the headlines, but who have lived full and dedicated lives, each in her own sphere. Their influence lives on in their children and grandchildren, and in all those whom they have helped and influenced by their example and by their ‘little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love’. Many, many are ‘ar shlí na fírinne’, but very many happily are with us still.

Space does not permit me to chronicle the successes of the Green Choirs and of the Orchestra, which has had many distinguished Conductors since Dr. Larchet’s time, including Miss Terry O’Connor (herself a Past Pupil of the Green). Dr. Anthony Hughes and Colman Pearse and Dr. Brian Boydell.

The school buildings have been extended many times over the years. In the 1920’s the Superior at the time, Mother Albertus Culligan, an Australian, built a spacious Refectory for the Boarders in the old 54 garden. Over it she erected a beautiful Library. She also built a Lunch Room for the Day Pupils where the terrace of no. 53 used to be. The next extension came in 1956, when the old music cells were demolished and, on the site, a four-storey building was erected. This comprised a shoe room and a new Laundry on the ground floor; four new class rooms on the next floor; an Art Room and another class room and new Music Rooms on the third floor, and on top a large airy dormitory with separate cubicles and hot and cold running water in each. At this time, too, the Concert Hall was enlarged. The last extension (to date) was made when St. Vincent’s Hospital was transferred to Elm Park. It then became possible to buy No. 55, newly repaired, carpeted and decorated by the developers. This is now the “Senior House”, sacred to the Leaving Certificate students.

A sad development remains to be reported; the phasing out of the Boarding school, which has flourished for more than 140 years, and has catered for girls from all over the country, North, South, East and West, as well as many from abroad. Sic transit Gloria mundi!

(The information provided here on the history of Loreto College is an abridged version of an article written by Sister Mary Evangeline McDonald in 1983).

Further to this in 1986 a fire partially destroyed the College and Convent tragically claiming the lives of six Loreto Sisters. A decision was taken to move the school temporarily to Harcourt Street where a new office block at number 79 was leased for two years. In 1988 “The Green” was reopened with entire new sections added to the original building.

In May 2006 the twentieth anniversary of the 1986 fire was commemorated by a mass and reception in Loreto College.

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