Rockwell College 1920-1921

Rockwell College Annual 2000-2001, pp 148-151


The War of Independence impinged on life in Rockwell College in a major way during the period September 1920 to June 1921. The first entry in the College Journal to mention the subject appears on September 12th. According to it, one of the lay teachers, Seamus O'Neill, was arrested by the military near Blackcastle, Rosegreen. Reports varied as to what work was afoot there. One report stated it was an "Arbitration Court" of Sinn Fein. Another version was that it was a sort of Volunteers Manoeuvres. The writer goes on to give his own version: "The truth seems to be that it was a meeting of the Chief Volunteer officers of Munster." He adds a rider, "O'Neill, when taken on the staff after his previous imprisonment, had given the Superior in writing a pledge not to take part in any such proceedings." The teacher in question, known as the "Professor", was born in 1892 and was one of the Clonmel group involved in the Easter Rising of 1916. He was arrested in Rockwell in 1916 and on two later occasions because of his Sinn Fein involvement. He spent a term in Frongoch in Wales. He later joined the Garda Siochana and became a superintendent, serving in many places, including Galway. His son, Niall, was Principal of the Vocational School in Clonmel. He died in 1974. 

Eight days after, September 20th, the College was raided. A Flying Column of Lancers, numbering from 60 to 1OO, raided the College. The raid lasted' an hour. There were about half a dozen officers. The Commanding Officer, Captain de Burgh, was very courteous to the Superior, assuring him that his only objective was to searc;h Mr. O'Neill's room and that he had no intention of disturbing any of the Fathers. On their arrival, they put pickets along the main avenue and at the main principal entrances. There were three main search parties, one going to the Infirmary, another to the Rock and boat house and third to O'Neill's room and the Fathers' Corridor. A number of places were ransacked. The proceeds of the raids were two Irish Volunteer Drill Manuals which were found under 0'Neill's mattress, as well as Fr. Colgan's fowling piece and the farmyard gun, both found in Fr. Colgan's room and removed, although he had a permit for the former. 

On September 28th, the military broke into Carrigeen in the early hours of the morning and searched it. They also woke up the brothers Hennessy on Rockwell Hill but did not search their cottage. They were searching for a man "on the run". 

In the middle of October, it is reported that shooting was heard in the direction of New Inn. On the 17th of the month, a collection was made at the door of the Chapel during the People's Mass in aid of the fund for the Belfast expelled workers. £8 was realised. There are two interesting entries for October 25th. "The War in Wexford" by H. B. Wheeler and A. M. Broadley was begun as reading during dinner in the Community Refectory. Also the death of Terence McSwiney was recorded. 

The entry for October 28th reports on the ambush near Thomastown in which three soldiers were killed and five wounded. The writer adds, "That will bring reprisals fairly close to us. Some did take place in Golden and later on in Tipperary." The following day it is reported that there was Solemn Mass for the repose of the soul of Terence McSwiney. On November 3rd, five Rockwell priests went to New Inn for a Solemn Requiem for "young Murphy, a hunger striker, who died in Cork gaol." 

There is a lull in activities until December 19th when it is reported that a military lorry came a little way up the back avenue about 4.25 p.m. There was no Midnight Mass on December 24th owing to the disturbed state of the country. However, all was not gloom. The entry tells us that on Christmas Day after dinner, the Community had coffee vieux style in the parlour and some songs." 

The entry for December 30th informs us that on that morning, it was found that two double trenches had been cut on Rockwell Bridge. They were filled in during the course of the day. It was reported in the middle of January that a tree was felled near the front gate, "seemingly in connection with an attack on New Inn Barracks that night." Two days later there were sounds of firing and some loud explosions heard from the Golden side. There was no morning post on January 24th, "owing to the roads being trenched between Cashel and Goulds Cross." A week later, we are told that "two of our trees were found felled blocking the road near the front gates." 

On February 18th, Rockwell Bridge was again found trenched. "Mr. Folker, C. O. Cashel, called on the Superior and commandeered some of our workmen to fill in the trenches." The following day, the entry reads, "For some time past, owing to the state of the times, no mail car has been running between Cashel and Goulds Cross. This has led to the disorganising of our postal service." On March 5th news came of a Black and Tan having been shot in Cashel the previous night. "The town is in consternation, apprehending reprisals. The Officer, however, held his men well in hand." 

Cycling became a subversive activity as an entry on May 1st suggest. "A proclamation forbids cycling without a permit in the Cashel Inspectorate." Earlier it had been reported that Condon, the tailor Brother's assistant, had been arrested in Tipperary for riding a bicycle after 8 p.m. He had to pay £2 to redeem his machine. On May 5th very heavy firing was heard about 9.30 p.m. in the direction of New Inn. There was no post or papers on May 7th, owing to the blocking of the G.S.W.R. line by the destruction of the bridge spanning the line at Holy Cross. About a week later, it is reported that "Grogan, a neighbouring farmer, had his house at Shanballagh destroyed as an official reprisal." 

The College was the centre of activity once again in June. On June 8th, it was reported that during dinner time, some fifty of the Crown Forces came and made a perfunctory search of the College. They contented themselves with passing through the Boys' Dining Room, the parlour building and the Fathers' Corridor. Most of the troops remained outside. Two officers requested the Superior to sign a certificate that nothing in the house had been damaged or stolen. Later on, when the troops had gone, it transpired that at the Calvary under the Rock, the statues of the Blessed Virgin and St. John had been shattered. There was a Black and Tan picketed there and he seemed to be the worse for drink. The Superior wrote, reporting the matter to the C.O. Tipperary. The raid lasted about half an hour. 

A week later, a convoy of military lorries commandeered "some of our goal posts to help them get over the damaged Rockwell Bridge." They restored the posts. On June 21st, during the Annual Retreat for the Community, the Crown military forces encamped for the night on the Scholastics' playing field. That night, the LR.A. and the Crown Forces had an exchange of shorts at Garranlea. This is the last mention of the political disturbances. The Truce came into effect on July 11th. 

In spite of all the disturbances the College's academic year began on September 6th. The railway strike in the west made it hard for some of the boys to return. Some had to pay as much as £10 to motor over from neighbouring counties. The Staff was much the same as the previous year. The Community included Fathers Muller, Schmidt, Colgan, McGrath, Kingston, O'Neill, Meagher, Egan, Meyer, Leen, McAllister and McCarthy. 

There were three Fathers who were not on the teaching staff, the Superior, Fr. Byrne, and Fathers Cotter and Walshe. The Prefects (C.S.Sp.) included Rev. Messrs. McCarthy, Finnegan, Mansfield, Liston, Maguire, Neville, McGree and Foley. The lay teachers were Messrs. Ryan, Harte, O'Neill, Gallagher and Twomey. The Brothers were the same as the previous year with the exception of Brother Virgilius who had died. Brother Malachy's post as Parlour Brother was to be shared by Brother Canice and a servant. The total number of boys was 150 with the Junior Scholastics numbering 41. 

This was the year of the "Bleeding Statues" in Templemore. Fr. Leen went to the town to investigate. His conclusions are interesting. "While he was deeply impressed by the faith displayed by the people, and while testifying to the presence on the statues of what seemed to be dried blood, he reserved judgement as to the nature and origin of the phenomenon." He was correct in his reservations. An entry the following May reads, "In connection with the 'Bleeding Statues' of Templemore, the Archbishop got from the boy, Walsh, a signed confession, acknowledging that it had all been an imposture." 

Classes began on September 7th with six 10-minute classes between 2 and 3 p.m. There was a half-day on the following day. There was a free day for the Intermediate Prize List on September 13th. Because of the disturbed times, there was no walk. Rockwell won fourteen distinctions - three Exhibitions, 8 prizes, 1 Medal and 2 Composition Prizes." The Boys' Retreat began two days later and lasted four days. A free day followed and the boys went for a picnic to the Rock of Cashel. After tea that evening, they had a soiree. 

There is an unusual entry for September 26th. "At 9.30 twenty-eight boys ran away. Four of them returned in a few hours. The Dean, Fr. Leen, overtook them near Dundrum but failed to induce them to come back. Five leaders were definitely excluded while the others were back within a fortnight. Their flight seemed to be due to the idea that we should have a week's cessation of work to show our sympathy with the Lord Mayor of Cork, who is dying of hunger in Brixton gaol." There is a report on October 7th which has this to say. "Most of the runaways back. E. Hickey was sent to Blackrock. He was not a runaway, but seems to have incited the others to go." It is reported later that two boys ran away on January 30th. 

The Christmas exams ended at 11.30 a.m. on December 16th. The results were read to the boys at 8 p.m. that evening and they left for their vacation on the following day. On Ash Wednesday, which fell on February 9th, the boys went for a walk to Knockgraffon. The College was visited by an Inspector on May 2nd. A Mr. Ensor inspected the English, Classical and Modern Language classes. There were three cases of mumps among the Scholastics on May 6th. They were isolated in a new ward over the Bursar's Room. There was a fresh case on the 17th and three further cases on the 23rd. On June 7th, Mr. Nicholls of the Intermediate Board inspected the Irish and Mathematical Classes. A week later, we read that "the boys packed their trunks". The day after, about eighty boys went home, leaving a similar number behind for the Intermediate Examination. 

There is not a great amount about games during the year. On November 21st, the first team played and beat Cahir at Gaelic football. On December 8th, which was a free day, the Juniors beat the Dayboys at football. On January 30th, the Seniors beat the Scholastics at hurling. On April 13th, the boys began a· series of medal matches in hurling. There are a number of further references to medal matches but no mention of contests with other schools. The winners of the Competition had a special spread at dinner on June 12th, after which the Superior distributed the medals and addressed a few words to the players. The boys had their first swim on June 3rd. 

There were a number of celebrations during the year. On October 4th, there was coffee in the refectory after dinner to celebrate the new interim grant from the Intermediate Board. The grant worked out at some £37 per head for every qualified teacher, clerical and lay. They had more coffee the following day, in honour of a visitor. However, it was a mixed blessing "to have fifteen of us confined for an hour in our stuffy refectory." On November 18th, the sugar supply ran out owing to difficulties of railway transport. Gavin Duffy's "Life of Davis" was the reading at dinner in January. A supply of Wolfhill coal was received on February 7th. It was rather hard to kindle. Fr. Michael O'Shea's legacy of £500 for Masses was a welcome present on February 8th. On March 27th, there was coffee in the parlour after dinner and Fr. Egan upheld the thesis that "Ireland is not a nation." 

There was very bad weather in September and October. There are a number of references to gales and downpours. There was a stamp crisis in October. The old system was that all letters were given to the Bursar for stamping. According to the Journal entry, this was open to abuse by persons not belonging to the Community. Under the new system, the members of the Community had to apply to the Bursar for a supply of stamps and had to stamp their own letters. During the same month, an attempt was being made to have the prayers said in Irish. On October 9th, it is reported that a vaporised petrol lamp, known as a Quick-Lite, was tried in the Quadrangle and was a great success. It had been in use in the Lake House for the previous month. On April 3rd, we read that Rockwell adheres to true Greenwich time, which is 25 minutes behind Greenwich. 

There is a fascinating entry for April 26th. "A postulant, Cummins, either sleepwalking or delirious, clambered out of the upper Infirmary windows, and fell on the concrete walk at the cellar door. Save for bruised heels, he was uninjured." We are given more information the following day. He was diagnosed as having scarlatina and was transferred to Cashel Hospital. "The infection seems to have come through Mrs. Quinn, one of our milkers, so she was ordered to cease milking for the present."