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Jesuit life in Rathfarnham Castle

A collection of scholarly essays relating to the Dublin suburb Rathfarnham one hundred years ago has just been launched. It features an essay by Damien Burke, Assistant Archivist of the Irish Jesuit Archives, on ‘The Jesuits at Rathfarnham Castle, 1913-1923’. The book is called Rebellion and Revolution in Dublin: Voices from a Suburb, Rathfarnham, 1913-23, a contribution to this year’s commemoration of Irish events between the Easter Rising and independence.

In his essay on the 16th century Rathfarnham Castle, which the Jesuits purchased in 1913 as a house of studies, Damien includes much detail of the sale and of the separate purchase of the house contents at auction.

The Jesuits bought an assortment of chairs, rugs, bookcases, carpets, tables, wares and a stuffed monkey in a glaze case! It seems they also intended purchasing Lot 548, a stuffed cheetah; however, the £10 valuation was too high.

There is more than a hint of class and privilege in Damien’s description of daily life for the Jesuit Juniors who lived in the Castle. They followed a routine of study and prayer, “with interludes of debating, performing plays, football, cycling trips (to Armagh and back) and a three-week annual summer holiday to places such as Killiney, Laytown and Monkstown”.

They were not required to clean, cook, repair or farm, tasks which were undertaken by employees and Jesuit brothers. The Juniors took the readings of the seismograph, designed and built by Fr William O’Leary SJ at Rathfarnham Castle in 1915, which recorded earthquakes. The diary for the seismograph was used in national newspapers to detail the size, time and distance of the epicentre of the earthquakes from Dublin. In September 1923, the Great Kantō earthquake in Japan in which over 100,000 people died was recorded.

The essay also describes the upset caused in Castle life both by rebellion at home, in the aftermath of the Rising, and by war in Europe. There were four Jesuits living in Rathfarnham who served as chaplains in the great War, the most famous of whom was Fr Willie Doyle. Offering his services on the front, Fr Doyle wrote to his Provincial saying:

It is sad to think that our poor fellows are dying at the front without a priest while the country is crow[d]ed with men looking for work… It is not often one gets such a chance of going through real hardship for the salvation of souls, with the possibility any moment of dying a martyr of charity.

Doyle’s offer was accepted. He served at the Front from November 1915 until his death in the Third Battle of Ypres in August 1917.

Damien’s essay also covers the fractious times around the Civil War and the War of Independence, during which time Blessed-elect John Sullivan served as Rector of Rathfarnham Castle. The Castle continued to function as a Juniorate until 1975 and for retreats until 1986 when the Jesuits sold Rathfarnham Castle. The following year, it was purchased for the nation by the Office of Public Works.

Rebellion and revolution in Dublin is edited by Marnie Hay and Daire Keogh and is published by South Dublin County Council. It is available from any South Dublin Library or from their online book store.