The following extract is taken from : "The History of Killinagh Parish, Blacklion, Co Cavan" by the Very Reverend A Leaden & Jim Nolan and is reproduced with kind permission of the authors.

Additional photos have been taken from the GALLERY section. Special thanks are due to Olivia O'Dolan and Eugene MacBride for help in finding this material.

(The book is for sale via the following website:

In 1952 a new chapter of the parish of Killinagh began with the coming of the Missionaries of Africa known as the White Fathers. With the intention of building a college for aspiring Missionaries they purchased Loughan House, formerly owned by the McGovern family who had moved to a farm near Ballinarnore. (see photo, right).

The first occupants were Frs Andrew Murphy, M. Coffey, Ross Williams and Brother Aelred. They were later replaced by Father Byrne and Fr D'Arcy. They laid the foundations of very cordial relations with the local clergy and the neighbours.

In the Autumn of 1953 the building of the college began. The architect was Mr Desmond Martin, a brother Of Mother Mary Martin who founded the Medical Missionaries of Mary. Though most of the skilled tradesmen came from elsewhere, there was some welcome employment for men of the neighbourhood. Soon a fine elegant building with its modern lines began to emerge. It was designed to accommodate 50 students in the first two years of their seminary training.

The arrival of the first students at Blacklion, 1955
(L-R) : Gerald Wynne, Peter McComisky, Brendan Shannon, James Browne, Albert Gardner, Fathers Dooley & Cantwell

By September 1955 the college was ready. The first batch of six students had already arrived; they were to be joined by 20 others in time for the solemn blessing and official opening of the college which took place on September Ist. It was a magnificent occasion. The list of those who were present reads like as ' who's who' of Church and State. Besides Most Rev. Dr Quinn, Bishop of Kilmore, and several members of the Cathedral Chapter including Canon Connolly pp. of Drumkeeran, the Provincials of many of the religious orders in Ireland were present. Of course, Father Mat Dolan, the Parish Priest of Killinagh had a special place. The sisters were represented by many religious, led by Mother Mary Martin and of course the White Sisters who, for a time, were in charge of domestic arrangements in the college.

The guest of honour was An Taoiseach, Mr John A.Costello. Also present were the speaker of the Seanad, the chairman of Cavan Co. Council, the County Managers of Cavan and Sligo-Leitrim, as well as seven T.D.s of various parties. Mr Lynch represented the contractors, Messrs Murphy of Dublin. Naturally many of the 25 Irish White Fathers were there, including Fr. Geoff Riddle a nephew of the Taoiseach. A large number of the parishioners of Killinagh followed the procession from the old house to the new building where Bishop Quinn formally opened the front door and blessed the house. Then followed High Mass in the temporary college chapel.

The celebrant was Fr. Howell, a former Provincial, Fr. D'Arcy was Deacon and Fr Cantwell was the sub-deacon. Fr. Kevin O'Mahoney was the Master of Ceremonies.

The Solemn Blessing of the House in the Main Hall

During the lunch for 100 guests in the college dining room there were toasts to "Ireland", "The Bishop and Clergy" and "Our Guests". During his toast to "the Bishop and Clergy", Fr. Maguire alluded to the providential manner in which the White Fathers came to Kilmore Diocese. One day, Father Jack Robinson was chatting with the Administrator of Drogheda and asked him about the possibility of founding a house in Ireland. The Administrator advised him to approach the Bishop of Kilmore. It was some months later, after the death of the Bishop of Kilmore and the Administrator of Drogheda was appointed in his place, that the father had occasion to broach the matter with Bishop Quinn 'on the recommendation of the Administrator of Drogheda'. However, the Bishop did not act simply because his hands were tied: his welcome was too warm and wholehearted and the help he gave showed that he really wanted to have a missionary society like the White Fathers in the Western comer of his diocese.

Left : Bishop Quinn and Fr Jack Maguire

In the course of his reply, Bishop Quinn said he was gratified that the college building was a pleasing landmark on the countryside and a credit to all concerned.

"In coming here", he said "the White Fathers have acted in accordance with the Irish missionary tradition of ancient times. They have strayed far from the cities and settled where, in the words of the poet 'lake and plain smile fair and free'. They follow on the footsteps of St. Columbanus who founded the famous abbey of Luxeil, went on to Germany, Switzerland and finally to Bobbio, in Italy, where he retired to a cave to die. It was from this diocese of Kilmore that St. Kilian set forth as the founder of Christianity in Bavaria, where he is revered like St. Patrick in Ireland. The White Fathers are to carry on this tradition in their mission to Africa.

In his speech, the Taoiseach said that people might reproach government for the many people who were forced to emigrate, but the one kind of emigrant which he did not regret or begrudge were the priests, brothers and nuns who went to all comers of the globe to bring the light of faith. He did not begrudge the White Fathers any of these emigrants "because they will enrich our own country, increase its renown and bring further spiritual benefits on those who have to do the ordinarv work here at home".

And so the ordinary life of the college began. The urbane Fr. D'Arcy was in charge of recruiting vocations and financial support of the missions. Fr. Tom Dooley was superior of the Seminary with Fathers Monaghan, Taylor, O'Sullivan, Cronin, and O'Mahoney on the staff. Fr Cantwell was the bursar. The college provided a two year course of philosophy and allied subjects as well as a spiritual and social education to prepare students for missionary life in Africa. They would later do a one year novitiate and four years of theology in preparation for ordination.

Above : Fr Gerry Rathe, Bishop Quinn, The Taoisach, and Fr Jack Maguire

At first, Father Dolan could not be blamed for harbouring some misgivings, about having a seminary on the hill opposite his Church. But from the very beginning an atmosphere of friendliness and helpfulness already existed between the Fathers and the local clergy. The policy of the White Fathers was to be of service to the local clergy when asked to do so. When a priest of the surrounding parishes was iII or away on business he could count on the Fathers to supply for him. They would help out at busy times like Christmas and Easter. But they did not interfere in the ordinary pastoral ministry of the parish or solicit funds to the detriment of the local needs. Thus a strong friendship grew up between the White Fathers and priests of the dioceses of Kilmore and Clogher. They were always welcome to drop in for spiritual advice or just for a friendly chat and a cup of tea.
The parish priest, Fr Matt Dolan, and Fr D'Arcy WF

Students, Staff and Guests the Day the College was Blessed
Click here to identify individuals (reproduced on Page 214 of the GALLERY

People soon got used to the idea of seeing people from many different countries at the college, since they lived and were trained in international communities. Even in Africa where they exclusively worked, they lived in multinational groups of three. Though they wore a white habit (hence the name) and lived in community they were not monks who take vows but in fact secular priests bound together by an oath.

The students were at first a little strange, since many of them came from England or Scotland. In the college, their formal dress was the black cassock and Roman collar. But when they were out for the day they wore whatever young men of their age wore. They could be seen in groups hill-climbing or visiting archaeological sites. They did not have far to go for pot-holing as they had the most wonderful caves on the college grounds.

One cave they christened St. Augustine's Arch. Other favourite pastimes were playing football or tennis (they soon took on the arduous task of building their own court). When the golf course was begun in 1964 the students and some of the fathers lent a hand in levelling and working on the greens. The students excelled in many sports and pitted their skills against much larger institutions like Portora. Teams from Enniskillen to Sligo and places in between who were invited to play the students retain fond memories of the welcome they received at the college.

A landmark in the annals of the college was the ordination of Fr John Doherty W.F. of Derry in Killinagh Church by Most Rev. Dr. Austin Quinn. The newly ordained priest was a student of the college from 1956 to 1958. It was the first time that people of the parish had witnessed an ordination in their own church.

One of the outstanding amenities of the college was its proximity to Lake McNean. Many of the students liked to go boating or fishing and of course swimming. People must have thought crazy those hardy few who went for a swim on Christmas Day. There was also tragedy when one of the students drowned in the lake in 1963. The grave of Peter McKenzie in the local churchyard is still lovingly tended by the people of Blacklion.

There was a regular turnover of students; some finished their two years course, others decided that another way of life would suit them better. Until the line closed down in 1960, Eddie Keaney, the gate keeper, caused the Sligo, Leitrim and Fermanagh train to make an unscheduled stop at the road crossing near our main gate to enable the students to embark or disembark.

The staff too changed from time to time. Fathers Jones and Bradley came to manage the promotion work. Fr. Coffey was there too for a time. And who can forget Father Con O'Sullivan. They were competently helped by Annie and Caithe Greene of happy memory.

The Cast of A Man for All Seasons on the Main Staircase

One of the activities for which the college was famous was the annual play put on by the students. And then there were the pantomimes for children of all ages. The whole neighbourhood would be invited for the first show in the college itself. One of the most notable occasions was when they put on "A Man for All Seasons", a play by Robert Bolt. On that occasion the beautiful main staircase was used as a stage. As usual the students drama group took the play to several neighbouring parish halls to be enjoyed by a larger audience. These and many other social occasions brought the students and the people of the neighbourhood together.

No chronicle of the White Fathers at Blacklion would be complete without mention of the sisters of St. Gildas who so devotedly ran the kitchen and the domestic arrangements. (see left)

Fr Maguire took over as superior and Fr Lewis and later Fr O'Doherty joined the teaching staff. For a while Father Walsh and then Fr. McComiskey were bursars. Then Fr. Conlon was bursar for a few years.

The building of the College could be said to be complete with the addition of a tastefully appointed chapel in 1966. Indeed Bishop Quinn in his address said that he was taking up where he ended 10 years previously with the opening of the college.

"The college was incomplete", he said, "since it lacked an integral part of an institute established for the education and formation of priests, namely, the chapel. That has now been remedied".

He went on to say that he and the church had gained a new insight into missionary work since the Vatican Council. He said that a bishop has to be "actively involved in spreading the faith abroad, as well as maintaining and ensuring its practice at home. . . . He is to use every opportunity to give assistance to the missions and where he can, to create opportunities to do so. I am not only glad to be here, but I should be."

* Click here to read about the opening of the new chapel.

The New Chapel was the Completion of the College

One man who left a lasting impression on the people of the area was Br. Patrick Leonard (seen left), known simply as Brother to all and sundry. He introduced the breeding of turkeys. Each year he got day old poults, from the Agricultural College at Athenry reared them to produce eggs for McCormack's hatchery in Cavan from where day old poults were shipped to England. A dozen turkey stags were ringed by the Department of Agriculture and shipped to poultry farms as far apart as Kerry or Donegal.

It was in those early years that he thought of improving the dairy herds and introduced artificial insemination. Many of the local people will remember how he saved hay on tripods in the Quarry field and the jokes that went the round about saving hay on sticks. Of course Bro Paddy had the last laugh when the hay dried out nice and green.

When it was suggested to a local farmer that he should remove stones from his fields he replied "Those stones have been there since Adam was a boy and I will not touch them".

Bro Patrick will be remembered especially for his involvement with the National Farmers Association which met in the village school, thanks to the kindness of the Rev. Richey. The monthly meetings issued in bulk purchase of things like beet pulp, fertiliser and seed potatoes. From there the Blacklion Co-operators was formed. They bought a Massey Ferguson digger for land reclamation, use on the golf course and Glenfarne Clayware. Then they acquired a hay baler, a fertiliser spreader and a tractor powered cement mixer.

People still remember the foot and mouth scare in 1968. Students from England had to remain in quarantine in Dublin until the threat had passed. And people crossing the border had to disinfect their feet on large mats. And who could forget the farmers' dinner dance in the college which was very popular all of 25 years ago.

By 1970 changes in the education of future priests following Vatican I I were beginning to be felt. Students should no longer be educated in remote places 'where lake and plain smile fair and free' but where 'the hearts of mighty cities throb'. They can no longer be educated with the modest resources which a small institution can provide; instead they need the best that a larger unit such as a university can offer. Thus Irish students of the Missionaries of Africa leave Blacklion and will attend U.C.D. or one of the Consortia which are being set up by various orders in Dublin. The British students will go to similar institutions in London.

Thus comes to a close an illustrious chapter in the history of Killinagh parish. Fittingly, Bro. Patrick was the last man to leave. The local farmers held a social and gave him a parting gift to show their appreciation of all he had done in the parish. And in him they wanted to honour all the Missionaries of Africa who had passed through the college over the last twenty years. The lights went out at the college. It would no longer give the passer-by the impression , as one journalist put it, of a huge Atlantic liner as he glimpses the row upon row of small portholes like lights receding into the darkness".

The complex is now Loughan House Detention Centre.

(To read John Byrne's affectionate account of his days at Blacklion in the mid-sixties : click here).

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