St Patricks Maynooth
St Patrick's College, Maynooth was founded in 1795 as the National Seminary for Ireland.
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In 1896, it was granted a Pontifical Charter which empowered it to confer degrees in Theology, Philosophy and Canon Law.
In 1910, the courses in the Humanities taught in the College were recognised for degree purposes by the National University of Ireland. In 1966, the first lay students were admitted to the College. Student numbers grew rapidly, and the range of courses on offer expanded.
The Universities Act (1997) resulted in the creation of a new university, National University of Ireland, Maynooth. St. Patrick's College, which consists of the Pontifical University and the National Seminary, continues to exist side by side with NUI Maynooth. The two institutions share the same campus and work in close co-operation with each other. Some of the pages on this website, and in particular many of those relating to services for students, are common to both institutions.
As it looks forward to continuing prosperity in the 21st century, Maynooth College is conscious of the part it has played in a venerable tradition of education. This tradition stretches back to the glories of Irish monasticism one-and-a half millenia ago, through the thriving education centres for young Irish people on the continent of Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, to the flowering of indigenous higher education in more recent times.
All through the Dark Ages, when learning and civilisation on the continent of Europe were at a low ebb, the heritage of European civilisation was preserved in the monastic schools of Ireland which attracted great numbers of students from abroad. The last of these schools perished with the confiscations that followed Henry VIII in the 16th and 17th centuries. This was when the Penal Laws against Catholics came into full force and was the historical setting in which the College at Maynooth was founded.
One of the most successful steps taken in the great renewal of the Catholic Church in Europe in the 16th century was the setting up of seminaries. These were special schools for the training of the clergy, and ideally there was to be one in every diocese.
No college or seminary was permitted for Catholics in Ireland under the Penal Laws that followed the Reformation. Because of that, a number of small seminaries was established in the Catholic countries of continental Europe, for the training of priests for Ireland. Towards the end of the 18th century, these seminaries provided a total of 480 places. In a very short time, however, during 1792 and 1793, the whole system was destroyed by the French Revolution. When things settled down, only three of them reopened, in Paris, Rome and Salamanca. Of these, only the college in Rome is still training priests for the Irish dioceses. The loss of these seminary places, built up so painfully from slender resources, was nothing less than a catastrophe.
At that time, Ireland was a separate kingdom from Britain, even though it was under the rule of the British king. The Irish Parliament was entirely Protestant since no Catholic was eligible for election, but at the end of the 18th century it was becoming conscious of the plight of the Catholics who made up the vast majority of the population. In addition, Britain was at war with revolutionary France in 1793, and was anxious that no French threat should appear through the Irish back door.
An attempt was made to try to conciliate both Catholics and Protestants. Consequently, when the Irish Catholic bishops applied to the Irish Parliament for permission to establish a seminary in Ireland to replace the seminary places that had been lost on the continent of Europe, permission was granted. When the bill of the Irish Parliament, authorising a college, was presented for signing to King George III, he is said to have remarked that it gave him more pain than the loss of the American colonies!
The bill was signed on 5 June 1795, but no site had yet been chosen. In fact, the College opened in September 1795 at Maynooth, in response to the invitation of the Duke of Leinster, Ireland's premier peer, whose invitation would not and could not be refused. However, the official foundation date of the College has always been observed on 20 April 1796, the day when the foundation stone of the new purpose-built College of Maynooth was laid by the Viceroy.
That evening in Dublin Castle, Irish Catholic bishops sat down to dine with the Viceroy for the first time since the Reformation. This favourable attitude towards Maynooth was soon to change radically, especially after the Rising in 1798 and the Act of Union in 1800, and the College was lucky to survive its first ten years.
Even though the College came to be located at Maynooth through a series of historical accidents, the location none the less evoked very poignant memories. Maynooth had been the home of the great Norman family, the FitzGeralds, since 1176. Their ruined fortress still stands outside the main gates of the College. At the height of their power in 1518 Garret g, Earl of Kildare, founded the College of St Mary, under the terms of his father's will. In more propitious times this establishment might have grown to become Ireland's first university.
The power of the FitzGeralds was destroyed in 1535 when the forces of King Henry VIII, under Sir William Skeffington, captured the castle of Maynooth - one of the first occasions on which artillery was used in Ireland. The College of St Mary headed the list of religious establishments confiscated in the name of Henry's religious reforms. The FitzGeralds subsequently rebuilt their fortunes after the child-heir had been raised a Protestant. Later the head of the family became Ireland's only Duke, the Duke of Leinster, and it was his son William Robert FitzGerald who let it be known that the proposed Catholic college would be welcome at Maynooth, on the same site and under the same patronage as the FitzGerald's historic College of St Mary.
After its foundation in 1795, the College settled into a small gentleman's house which is still known by the name of its builder, John Stoyte. Out of necessity, other buildings had to be added quickly. They were built cheaply and were not very distinguished, for the annual grant from the government was small indeed. Nevertheless, the simplicity of the buildings produced one of the most elegant and greatest of academic courtyards anywhere, St. Joseph's Square, which lies at the heart of the present-day College.
A windfall came in 1845 when the British Government decided that it had to calm the agitation for the repeal of the Act of Union mounted by 'The Liberator' Daniel O'Connell.
The Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 had allowed Catholics to take their place in Parliament under the same conditions as anybody else. What had made this possible was the Act of Union of 1800 which had set up one Parliament for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at Westminster. Repeal of the Union raised the spectre of an Irish Parliament in Dublin with a strong and possibly preponderant Catholic presence.
The windfall took the form of an increase in the government grant and a modest sum toward new buildings. By combining this sum with a substantial addition from scarce private resources, it became possible to erect three sides of Maynooth's second quadrangle, the Gothic square of St Mary, now thought safe to name in memory of the old college of Maynooth of 1518. Both Pugin, the architect, and the College authorities were severely criticised for their architectural insensitivity in constructing a massive Gothic building to dominate the Georgian-style St Joseph's Square but the result, while lacking architectural harmony, turned out to be very pleasing and has given Maynooth the faade by which it is now best known world wide.
It is one of the ironies of Irish history that Maynooth College rose to splendour during the Great Famine, though in the rich agricultural land of north Kildare the greatest hardship was suffered by people from less favoured areas trying to make their way to Dublin and the emigrant ships. In fact, only one person died in the College during the Great Famine - the President!
The 1845 grant, while generous in comparison with what had gone before, did not reach far beyond the bare necessities. The building of an appropriate church for the College still remained in the future. A beginning was made in 1875, and the work took eighteen years to complete. The result was the largest and finest Gothic choir chapel in the world.
The chapel was used for the main events held to commemorate the College's centenary in 1895. This was celebrated with a triumphalism typical of the times, which it would be hard to recapture today. It did, however, leave one lasting legacy, the authorising of the College to grant degrees in Theology, Philosophy and Canon Law.
From the beginning, the College courses covered a wide range of the arts and science subjects, as surviving notebooks and the published curricula attest, and these were recognised as being of university standing. However, the formal granting of Pontifical University status did not come until 1896. The world's pontifical universities hold their charters from the Holy See, and other well-known pontifical universities include the Catholic University of America, Salamanca in Spain and the Gregorian University in Rome.
In 1910, Maynooth became a recognised college of the National University of Ireland and was therefore empowered to offer courses for University degrees. Long before university recognition, however, there had been distinguished Maynooth scholars in the arts and sciences, notably Nicholas Callan, Professor of Natural Philosophy from 1826 until his death in 1864. He is now universally recognised as the inventor of the induction coil, the foundation of all applied electricity.
When Ireland was politically partitioned in 1921 the religious institutions of the country kept their unity. The position of Maynooth as an all-Ireland institution therefore has considerable cultural
and religious significance in modern Ireland.In 1966, the Trustees took a decision to admit lay students to the College. Student numbers have grown considerably in the last three-and-a-half decades, and the range of courses on offer has expanded considerably. The Universities Act (1997) resulted in the creation of a new university, National University of Ireland, Maynooth.
St. Patrick's College, which consists of the Pontifical University and the National Seminary, continues to exist side by side with NUI Maynooth. The two institutions share the same campus and work in close co-operation with each other. St. Patrick's College can look back over two centuries of enormous contribution to the religious, intellectual and cultural life of Ireland and the wider international community. It now looks forward to continuing this contribution in the future and providing an education for its students - religious and lay, male and female, young and old, Irish and overseas - that meets the highest standards of excellence.
Telephone: 353 (0) 1 708 4772
Fax: 353 (0)1 708 3441