CB, CBS Will we win? Yes! Yes! Yes!
That was the age old battle-cry that would burst from the
hordes of exuberant male students who proudly followed and
supported their hurling team from the Christian Brothers
School at James's Street, Kilkenny City. And they had
every right and good reason to do so because the CBS had
produced a myriad of All-Ireland hurling stars since its
inception as a place of learning for boys and blossoming
young men of Kilkenny.
Even in my time, there were many fine athletes who later
wore the black and amber jerseys with distinction, the two
Galweys, John Doherty, David De Loughrey, Denis Heaslip,
Jim (Fox) Maher, Sean Clohosey and Tom Dowling to name but
a few. Tom would later go into the Guinness Book of Records
for scoring all the scores for his own side (Kilkenny) in
an All-Ireland final.
Like the song sings: Those were the days my friend.
We thought theyd never end. And Im proud
to say we had great teachers. They had to be if they were
going to have any success in educating us, it seems to me.
We were reluctant partakes of knowledge. Not all of us of
course, for some progressed to become captains of industry
and commence. And others became great educators too. To
my mind, teaching has to be the noblest profession of all.
I find myself, every now and then, unconsciously reciting
Oliver Goldsmiths The Village Schoolmaster.
Beside yon struggling fence that skirts the way,
With blossomed furze unprofitable gay,
There, in his noisy mansion, skilled to rule,
The village master taught his little school
A man severe has was and stern to view
I knew him well, and every truant knew
Well had the boding trembles learned to trace
The days disasters in his morning face
Full well they laughed, with counterfeited glee,
At all his jokes, for many a joke had he
Full well the busy whisper, circling round,
Conveyed the dismal tidings when he frowned
Yet he was kind, or if severe in aught
The love he bore to learning was in fault.
There you have it: The love he bore to learning was
in fault. And this brings me to the essence of what
Edmund Ignatius Rice was all about. He was first and foremost
a teacher, a teacher especially of the poor and deprived
youngsters who had little chance of getting even the crudest
kind of education although the dreaded Penal Laws were at
that time relaxed. Yet there were few if any schools at
a primary level for Catholics.
This great man of God was born on June 1, 1762 on a farm
of 150 acres in Callan. It was rented property for which
his father paid two sovereigns per acre per annum. When
Edmund grew to school-going age, he was forced to attend
a hedge school which was held on a daily basis in the old
moat in Callan. The fee was four pence per week with an
extra half penny for dancing lessons.
These hedge schools were set up because of the ban on Catholic
education by the British authorities. And believe it or
not, Edmund attended this school until he was fifteen years
old. After that, to continued with his studies he had to
go to Kilkenny City to a boarding school known as Burrell
I do know that this old edifice of learning was close to
St Marys Cathedral. And I remember an article by the
late Dr Birch, Bishop of Ossary about Burrells Hall.
I have this article somewhere but my filing leaves a lot
to be desired. In any case if memory serves me right, Burrell
Hall was in Capel Lane where the Presentation Convent stood
later and where the Market Cross shopping centre stands
Edmund Rice was further educated directly opposite to where
the Christian Brothers School was later be erected in his
name. On reaching the age of seventeen years, he was sent
to Waterford to his uncle Michael Rice who was a wealthy
businessman with offices at Barron-Strand Street. Michael
owned a meat factory and exported mostly to England but
also to Newfoundland, and he imported fish from the latter
land. Edmund was a fast learner and was soon given a free
hand to run the large enterprise. he was now a highly respected
member of the citys business community. He was only
twenty-three when he married. But his young wife died only
weeks after giving birth to their daughter.
All along, Edmund Rice has been a most decent and dignified
person, who had spent his time and money helping the poor,
the sick and afflicted. He regularly visited those who were
gaoled because of debts they could not pay. Very often he
paid their debts and set them free. As he saw it, it was
the poor children who suffered mostly because of their parents
ill fortune or bad disposition. The lack of good schools
prevented the children from achieving their full potential.
Something would have to be done about this, Edmund reasoned
About the year 1778, a Buy Irish campaign got
underway in Waterford and a resolution was passed by the
Corporation which said That we will not deal with
any merchant or shopkeeper who shall, at any time hereafter,
be detected in imposing any foreign manufacture as the manufacture
of this country.
About a year later in 1796, Edmund Rice set up an organisation
to help adults who needed food and money. It was known as
the Distressed Room Keepers Society. But their children
would have to be educated if they were ever to break this
wheel of everlasting hardship. And so in 1800, with the
help of Bishop John Lanigan of Ossory and Bishop Thomas
Hussey of Waterford, Edmund Rice was teaching poor boys
in a business premises in Waterford City.
Two years later he rented a stable in New Street and converted
it into a schoolhouse. Almost 100 young boys were enrolled
on the first day. But it was tough work, so tough that the
two men whom he employed to help him failed to turn up on
the second week. He gave the boys a day off and went by
coach to Callan that very day. He knew two staunch Callan
men who would help him. Thomas Grosvenor and Patrick Finn
were the soundest men in Callan town. Together, the three
of them gave the poor boys of Waterford a first call education.
In 1803, Edmund Rice sold out his business and devoted himself
entirely to teaching and good works. One year later on May
1, 1804 he opened a new school at Mount Sion. This was the
first of thousands of Christian Brothers schools that would
be built all over the world. In 1808, Edmund and his teaching
friends decided they would take religious vows and wear
habits. In doing so they all took a new name. Edmund chose
Ignatius. He was now the leader of a dedicated order of
men who would change the entire system of education in Ireland
and far beyond.
In 1811, Cork City was the first recipient of the school
of the new Order and Dublin was next.In 1820, Pope Pius
VII sanctioned the establishment of the Order under the
name of Religious Brothers of Christian Schools (Ireland).
Two years later in 1822, Edmund Ignatius Rice was unanimously
elected as the first Superior General of the Order.
One very famous man who was helped by Edmund Rice when a
boy, was Joachim Carlo Guiseppe Bianconi. This man would
later give Ireland its first complete transport system The
Bianconi Coaches. He was born near Lake Como in Northern
Italy. When he arrived in Waterford he had very little money
and a poor grasp of the English language.
Later he told his story: When I arrived in Waterford
I was a poor, penniless, desolate Italian boy. But I found
Mr Rice a generous and sympathetic friend. He was tall,
vigorous, somewhat austere looking man; grace, practical,
businesslike and eminently respectable, though decidedly
plain in appearance and homely in manner. Bianconi
settled in Clonmel. There the people called him Brian Cooney,
they were unable to pronounce Bianconi.
The British Government passed the Catholic Emancipation
Act in 1829. There were clauses in it which seemed to threaten
the religious orders. The Protestant clergy of Carrick-on-Suir
were so worried about what might happen to the Christian
Brother Schools that they set up a petition which was led
by their Rector Standish OGrady (father of our own
Standish, the eminent writer). In any event, the petition
pleaded with the government not to interfere with the Christian
Brothers Schools. People of all beliefs agreed that
the Brothers were doing trojan work in educating the poor
of the country.
In 1838, Edmund Ignatius Rice gave up the position of Superior
General. He was than an old man and the work and very demanding.
He retired to Mount Sion. He died on August 29, 1844. The
cause of his beatification was opened in 1663 and he was
beatified in Rome on October 6, 1996.
Courtesy of the Kilkenny People
By Sean Kenny