Rockwell College 1923-1924
The year got off to the best possible start. When the results arrived on September 11 they were pronounced 'excellent'. They included the best prize list since 1916 and a record pass list. In the senior grade 17 passed out of 18. In the middle grade it was 19 out of 20, and all passed in the junior grade. The prize list brought 8 exhibitions, 1 book prize, 4 composition prizes and 4 medals. Donal McCarthy of Middleton, the brightest star in the Rockwell academic firmament got 3 junior grade medals. First places were achieved in French, Algebra, Arithmetic, History and Geography. No wonder the boys were 'granted recreation instead of the last class' and the promise of a free day in the future. The community had punch after dinner!
The results drew a flattering editorial from the Nationalist on October 23: 'Rockwell's year was probably the best in its long and splendid record . . . A school which wins no fewer than 11 exhibitions, 4 medals and 4 composition prizes on a total entry of 62 is something to be proud of. And it will be recalled that during last season Rockwell boys distinguished themselves also in the athletic field.'
There was to be a free day on the 13th but unlucky day it was and turned wet. The day was postponed. There was another postponement on the 17th as the weather was again bad. The chance was taken on the 24th and the boys went on a picnic to Athassel but they were caught in a downpour. A half-day was given for the results on the 28th and a whole day on October 1st. On this occasion the boys had a picnic to the Rock of Cashel and afterwards a matinee in Hannigan's cinema in the town. (The latter facility had opened some years previously and a dance hall was to be added the following March . Somebody was against this development as an attempt was made to set it alight the night before the opening, somebody perhaps influenced by Rev. Fr. Chrysostom O.E.M. Galway, who had sounded off about dancing the previous month: 'The purpose of modem dancing is not good. It makes for the corruption and strangling of the word of God and the corruption of the hearts and souls of of young people.' He added that modem dances, now in vogue, were direct incentives to sensuality and sin.
There were a few changes in the staff of the college. Fr. Cotter had died and Fr . P. Meagher of the previous year's staff had left. Fr. Griffin came in as Dean of Discipline in place of Fr. Leen. One of the lay staff, Mr. Twomey, had departed to take up an inspector-ship under the Education Board. There was a large batch of Brothers, helping out in the running of the place. Patrick was in charge of the shop and cellar, Brandon of the linen room, Dalmas of the tradesmen, Nicophorus the tailor, Albert of the indoor servants, Elimien the cook, Canice of the poultry and electric plant, Kieran of the garden, Malachy of the book shop, Aidan of the dairy, Finnbarr of the outdoor staff, Kevin of the brothers' refectory, Eugene of the boys' refectory and John Baptist was 'superannuated'.
Aftermath of the Civil War
The unsettled state of the country at the time impinged on the life of the college. On Otober 1 the farmyard was searched by Free State troops and not finding anything, they entered the Dean's wing where they were accosted by Fr. McGrath. He assured them that no wanted man was being harboured and they searched no further. Interestingly they had no warrant. Somebody had informed them that some of the 'boys' had been seen around the college at 6 p.m. the previous evening.
Early in October it was reported that there were eight Rockwell past pupils prisoners in the Curragh Camp, including Dr. John J. Comer of Galway. A week later a letter was received in the college asking prayers for past pupils, P. and M. O'Sullivan of Macroom, who were on hunger strike in Mountjoy jail and were ill in the prison hospital. Two weeks later the Journal reports: 'These days after Mass the boys pray for the prisoners, some thousands of whom are on hunger strike.' On November 19 we read that a past pupil, Jimmy White of Clonmel, was released from the Curragh Camp and, reflecting the divisions of the period, it is also reported that his brother, Eddie, was medical officer to the prisoners. In March we are informed that one of the servants, O'Brien, nicknamed de Valera, was arrested and tried with others before J. H. Rice, B.L., D.J., on the charge of 'raiding under arms.' He was sent to Limerick jail but acquitted on a technical flaw in the charge some time later. This experience may have had a shattering effect on his system because there is the following entry in the Journal for June 17: 'Thunderstorm at 10 p.m., in consequence of the shock of which the servant, O'Brien (De Valera), had to be attended by priest and doctor. '
It was a tough time for teachers. The Free State Government was imposing it's will in the new state. Notice came that to qualify for grants teachers should have eighteen hours class per week. Heretofore it had been fifteen. In November teachers' salaries were cut by ten percent, which meant a drop in salary of from £47 to £42 per annum. At a local level we read, in October, that 'Notes for boys' were introduced at last. But the entry continues: 'No notice having been given many of the professors handed in no marks.' The government also changed. the exam system. The old system of junior, middle and senior grades was to give way the following year to a two-examination structure, the intermediate and leaving certificate examinations. The year was the last year for the old system and the government had done away with medals, composition and book prizes. Only exhibitions remained but in future they would be known as scholarships.
There's an interesting entry for November 8. The results of the catechetical exams arrived. The college had come almost last in the diocese. The writer of the Journal has a query: 'Was the standard of the marking anything like uniform?' The reason for the query is spelled out. It was the Fathers themselves who had corrected the papers of the school, Ursuline Convent, Thurles, which had headed the list!
Beneath the surface all was not well in Rockwell. The big problem was the decline in numbers and the resulting drop in income. It was put starkly in the Journal entry for December 3: 'We have 101 boarders now as against 224 in 1916.' A later entry gives as the cause the slump in farmers' profits after the war, the unsettled times and 'our reputation for diehard republicanism.' We are working under depressing conditions. Our numbers have dwindled and the sword of Damocles hangs over us for the question of closing the college has been revived.' The immediate cause of the crisis is probably contained in a Journal entry for November 30: 'Mr. English, brother of Mr. John English, came and called in his loan of £450.'
The threat of closure was real and was given finite expression February 28 when the Provincial's brochure arrived. It set the case for closing Rockwell as a college and for turning it into a house for scholastics only. The matter was to be discussed at the Provincial Chapter in Dublin on April 22. Later we read of the Archbishop of Cashel's 'determined opposition' to the closure. The Provincial Committee came to Rockwell in April to interview the Fathers, one by one, on their views on the question of closure. All Rockwell Fathers, except Kingston, McGrath and Leen, attended the Provincial meering, held in Blackrock College on April 22. The proposal to close the college was defeated by 29-9. Frs. McCarthy, Griffin and McAllister voted with the minority. Fr. Downey did not vote.
Determined efforts had been made to face off the financial difficulties. There was a 'big push' in lecturing to prove, as the Journal put it, 'that mendicancy is superior to teaching, as a means of raising money.' The 'lecturing' was a talk on the Africa Missions, illustrated by 'magic lantern' slides. One in Clonmel realised £18.11, in Cahir £15 and in Cashel £21. The boys got the lecture on February 2 and there was a public one in the college the following night. We read that 'Luke Lyons, a servant, 'held up' the people coming to the 8.30 Mass and got them to buy £4.6.0. worth of lecture tickets.' The hall was about half-full for the lecture that night. Plus the lecture there was the orchestra, Fr. O'Brien's violin solo and Fr. McAllister and Mr. Mackey's songs which 'eked out the entertainment.' The takings were about £16.
All was not gloom, however. There were occasions to celebrate and to drink punch in the parlour. The Journal notes on November 1: 'Punch in the Parlour' and on November 6: 'Punch again.' Five days later the entry reads: 'Wine at dinner as the stout supply had run out.' On March 19 the scholastics had a picnic in Ballycarron. On April 3 there were 'baths for the boys.' On the 21st the 'prefects had a picnic to the Vee and the scholastics and boarders to Rosegreen.' Fr. Dan Murphy came from Knocknagoshel for some weeks' rest after his seven years' hard work in Fribourg. 'He is festooned with degrees, D.D., D. Ph. and M.A. in classics.'
There were also small difficulties and upsets. In November we read that a strenuous campaign was being waged on the farmyard rats. The byres were being rendered rat proof with concrete. In December there was an attempted robbery from the scholasticate and football pavilion. The robbers were surprised by the prefects and dropped their plunder, eight pairs of boots and football jerseys. They bolted through the grove towards Cashel. In February five of the Fathers attended the funeral of canon P.C. Ryan, P.P., Fethard. Fr. McAllister cycled and Frs. Kingston, Schmidt, O'Brien and O'Neill motored. 'Larry Stewart's erratic driving landed them in a ditch and gave them sundry other thrills of a like nature.' In March the engine working the dynamo burst 'so we had to fall back on the tractor.' At the may procession 'Fr. Muller kept us advisedly long in the Rock and rain drove us to scurry for shelter.' And, there was some danger attached to being a Father! An entry for May reads: Fr. McAllister and the C.C. New Inn had a passage at arms in Hymenstown over giving the last rites to Miss O'Dwyer. The latter priest was grossly in the wrong.'
The boys staged a couple od dramatic productions during the year. There were two short plays the night before the boys went home for Christmas. They were two farces. The Resurrection of Dinny O'Dowd was staged by the boys and A Merry Muddle by the scholastics. The production on St. Patrick's Day was a full length play and better reflected the republican ethos. It was The West's Awake or The Dawn of Freedom by J. Malachi Muldoon. There was a proper four-page program printed by P. Donegan & Co., 145 Trongate, Glasgow. What the connection was isn't explained. The Journal writer wasn't impressed: 'A feeble meloframa, in which some of the prefect's mispronunciations reflected discredit on the house.'
There was a major sporting success in winning the Harty Cup. There was no rugby of course, having been banned from the school since 1916. Nine teams took part in the competition" and Rockwell were holders. Their first match was on March 15 in which they beat Thurles easily. According to the Journal 'Neither his Grace nor the local clergy from college or parish patronised it.' North Monastery were beaten in the semi-fmal by 7-6 to 0-1 and the final, against Limerick C.B.S. was played at Thurles. 'All the boys went to Thurles by special train. The XV, the Provincial and most of the Fathers, motored over.' The day was uncomfortably warm. The teams were paraded by the St. John's Temperance Society band from Limerick. Rockwell led by 4-3 to 3-2 at half-time and won by 7-3 to 3-4. W. J. Walsh (Waterford) refereed. The winning lineout was as follows: N. Teehan, J. Jordan, W. Kennedy, D. McCarthy, P. White, G. O'Connell, T. Clarke, P. Dunphy, P. Powell (Capt.), N. Slattery, J. Keamey, K. Devenish, D. Cashman, T. Chawke, G. O'Donnell. Canon M. K. Ryan, chairman of the Tipperary county board, presented the cup and medals to the players. He complimented Rockwell and commiserated with Limerick. 'Rockwell had always had a tradition in many lines of athletics and now was forming a tradition in the great games of the Gael.' The school band went to the station in Cashel to meet the victors and all marched through the town to Dean Innocent Ryan's residence, where he addressed the group and complimented Rockwell from the steps. In the course of his remarks, according to the Journal 'he introduced some painfully indiscreet remarks about the plot (sic) to close the college.' Rockwell were scheduled to play Roscrea in the final of the Schools Championship of Ireland in Croke Park on May 15th but the Leinster champions refused and the Harty Cup champions were awarded the match.
The End of the Year
The year's progress is reflected in a number of.entries in the Journal. Towards the end of March we read 'Two swans have flown in and are nesting on the lake.' In April we are told . 'Summer Time came in at midnight, 12th. We keep true Greenwich time.' A student named Moloney from Cahir passed away in May. The boys had their ftrst swim on May 5 and there were two days of sports about the same time. The non-examination boys went home on June 16. There were 55 boarders and 12 scholastics for the examinations. Two of the lay teachers, Gallagher and O'Shea, left to superintend examinations in Cork. As the latter wasn't returning his"spupils presented him with 'a case of pipes.' There were two exam centres in the boys refectory 'under Mr. WaIter, an officious Castleknock man, and Mr. O'Keeffe of Ennis.' Most of the boys were gone by June 24 and three days later the matriculation exams began with Mr. Fitzgerald of St. Coleman's, Fermoy in charge. Eight Rockwell poys and eight outsiders sat for the exam. Eventually things quietened down and the Journal for the rest of the summer is concerned with more leisurely comings and goings by Fathers, Brothers and visitors.
Rockwell College Annual 1998, pp 26-31