Rockwell College 1922 - 1923

Rockwell College Annual 1998-1999, pp 86-91


Rockwell College suffered many disturbances during the school year 1922-1923, a year which coincided with the Civil War, which officially began with the shelling of the Four Courts at the end of June 1922 and ended with the order to the anti-Treaty force on May 24th, 1923 to "dump arms" and "cease fire". The Journal, kept by a member of the Rockwell Community, contains numerous references to the impact of the war on life in Rockwell. 

The College re-opened on September 14th when about 46 boys "managed to get back". It took some time for the schoolboy population to build up to a final figure of 101. There is a fascinating entry of October 2nd - "Boys continue to dribble in. Two have just arrived from Castletown Bere. Thence they had a thirteen-hour voyage to Cork, aboard a cargo boat laden with pigs. Many of the poor brutes got seasick and had to be jettisoned. From Cork the pair came here by motor." Another entry for January 7th 1923 states that a boy named Condon from Valentia arrived that day. He had been unable to travel during the previous term. We can only presume that this was because of the disturbances caused by the war. 

All the Fathers had returned to the College by September 14th, with the exception of Fr. McAllister. He was referred to in the Journal as Prefect of Worship in the 1921 entry but now is given the title of Prefet de Culte. All the lays (sometimes referred to as lay hands) returned, with the exception of Mr. Mansfield. He's referred to in an entry for the previous year as "ex-prefect, still wearing the habit" He eventually arrived back on September 17th as a layman. On December 16th he left to join the new Civic Guards in Dublin. 

There is a bit of bad news. Fr. Cotter, the Assistant Superior, had some sort of seizure on the first evening of term and fell downstairs. He was put to bed. However, things did not seem to be too serious as he was up and out the following day and heard confessions. But it must have been a false recovery because we read that the next day that he was sinking fast and was anointed. He expired at 10 a.m. on Monday, September 18th. 

The Community and Others

The religious community of Rockwell College at that time was comprised of Fr. J. Byrne, the Superior and his assistant was the above-mentioned Fr. J. Cotter. The Organist was Fr. N. J. Muller, a German. Another German member of the Community was Fr. C. Schmidt. Fr. J. McGrath was Dean of Studies and Fr. J. Kingston was Bursar. The Journal was kept by Fr. J. O'Neill. There was also Fr. M. Colgan, Fr. P. Brennan, Fr. P. J. Meagher and Fr. T. Cunningham. The Dean of Discipline was Fr. D. Leen. There was also Fr. P. McAllister, mentioned above, Fr. J. McCarthy, Director of Scholastics and Master of Singing. All the Fathers took class except Fr. Superior, Fr. Cotter and Fr. Kingston. 

The Prefects were Mr. Mackey and Mr. McGrea who were in charge of the study, Mr. Murren and Mr. Hanrahan who were in charge of the Seniors and Mr. Danaher and Mr. Reidy who were in charge of the Junior. 

The lay teachers were Mr. Gallagher, Mr. Twomey, Mr. Mansfield, Mr. Nagle and Mr. O'Shea. Mr. T. Enright was the Farm Steward and the Nurse was Miss Marrinan. 

There was a rather leisurely introduction to the year. On the day after arrival, the boys had six ten-minute classes from 12 noon until 1 p.m! They did have class on Saturday and on the first Saturday, there were six half-hour classes. 

Electric Light

There was a problem and that was light. The Community and the students had to make do with candles as the electric light was not yet fully installed. The old gas lighting system throughout the College was in the process of being replaced. The old acetylene fittings had been removed throughout most of the College. Apparently the work of installing the electric light had gone on during the summer. It was hoped to have it ready for September and the beginning of the new school year but the work was badly hampered as there were no trains "to bring in the needed apparatus." 

By September 19th, the electric light was on in the Fathers' rooms but it was very weak. "We miss the acetylene". The light continued to be unsatisfactory. On October 5th it was reported that a storage battery of 54 cells was being obtained. Six days later there was no light for two nights as the storage batteries were being charged. On October 12th, it was reported that the newly-charged batteries were providing light and it was a great improvement. But October 17th brought another hiccup. The light was cut off when a carpenter inadvertently drove a nail into the wires. In December we learn that a new engine had been purchased to drive the dynamo. When it arrived it was found to have been damaged in transit. On the night of celebration to mark the winning of the Harty Cup in April, the light short-circuited and the boys went to bed at 8.30 p.m. 

The disturbed state of the country was evident in other ways too. A postal strike started on September 9th. There were few outsiders at Fr. Cotter's funeral on September 20th - because of the strike, it was impossible to inform people of his death. The same was the case at the funeral of a former Provincial, Fr. Cornelius O'Shea, who died in Cork. His body was brought to Rockwell for burial in a Ford touring car because no motor hearse was procurable. The postal strike ended a month later, on October 9th, but a strike on the Great Southern and Western Railway a week later stopped letters and papers. Near the end of the month, there was a further problem. Some mails arrived at the college, bearing the legend, "Censored by the LR.A." There had been a hold-up of mails in Boherlahan, between Cashel and Holycross. 


A Sick Boy

One of the boys, Brendan Mallen, developed appendicitis on Septernber 25th, He was brought to Cashel Workhouse the next day and operated on by Drs. J. Ryan, Cusack and Foley. Mr. Mackey, one of the Prefects, amid a downpour, rode to Tipperary to get Dr. Ryan to come. Mallen must haye recovered because we read no more about him. On February 17th, we read that a student named Feehan ran away, seemingly with some idea that it was his obligation to report for duty to the Fianna. He returned two days later. 

The examination results were good. The Journal entry reads. "Our passes were excellent. In total, they got 78 out of 89, a percentage far exceeding that of the rest of Ireland. There was a free day for the results on October 3rd. The boys walked to the Rock of Cashel. Immediately after dining, the boys came home as the evening was threatening." Six days later, the Intermediate Prize List arrived. Rockwell was awarded four exhibitions, three book prizes, two composition prizes - nine distinctions in all. The boys got the following day off. 

The Civil War impinged on the life of the Community and the School. On September 16th, we learn that Fr. O'Neill, who went to Clerihan on ministry, had to make a rather devious journey as the Irregulars had barricaded the roads in preparation for an abortive ambush in New Inn. During the second week of October, there was a pastoral letter from the Irish Bishops, condemning as immoral the Irregulars' armed resistance to the will of the majority of the people and forbidding the sacraments to be administered to such as persisted in the armed revolt. The letter also suspended, ipso facto, any priest who publicly or privately advocated or encouraged armed resistance. The letter had to be read at the public Masses in Rockwell on successive Sundays. 

On November 3rd, Free State troops did a round-up at Heffernan's near the back gate of the College and the officer commanding, O'Dwyer, mortally wounded Iregular leader, Sadleir. Both O'Dwyer and Sadleir were both former Rockwell students. Miss Marrinan, the Nurse and Fr. McAllister were sent to attend the dying man. 

On Both Sides

A week later we read that half-a-dozen Irregulars were captured in a dugout at Ballydoyle. They included two Rockwell past students, Gus McCarthy of Fethard and Andy Moloney of New Inn. A few days later, there was another abortive ambush by Irregulars at Marlhill - a tree was felled after the Free State troops had passed. There was a sign posted on the tree that nobody remove it on pain of death. It was not, in fact, moved until January 3rd. 

On December 3rd, people coming to Mass in Rockwell were horrified when passing the crossroads near Cliffords to see a man lying on the road with his brains blown out and with a label attache'd to his clothing, alleging he was a spy and had been shot as such by the Irregulars. 

Two days later, we read that a military cycle patrol arrested Patsey Carey, a Rockwell worker, and took him to Cashel for having in his pockets incriminating literature, notably, a military signal code. However, on the following day, through the good offices of Commandant W. Quinlan, another former Rockwell students, Carey was released at noon. A week before Christmas, Free State troops on the march from Kilkenny turned into the College about 1 p.m., drenched and weary and asked if they could have food. Dinner was provided and a "chit" for payment was proffered. The usual Midnight Mass was not celebrated on Christmas Night because of the disturbed state of the countryside. We read for January 14th - 'Some of our servants were commandeered last night to help or rather to screen the Irregulars in communication-blocking arrangements. A tree of ours, adjoining Marlhill, was felled in the process." 

Things Get Worse

Because of the republican leanings of the College President, Fr. J. Byrne, there were regular rumours that Rockwell was a haven for Irregulars. As early as November 15th, the Journal entry stated that a report in Tipperary Town claimed that Rockwell had been raided from roof to cellar the previous day by Free State forces. The writer was concerned about the report which was groundless. "These lying rumours grow monotonous." But, groundless or not, they persisted. The entry for February 24th reads; "The Archbishop called and, in a half-hour's talk with the Superior, had his mind disabused of some of the ideas engendered by the reports that branded Rockwell as a centre of Irregular and anti-episcopal activity." 

On March 2nd, a tree was felled by the Irregulars near the back gate and this prevented the fishwoman from getting past to deliver her wares. Three local Irregulars were captured and one of them was John O'Brien, who, until some time previously, had been assistant cook in the College. 

The rumours had some influence on the civil authorities. On March 3rd, about 30 Free State troops searched the grounds and the servants' quarters. Less than two weeks later, the place was searched again, on this occasion the servants' quarters, the farmyard and the Lake House. In the last-named building, John O'Brien, nicknamed Scaddy or de Valera, was captured. O'Brien had been gassed in France, when fighting in the British Army during World War I and was drawing a British pension. Also arrested with him was a man called O'Neill, who was Brother Nicephorus' assistant tailor. 

There was another thorough search of the College by the Free State soldiers on April 14th. They had heard that Eamon de Valera was hiding there. The soldiers arrived again at 5 a.m. the following morning and remained until after the People's Mass. 

O'Brien was released from prison in Templemore on May 5th as his health was poor and he had signed an undertaking not to share in armed resistance to the Free State. There was a further search of the College on May 13th. It began at 5 a.m. and covered the farmyard, the Scholasticate and the servants' quarters. A baker, by the name of Grace, was arrested but he was released later on the intervention of an ex-Rockwell student, Sergeant Brophy. There was another raid at 4 a.m. four days later. It was to be the final raid of the school year. 

Ordinary Life

In spite of the political turmoil in the land and the interference with ordinary life, the daily routine continued at Rockwell. There was long spell of dry weather. There are a number of references in the Journal to the lake drying up. The entry for October 14th reads - "The fish are dying in scores in the diminishing lake, the roach resisting better than the trout." 

The scarcity of things was felt. On November 27th, the entry reads - "The coal supply is short and the stout can't be got any longer from Clonmel. The Fathers, many of them cut and carry their own fuel, are referred to by the writer as "the hewers of wood and the drinkers of water." 

For December 8th, the Witch Scene from "Macbeth" and some other dramatic selections were produced by Mr. Hanrahan, the Senior Prefect. The Christmas examinations were held from December 15th to 19th. The results were read out at 5.30 p.m. on the last day. Afterwards, there was a dramatic entertainment. Naboclish, a comedy in two acts, as well as other entertainment, was put on at 7 p.m. The following day, the boys went home. They had to walk most of the way to the railway station in Cashel and depart baggageless because, owing to the sudden frost, cars could not travel in time. 

In January, the electric light was installed in the St. Joseph's House, the Scholasticate, and, soon after, work commenced on the wiring of the Chapel. Around the same time, the front avenue was "well-macadamized and cambered" and the back avenue patched. In March we read that the road to Cashel is being steamrolled "after a fashion". 

Gaelic Games

There is no mention of rugby or cricket during the year and occasional references to Gaelic football. The chief game was hurling and the College had a good team, winning not only the Harty Cup, but the All-Ireland as well. The soldiers may have been searching the grounds of the College but this did not prevent the boys from getting in their hurling practice. The semi-final of the Harty Cup was played on March 18th. Earlier, Fr. Leen, the Dean of Discipline, tried to secure Cashel Sportsfield for the game against Thurles "but Mr. Looby refused to let us have it." No reason was given for the refusal, which leaves one intrigued. The loss of the home advantage did not make any difference as Rockwell had a comfortable win over Thurles C.B.5. 

The final, against limerick C.B.S., was played on April 22nd. The reporter on The Tipperary Star set the scene: "Sunday in Thurles reminded me of the old days before the Troubles arose in this grand green isle of ours. It was the occasion of the crossing of the camans between the boys from Rockwell College, renowned the world over wherever an Irishman is to be found in educational circles, with the Limerick representatives, or the boys from the Treaty Stone, in the final of the Dr. Harty Cup and set of medals." 

About a thousand people attended and Rockwell had the better of the exchanges. They were somewhat heavier than their opponents and, with the aid of the breeze, led 3-2 to 0-0 at the interval. In the second half, they held their advantage, partly due to bad marksmanship on the part of Limerick, and were ahead by 5-2 to 2-1 at the final whistle. The victorious side was Sheehan (Captain), Fleming (goal), PooIe, ColI, Foley, Scully, Brosnan, Ryan, Chawke, Hickey, Duffy, McCarthy, O'Connell, Hackett, McCall. 

According to the Journal, Fr. McGrath and Mr. Mackey brought a "Galaxy" of prizemen to the match. When the team and the supporters returned to the College, the Superior made a short speech to the victors. That was at 8 p.m. but "because the light short-circuited, the boys went to bed at 8.30." The next day was a free day in celebration of the win. The Fathers had coffee after dinner. 

The All-Ireland was not played until June 3rd. No fear then of injury to the examination students! In Preparation, the team played'a strong fifteen from Thurles at Rockwell on May 6th. Tom Semple came with the team and put up two "rise and strike" medals to be competed for by Rockwell and Thurles. A Rockwell boy was the winner in each competition. The team went to Blackrock the night before in preparation for the match against Roscrea at Croke Park the following day. In a very moderate game, Rockwell overwhelmed their opponents by 6-1 to 1-0, having led by 3-0 to 1-0 at the interval. Roscrea had 160 boys that year as against 101 at Rockwell. 

Lighthearted Moments

One of these was referred to as "The Tragedy of the Gorgonzola". Apparently in January, Fr. Colgan received a present of a large piece of Gorgonzola cheese and stored it in a hideaway near the parlour. The Nurse scented it out, and objecting to the aroma, consigned the whole thing to the flames. 

The Superior, Fr. Byrne, had befriended Fr. Matt Ryan, PP, Knockavilla. On St. Patrick's Day, Fr. Ryan and the Knockavilla clergy dined with the community. There were songs and speeches over coffee. According to the entry, "Mr. Hanrahan's 'company' gave a performance of the 'Eloquent Dempsey' which fell a bit flat." 

At the end of March, most of the boys went home for Easter. Not all, however. Some twenty stayed on together with eight scholastics. On April 2nd, the Prefects, scholastics and the boarders went to the matinee at the Kinema (sic), Cashel. 

In May the scholastics began to complete the handball alley. They also acquired a new boat which was christened the Stella Maris. Two coracles, which they had been using up to then, were deemed unseaworthy and burned. Towards the end of the month, they started croquet.

End of Year

Winning the All-Ireland earned the boys a free day on June 4th. A week after, the non-examination students, forty boarders and eighteen scholastics, went home. Nine scholastics were held back for manual labour. There were sixty boarders and ten scholastics for examination. There were two centres in the boys' Refectory. The examinations began on June 12th with Mr. Cooney superintending. The boys went home on June 21st with the exception of the Matric students. As well as the Rockwell boys doing the Matric here, there were five outsiders, four from Cashel and one from Bansha.