Rockwell College 1917-1918

Rockwell College Annual 2003-2004, pp 159-162


Probably the most momentous event in the College during the academic year 1917-1918 was the decision to abandon rugby and cricket in favour of Gaelic games. The decision was taken in the aftermath of winning the Munster Senior Cup in 1917 when Rockwell defeated Christian Brothers College, Cork by two tries to nil in Cork on March 10th. One of the final sentences in a report of the match ran as follows: "From the scrum at the '25 mark Mike Ryan, emulating the doughty deeds of the Mike of international fame burst over the line 'festooned with Christians'." Following that game, eight Rockwell players were selected to represent Munster against Leinster. 

The announcement of the decision does not appear in the College Journal until October 24th and then only as a comment on the first part of the entry relating to Rockwell travelling to Fermoy for their first Gaelic match. The entry reads: "A notable change has been introduced this year. Foreign games (Rugby and Cricket) are replaced by Irish Gaelic and Hurling. Gaelic will be played until Christmas, then hurling from Christmas to Summer." Nothing else! No reference to a debate on the decision or how the journalist felt about the matter. The decision is generally credited to the President of the College at that time, Fr. John (Johnny) Byrne, who was nationalist in outlook and who was carried along by the nationalist fervour of the 1916 Rising. He was appointed President of the College and Superior of the Community in August 1916. He may have been respondmg to pressure from outside. E. D. Ryan of Cashel had proposed a motion at the 1917 County Tipperary G. A. A. convention calling "upon colleges and secondary schools within our county to give our national pastimes a foremost place in their games." As a result of this motion there was a Schools and Colleges meeting at Limerick Junction on June 2nd. This meeting was called to discuss the position of Gaelic games in the schools and the organisation of competitions for a football cup put up by the Munster Council. Later, Dr. Harty, the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, put up a cup for a Provincial hurling competition. It was agreed that the Committee governing the competitions have one member per county and that the chairman have a casting vote. The age limit for the competitors should be 19 years on June 1st each year. 

According to the report, it is not clear if Rockwell had a representative at the meeting, but it is obvious that the College went along with the decision. One of the schools' representatives at the meeting hoped that the foreign games rule would not be implemented too strictly. It would appear that Rockwell fully approved of the decision on foreign games because it seems clear from the decision reported in the Community Journal for October 24th, only Gaelic and hurling were allowed in the school. This may have come about after a further meeting of the Schools and Colleges representatives held in September to organise the competitions for the school year. At that meeting it was also agreed to reduce the age limit from 19 to 18 on January 1st 1918. 

Immediate Success 

Rockwell enjoyed immediate success in the competitions. They put in some preparation through a series of challenge games against St. Colman's Fermoy, University College Cork and St. Brendan's, Killarney. The first round was against St. Brendan's at Kilmallock on November 28th. The Journal reports: "The result, eagerly awaited, was in the nature of a surprise. No one expected Rockwell on its first appearance in Gaelic competitions to do so well. Result: Rockwell 2-5, Killarney 0-3." The final against St. Colman's was played at Kilmallock on December 15th. Rockwell won by 1-7 to 1-0. According to the Journal entry for December 15th: 

"Rockwell thus won the Gaelic Football Cup the first year of their appearance in this competition - a truly great performance." And for December 16th, the entry reads: "After breakfast today Fr. Superior received the Cup from the Captain of the team in the study hall and spoke for some time announcing that he would accord three days to be added to the holidays on account of the victory. The strange anomaly of Gaelic and rugby cups standing side by side on the parlour table today may be remarked. Rockwell need have no regrets now in parting with the rugby cup without entering in for its competition this year - it is more than replaced." 

Harty Cup

In January the draws were made for the Harty Cup competition and Rockwell got a bye into the second round. They beat Roscrea by 3-3 to 3-1 on March 25th at Limerick. The final of the competition was a calendar month later and their opponents were Christian Brothers College Cork, the school they had defeated in the rugby cup the previous year. According to the Journal, "The team left for Thurles at half past eleven o'clock. Nearly all the Fathers travelled together with the prizewinners of last year's Intermediate exams. Appended is an account and result of the match: Rockwell 5-5, Christians 3-1." The "appended" account includes the information that the ball was thrown in by Dr. Harty and that the match was vigorously and energetically fought out. At the conclusion of the game, Dr. Harty presented the cup to the winning captain and distributed the medals to the winning team. He stated that "Hurling was one of the most manly, most ancient and most graceful games that the world knows. It was Irish and helped to foster an Irish and a manly spirit - the spirit that was so essential today. It was a game associated with their country's history and could be traced back to the dawn of Ireland's story. There should be no Irish boy but should be proud of this magnificent and Irish game of hurling." 

The winning team was given: J. Daly, M. Collins, E. o'Donnell, M. Fox, K. Egan, J. Quinn (Captain), M. Quinn, P. Power, W. Heron, W. McCarthy, T Ryan, T. Lynch, T O'Connor, J. Maher, W. Ryan. T Kerwick refereed. 

The Journal continues: "Rockwell thus secured the two cups for Gaelic football and hurling on the first appearance in Gaelic circles, and the first year the cups were put up for competition. The team arrived home at 7.15 p.m. having paraded through Cashel on their way back." 

And the entry for April 26th reads: "After breakfast the boys, according to custom, took the cup around the lake. At the parlour door, the captain presented the cup to Fr. Superior. He spoke for some time in Irish, then in English, and then gave the boys a whole day (i.e., free day)." 

The report for Pentecost Sunday, May19th relates: "During the afternoon Mr. Keogh took photographs of teams etc." The Harty team photograph exists, but the football team does not and neither does the line out of the latter, unfortunately. 

Arrest And Imprisonment

There is an interesting piece of information in the entry for October 15th: "When Mr. O'Neill was about to leave Cashel en route for class, the police arrested him under the D.O.R.A. regulations." 

To understand the significance, one has to go back to the entry in the Journal for May 4th 1916, a week and a half after the Rising on Easter Monday: "Mr. O'Neill-lay master - arrested at 7 a.m." he was released at some later stage because he appears in the list of professors in September and continued teaching in the College. He was known for his nationalistic outlook and was a member of Sinn Fein. His arrest at this time was part of the Dublin Castle authorities' clampdown on Sinn Fein members following the party's victories in the by-elections. One of these arrests was that of Thomas Ashe who died as a result of force-feeding while on hunger strike. His funeral on September 30th 1917 was the occasion of a massive public demonstration. 

Mr. O'Neill also went on hunger strike and the Journal entry for November 16th reads: "Today's paper contained the news that Professor O'Neill of Rockwell had been released after a hunger strike in prison. He was one of a batch of Sinn Fein prisoners." The next entry concerning him occurs on November 16th: "Mr. O'Neill resumed his work today. The boys gave him a hearty ovation on his re-appearance." 

We hear about Mr. O'Neill's political fate again on March 1st when the Journal reports that he was again arrested as he was leaving Cashel for Rockwell. There is no further news of him for the year. 

From other sources we learn that Mr. J. O'Neill, as he is referred to in the Journal was more commonly known later as Seamus O'Neill. Born in Dungarvan in 1892, the family moved to Clonmel in 1899 where Seamus received his schooling. He trained as a teacher at De La Salle Teacher Training College, Waterford, and got his first job at Rockwell College. Later he served time in Frongoch, Durham and other places. After his release, he returned to Rockwell where was greeted with a two by four inch card, which read: "We no longer have a job for you"! After that he got part-time work in the High School, Clonmel and in Ring College. 

He took no part in the Civil War and when the Garda Siochana came into existence in 1923, he joined the first week. He made a rapid rise through the ranks going from Guard to Sergeant to Superintendent in the course of a single week! He remained a Superintendent until he retired in Galway in 1957, apparently having fallen foul of the Garda Commissioner, Eoin O'Duffy. He married three times, had five sons and died in January 1974. He is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery in Dublin. 

More Mundane Matters 

After these two major items of interest, the year's entries are on the short side, covering fewer pages than normal. The College re-opened on September 10th, with about one hundred boys, fifty of them new. The new Dean of Discipline was Fr. (later Bishop) Bartholomew Wilson back from service as chaplain at the Fronts, where he had been for two years, having been decorated with the Military Medal." The following March, Fr. Daniel Leen takes over the position, after Fr. Wilson becomes ill. There are two lay professors, Mr. Ryan and Mr. J. O'Neill. Rev. Messrs Finn, Egan and White were the new Prefects. 

The Intermediate results were notified on September 17th. Rockwell did not do well. There was no exhibition - nine prizes - four in Senior including medal for trigonometry one prize in Middle, four in Junior. The School Retreat commenced on the evening of September 26th and continued until the 30th. The Retreat Master was Fr. M. Ryan (Fr. Francis O.E) a past student of Rockwell. A free day followed the retreat. 

It is interesting to read what the boys did on free days. On the day just mentioned, they went for a walk to Cashel. On the day the Intermediate results were announced, they went to Ballycarron on a walk. There was a soiree in the evening. There was another soiree organised by Fr. Muller on December 8th. 

There was a change in the regulations on October 9th. As there was a danger of Carbide shortage, the change was made. "Class begins at 9.30 instead of 9. From 9.00 to 9.30, there is a half-hour study. Boys go to bed at 9.30 p.m. instead of 10.00 pm. This regulation takes off a half-hour of gas expenditure." 

The Christmas examinations commenced on December 9th and continued until the 19th. The last exam was Arithmetic from 9.00 to 10,30 a.m. During the afternoon, the boys prepared to go home. The results were read out at 5 p.m. "Twelve boys have been kept back for a day on account of unsatisfactory work during the term, and bad results at exams." 

Farming Matters

Farming concerns also make their way into the pages of the Journal. We learn on October 9th that 'the new tractor was used today to do the threshing. It was quite a success." Later, on November 15th, we are informed that "An under-steward came today to take charge of the farmyard (poultry, pigs, milch cows etc.) He replaces Brother Canice who has got charge of the Brothers'Refectory." 

There were a number of deaths during the year. On November 19th, we are told that Nurse Armstrong had fallen seriously ill and a Nurse Kelly came to replace her. Nurse Armstrong died on December 3rd. "Her death was deplored by all. She had been most efficient, kind and good in her role of nurse here for three years." She was buried on December 5th in the Community Cemetery. Her brother and her two sisters were present at the funeral. "Wreaths were given by the lay-professors and the boys." Brother Edmond died on March 6th "after a long suffering illness." Two days later Brother Tobias died. 

End of the Year

The end of the year comes around fast. At the end of April and the beginning of May, we read that Inspectors Ensor and Nicholls came to inspect the Intermediate class. The College exams commenced as early as May 10th and it appears that class resumed when they were over, until the non-Intermediate students departed for the summer on June 13th. The Intermediate exams commenced the day before and continued until June 18th. The students went home on the 19th, with twenty-two remaining behind for the Matriculation exam. The Fathers' Retreat took place from June 23rd to June 30th, followed by the usual dispersal of the Fathers. There are only two entries for August. The first states that only some four Fathers were present during the greater part of the month. The second reads as follows: "Announcement made at Strangers' Mass that there are to be no public Masses henceforth before 8.30 a.m. on Sundays. This had been made necessary by the disorder occasioned through outsiders coming up into the front benches during the Fathers' meditation. Some have been even up in the Organ loft."