By Sean Ryan - 28 July, 2015
Tipperary County Council recently honoured one of the country’s most famous Spiritan schools for its contribution to Irish education over the past 150 years.
Rockwell College in Cashel was honoured with a civic reception at the Council’s offices in Clonmel to mark its remarkable achievements over the past 150 years.
The school boasts a glittering array of past pupils. These include two past presidents of Ireland, Eamon de Valera and Dr Patrick Hillery; three attorney generals, a signatory to the 1916 Proclamation, Thomas McDonagh; a host of Irish rugby internationals, and two double winning Epsom Derby jockeys, Walter Swinburn and Joseph O’Brien.
Welcoming school principal Audrey O’Byrne, the head of the Spiritans (formerly the Holy Ghost Fathers), Fr Marc Whelan, as well as other members of the Congregation, and past and present staff members at Rockwell, Cllr Fitzgerald had a special welcome for Muriel McAuley, grand-daughter of 1916 leader, Thomas McDonagh, the only Tipperary signatory to the Proclamation, who was in Rockwell from 1892 to 1901.
Cllr Fitzgerald congratulated Rockwell College on 150 years of learning and its immense contribution to Tipperary, Ireland and the world, in the way it had prepared so many young men – and girls since 1985 – to go out in the world.
“We are all very proud of Rockwell College, and Tipperary is a better place because of it”, he stated.
“It is one of the most prestigious schools in the country based on the excellence of its academic, sporting and cultural achievements and has stood the test of time over the last 150 years”.
Principal, Audrey O’Byrne, thanked the County Council for honouring them and said, “everyone involved with the school shared the pride at the sense of accomplishment since its establishment in 1864.”
Ms O’Byrne said the school had “moulded the minds of so many well-known people who had contributed so much but had done the same for so many more who were less well known”.
“The ethos for all who had studied there was a sense of faith, a respect for education and a generosity and willingness to help others”, she remarked.
“It was an approach cultivated initially by the Holy Ghost Fathers when they set up the college to prepare priests for the missions and those influences had been carried on over the generations and still maintained today by the teaching staff,” said Ms O’Byrne.
She also linked Rockwell College to the framing of the Irish Constitution in 1937.
Eamon de Valera and Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, who was educated at Blackrock College, may not have been regarded as very liberal, but they had a significant input to the Constitution which was liberal, tolerant and accepting of differences at a time when other countries in Europe were clamping down on differences, she suggested.
“In my mind, the magic of Rockwell has always been that its history reflects the development of Ireland as a state. Its origins are at the time of land agitation, missionary endeavours in Africa and around the world, the formation of the GAA, the establishment of the state through initially rebels such as Thomas McDonagh and later Eamonn de Valera.”
“When you look at all these things you see that Rockwell College is a microcosm of national growth and change. While promoting a broad and high quality education, Rockwell sowed the seeds for generations of young men and latterly young women who made significant contributions to Tipperary, to Ireland and to the wider world”, she said.
Head of the Spiritan congregation in Ireland, Fr Marc Whelan CSSP, said they were very proud of the honour bestowed on them by the council.
He said that through its missionary work across the world, the Order “educates people of all faiths and none because we believe in a God who likes to spend time with everyone”.