AUGUSTINE'S COLLEGE, BLACKLION
|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
(The book is for sale via the following website:
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,
(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
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
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
The parish priest, Fr Matt Dolan, and Fr D'Arcy
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
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
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
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
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.
Chapel was the Completion of the College
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 complex is now Loughan House Detention Centre.
(To read John Byrne's affectionate account of
his days at Blacklion in the mid-sixties : click