Rockwell College 1924-1925

Rockwell College Annual 1997, pp 53-57


If you arrived as a student in Rockwell College in September 1924 the Superior, or President as he is called now, was Fr Johnny Byrne and he had held the position since 1916. The Bursar was Rev. J. A. Kingston and Fr J. McCarthy was the Director of the Scholasticate. The impressive Fr Dan Murphy, D.D. Ph.D., M.A. was the newly appointed Dean of Studies while Fr F. Griffin was the Dean of Discipline. The lay professors included Sean Gallagher, M.A., M. Nagle, who had a B. Comm. and a Mr O'Hanlon, M. Sc. There were six prefects and thirteen lay brothers, two of whom, Eugene and Agathon are of not too distant memory. Br. Eugene was in charge of the refectory and Agathon of convalescents. 

The number of pupils in the college was eightyfive boarders, thirty-six scholastics and some fifteen day boys. The numbers had been in steady decline since 1920-21, when the combined boarders and scholastics had stood· at 194. This figure dropped to 161 in 1921-22, 125 in 1922-23. It remained the same for 1923-24 but dropped again for 1924-25. According to the community Journal for September 1914, the decrease was to be ascribed mainly to the rise in pension, to the slump in business and in income since the Great War. But the writer adds the comment that there must have been some other cause because 'our neighbours, the Trappists at Roscrea, have this year 183 boys and even the Dominicans at Newbridge 131'. 

The writer may have been implying that the 'other cause' was the republican ethos of the place since the advent of Fr Byrne as Superior in 1916. De Valera and the Republicanism of Sinn Fein was the prevailing political philosophy. In fact, one of the brothers, Malachy, was so much of that persuasion, that he was nicknamed 'De Valera' . The same brother was alleged to have ensured that some of his confreres received no polling cards at election time because 'they would only vote for the other side anyhow!'. 

The College, under Fr Byme, was a place of refuge for republicans during the Civil War and after. De Valera was a frequent visitor and an entry in the Journal for March 17, 1925 records one such visit; 'During dinner De Valera turned in and had a hurried snack in the parlour. The Superior, Frs. Kingston, D. Murphy and Heelan went out from dinner to see him'. 

We're not told if he stayed around for the entertainment that evening. The students put on a program in aid of the African Mission Fund. The program consisted of the Irish comedy, The Mineral Workers, selections by the College orchestra, recitations and vocal items. A fine crowd attended and a goodly sum was realised for the cause. 


Part of the prevailing ethos was the encouragement of things Irish, particularly Irish games. This encouragement was reflected in the success of the hurling team. The seniors won the Harry Cup. defeating Limerick C.B.S. by 7-3 to 3-4 in the fmal at Thurles on May 18, 1924. As a result the team qualified to play Roscrea in the All-Ireland on June 15. (No worry then of getting injured before the public examinations!) Roscrea were unable to field and the Central Council of the G.A.A. awarded the game to Rockwell. The gold medals for the winners eventually arrived in Rockwell on October 3. In 1925 Rockwell beat Thurles on March 29 but, according to the Journal 'the margin was very narrow, the game feeble and uninspiring. Are we on the downgrade in games as in numbers?' And the words were prophetic as the team lost the next round. Side by side with the promotion of Gaelic. games came the downgrading of 'foreign games'. Rugby was no longer played and cricket was banned from 1916 to 1946. 

The school day was less strenuous over seventy years ago. In September 1924 the three-quarter hour class system was abandoned in favour of hour classes and the number of classes reduced from seven to six daily. Class began at 9 a.m. with two hour classes, followed by a half-hour for catechism. There was a break until 12 o'clock, followed by two hour classes. Another break followed at 2 and the final class was from 2.30 to 3.30. Wednesday's classes were of half-hour duration and lasted from 9-11.30. 

New Examinations

The big change in September 1924 was the introduction of the new intermediate and leaving certificate examinations. They replaced the junior, middle and senior system in existence until then. In order to prepare the students for the new examinations, Rockwell introduced a system of monthly examinations with a galaxy to reward those who did well. We read that a galaxy went to Dublin to a match at Croke Park on November 22 (Bloody Sunday commemoration!). 

At the end of the year, on the occasion of Prize day, Fr. Dan Murphy welcomed the new examination system and in doing so outlined the deficiencies in the old: 'The griefs laid at the door of the old system were many and varied. The minor complaints I shall not say to mention. But .there is one thing for which, I think, the system was responsible and that is, its failure to give those who studied under it that really intellectual development without which it is normally impossible to rise to the heights of one's profession in after life. It was a system which developed rather the memory than the intelligence, which favoured the system of cram rather than the gradual, internal development of all man's faculties. That system, as I say, has disappeared and the principles underlying the new system conduce far more to the full development of all man's faculties, than the system under which we have been working for so long'. He had one criticism of the new system. While it exacted much more from pupils and masters than the old system, the rates of remuneration for teachers hadn't increased at all! Fr. Murphy produced impressive statistics to show Rockwell's achievements under the old system during the previous six years. Its pass rate had been very good: in 1919,77 out of 112; in 1920, 79 out of 101; in 1921,69 out of 92; in 1922, 80 out of 89; in 1923, an exceptional 59 out of 61; in 1924, 59 out of 64. He believed the high percentage of passes, secured by Rockwell in every grade, showed that the members of the staff must have reserved their best efforts for the advancement of the ordinary boy of normal ability. This he regarded as indicative, not alone of the greatest conscientiousness, but also of the highest educational training. During the six years mentioned the average pass rate for all Ireland never went much beyond 50 per cent and he ventured to affirm that there were few colleges in the country that could show a better record of passes during the year. 


In spite of this favourable picture there was talk during 1924 of closing down the College! It hasn't been possible to trace where this scare originated but it may have been mentioned in the light of the falling numbers. There is a reference to it in the Journal for October 26. Apparently, at the consecration of the Church in Cashel, Dean Innocent Ryan 'unhappily and needlessly harped back to the project of closing the College'. Previously, (on May 18) he had referred to a 'plot' to close the College. Now he said it 'was missionary zeal that underlay the proposal and that it was solely through the action of the priests of the Archdiocese of Cashel that the measure was rejected'. However, strong the notion of closure had been at any time, by October 26 it appears as if it had been put aside and was best forgotten. 

Relaxed Place 

Rockwell seems to have been a more relaxed place in the mid-twenties, in spite of its academic achievements. There were a good many free days. For instance, on October 7, the Journal reads: 'Whole day in Dr. Wilson's honour. The boys had a picnic to the Rock of Cashel and got back at 7'. For the intermediate results there was another free day and the boys went for a picnic to Athassel. But, as well as whole days off, there were regular half-days and even quarter-days! How civilised! There were regular power failures which curtailed activities like study. The entry for December 18 was: 'Light failed again for the 3rd or 4th time. The Xmas exam began at 1, instead of 5 as it is uncertain whether we could count on the electric light'. And, how welcome the following entry for December 22: 'Exams end at 12. Results read out at 5.30 (Please take note, present staff!) Boys were given vacation time till January 15 instead of 13'because the term's work had been good! ' 

And, a few final entries will add to the flavour of the period. September11, 1914: 'College invested in a car. The hall door servant, Luke Lyons, has been trained as chauffeur'. January 28, 1925: 'Sold 23 cattle at £19 average'. And 'The Crossword puzzle craze is rife among the staff'. March 3: 'The fathers were asked to think over the proposal to feed the boys better and to raise the pension to £60 or £65'. And 'The hounds came and found 2 foxes in our Black Grove'. May 17: 'The boys walked to Cashel, caught a Rockwell special train at 1.30 and went to Thurles to see Cork beat Limerick. They got back at 8.45'. May 19: 'Half year's increment of salary came from Hume Street. The max at present is £120 per annum'. June 11: 'Cinema pictures of the College were taken from the Pathe's Gazette'. The picture is nearly too good to be true and the problem with it is the absence of any boy's voice from the year telling us how it looked from his perspective.