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200 years at Tullabeg

Irish Jesuit Archives have collaborated with Offaly Archives to publish online the catalogue of the papers of the Jesuit community at Tullabeg to mark the bicentenary of the foundation of St Stanislaus College. The papers, dating from 1812 to the 1990s, are comprised of title deeds, correspondence, diaries, account books, maps, plans, and photographs – a true treasure trove of material with local historical significance. They were collected by Irish Jesuits over the years and deposited in the archives until they were first catalogued in 1999.

The Jesuit community at Tullabeg (St Stanislaus College), Offaly was established in 1818, four years after they were restored as an order. Tullabeg was initially intended to function as a novitiate (training centre for Irish Jesuits) and a suitable site was offered in 1815 by Ms Marie O’Brien (1765-1827), of Rahan Lodge. She had also helped the Presentation Sisters establish a convent nearby at Killina. When the Tullabeg building was complete, the idea of novitiate was abandoned and the new foundation served as a feeder school for Clongowes Wood College, Kildare. Tullabeg rarely counted more than forty pupils, all of them below early teens and the pace of life was unhurried. Drama, debates and sport (gravel football and cricket) were encouraged, and facilities followed. The appointment of Fr William Delany SJ (1835-1924) as rector, transformed the College educationally. Pupils were matriculated and examined successfully for BA degrees at the University of London, and later at the Jesuit-run University College, Dublin.

However in 1886, Tullabeg and Clongowes were both in debt and the Irish Jesuit Province suffered from a lack of man-power. Therefore, to the consternation of Tullabeg boys and masters, the ‘amalgamation’ between Tullabeg and Clongowes occurred, resulting in the closure of the school. Tullabeg was repurposed, and became for the next century, a house of Jesuit formation. The first master of novices was Fr Michael Browne SJ (1853-1933), a widely sought after spiritual director, and was considered influential in the lives of Blessed John Sullivan SJ (1861-1933) and Fr Willie Doyle SJ (1873-1917). Locally, there has been a devotion to Jesuits John Cunningham (1817-1858) and John Hyde (1909-1985).

The online catalogue that has been published derive from the collection that is housed at the Irish Jesuit Archives in Leeson Street, Dublin and contains a wealth of archival material relating to the foundation of St Stanislaus College and its development as a school (1818-86), novitiate (1888-1930), and as a philosophate (1930-62). From the 1960s onwards, Jesuits conducted retreats, hosted garden fêtes and ran employment schemes at Tullabeg, until the closure of the house and public church in 1991. The Evie Hone windows were removed to the Jesuit retreat centre at Manresa, Dollymount, Dublin and today, the cemetery and the old buildings are a reminder of Jesuit life at Tullabeg.

Offaly Archives readily agreed to host the descriptions of the items in the Tullabeg collection on its online archives catalogue due to the pivotal role of the College in the lives of local residents in the Tullabeg/Rahan/Killina area and further afield in the county. A select amount of photographic material has been digitised to illustrate the catalogue and to provide a small insight into the treasures of local interest held in a centralised archive of a religious order. This was possible due to the generosity of the Irish Jesuit Archives and the advice and assistance of Damien Burke, the order’s Archivist.

The catalogue, which is completely searchable, contains approximately 350 descriptions and over 100 digitised items. The original material is also available to consult in person by making an appointment to view the archives in Leeson Street. Email [email protected] for more information. Click here to browse the collection». Lisa Shortall is the archivist at Offaly Archives.