marked the bicentenary of the founding of St. Finianšs College.
It is the beginning of a new era that starts the process
of phasing out boarders and next September will see the
first female pupils admitted to the diocesan seminary.
times are indeed a changin at St. Finians College.
The rising cost of maintaining boarders has lead to a decision
to phase out a feature that was synonymous with the diocesan
seminary over two centuries.
In September 2002 the last group of first year boarders
were admitted to the school located on the Longford road
on the edge of Mullingar. When the last of those complete
their secondary education in just over five years time the
dormitories and bedrooms will be put to another use.
St. Finians has been located in the central Westmeath
town for just under a century it was initially based in
the town of Navan overlooking the River Boyne close to where
St. Finians Terrace now stands. The college was founded
by the then Bishop of Meath Patrick Plunkett and opened
on May 2 1802 with Fr. Eugene OReilly as its first
Though Catholic Emancipation was still nearly three decades
away, the oppressed majority were beginning to emerge from
the constraints of the Penal Laws. Robert Hobarts
Catholic Relief bill of 1793 had opened up increased opportunities
for Irish Catholics and Bishop Plunkett, keenly aware of
the benefits of good schooling in promoting the ideals of
the church was anxious to establish a seminary in his diocese.
Within two decades the number of boarders at the school
had risen to 60 ranging in age from five to 22 while the
Catholic directory of 1821 reported; the classical
course is generally completed within the space of five years
and sometimes a shorter period, according to the age an
ability of the learner.
Those who go through a course of English only, generally
finish in three years. The time for admission is from the
age of seven to fourteen. Young gentlemen not having entered
their twelfth year, pay forty pounds per annum. From the
commencement of their twelfth year, the annual pension is
increased to forty guineas. For these respective pensions
they are boarded, educated and supplied with clothes, books,
stationary and every other article necessary for students.
There is no vacation at any seasons of the year and the
strictest attention is paid to the health, morals and general
advantages of the pupils.
Subjects on the curriculum included Logic, Metaphysics and
Ethics, Latin, Greek, French, Oratory and Declamation and
the use of globes. As the only seminary in the northern
half of the country, St. Finians attracted pupils
from as far away as Donegal, Thurles and Dungarvan.
Fr. OReilly was appointed Parish Priest of Navan in
1827 and was succeeded as President of the College by Fr.
Patrick OConnor, whose successor Fr. Nicholas Power
built the oval study hall which still stands and was known
as Powers Duck Egg. Power was not an advocate
of corporal punishment, preferring to exert a moral influence
over his pupils.
In 1867 Power was relieved of his duties and Bishop Nulty
assumed his role until Rev. Joseph Higgins, already on the
staff of St. Finians, was appointed as President.
With the setting up of a state exam system the college earned
a reputation for its great results.
As the 20th century beckoned it became obvious that a more
spacious facility was required. Bishop Nulty acquired a
site outside the town on the banks of the Boyne and set
a fund raising drive in motion that secured nearly £20,000
at the time of his death in 1898.
His successor Dr. Gaffney consulted with his parish priests
who opted to erect the new college in Mullingar. Given that
the diocese extends from the sea to the Shannon and takes
in nearly all of County Meath and large parts of Westmeath
and Offaly there was sound logic behind this decision.
However, there is a story which the suggest that the decision
to opt for Mullingar over Navan was influenced by huge support
in the latter town for Charles Stewart Parnell following
his fall from grace. But the former MP for Meath died nearly
seven years before Bishop Gaffney was appointed.
The site for the new college was bought in 1901 for £1,127
and the contract for the construction of the new premises
was signed two years later and was valued at £36,000.
It was completed later than scheduled in 1908. Students
from Navan transferred to Mullingar in February of that
year and the new school was formally opened and blessed
by Bishop Gaughran on March 2. Fr. Denis Flynn continued
as President of the college.
The curriculum continued to be classically based. Irish
had been added in 1906 but received little emphasis. Music
was taught on a part-time basis. St. Finians maintained
it excellent academic record but this suffered during the
political upheavals from 1916 to 1922 when a strong sense
of nationalism pervaded the college.
Soon the old order was restored and two new traditions were
established around this time. In 1919 St. Finians
participated in the first Leinster Colleges football championship,
winning the first of ten titles in 1925. They reached the
All-Ireland finals in 1960 and 1966, losing narrowly to
St. Jarlaths of Tuam on both occasions.
The college has not won the Leinster crown since 1966 and
is no longer a force in Colleges football. However, St.
Patricks Classical School Navan which was originally
based in the old St. Finians premises has come to
the fore in the last decade winning five provincial titles
and two All-Irelands.
The tradition of producing a Gilbert and Sullivan opera
began in 1922. This musical tradition was one the reasons
the college was chosen by the Irish Episcopal Liturgical
Commission to host the Schola Cantorum, which offered four
places annually to Irish secondary school pupils interested
in studying music at an advanced level. Its aim was to enhance
the standard of liturgical music in Ireland.
Fr. Frank McNamara was appointed as first director of the
Schola Cantorum and the first four students arrived in September
1970. In addition to achieving a high standard in academic
subjects in order to qualify for university, members of
the Schola Cantorum were expected to study piano, organ
and woodwind instrument.
It was hoped that on graduation, many of them would become
church organists and choirmasters and teach music full-time
in schools. The current director of the project, Shane Brennan,
was one of the initial quartet of scholarship students.
Over thirty years on the school continues to flourish and
many of its past pupils teach church music all over Ireland.
Some have pursued their careers overseas and competed at
the highest levels.
Some structural additions have been made to the college
over the years. The handball courts were added in 1910.
Initially the present study hall was used as a chapel, but
by 1912 the current chapel was completed. A new electric
plant was constructed in 1922 and later the multi-purpose
gymnasium was constructed.
A new complex boasting dressing rooms and showers was completed
in the mid-1960s and became known colloquially as the
temple. An 18-hole pitch and putt course was added by the
end of the decade.
During his term as President (1970-80) the late Fr. Jim
Deignan expended a lot of effort in improving living conditions
for pupils and staff. In the early nineties a new classroom
block was added as the curriculum broadened.
Pupils of the college have won the overall Prize in the
Aer Lingus Young Scientist of the Year on two occasions,
with Noel Boyle from Collinstown claiming the title in 1975
and in January 2003 Adann Osmani became the latest to win
St. Finians College has undergone many changes in
two centuries and no doubt will continue to evolve to meet
the challenges of its third century.
Taken from Maroon & White 2003