School History

History of St Joseph’s, Summerhill

Who’s carriage was the first to roll up the long, winding avenue leading to Summerhill, one-time seat of the landlord Gaynor family, we do not know. But we know that the tenant of Summerhill House in 1845, Mr. Edward Murphy was host to Daniel O’Connell when the later visited Athlone for the Repeal Demonstration held on Sunday 18th June of that year and that from the platform erected under “O’Connell’s Tree” – a giant beech to the left of the avenue as one approaches the building the Liberator held as estimated 200,000 people spell-bound by the brilliance of his wit and oratory on that broiling Summer’s day.

On the 30th July, 1831, the much-loved Administrator of the Parish of SS. Peter and Paul, Athlone, Rev. George Joseph Plunkett Browne, was appointed Bishop of Galway. He invited the Ursuline Sisters to establish a boarding school for girls in Galway. This they did in 1839. But in March, 1844, Bishop Browne became Bishop of Elphin. Before leaving Galway, he persuaded the Sisters to follow him to his new diocese. He invited the Ursuline Sisters to establish a boarding school here.

To Summerhill the Ursuline Sisters came in the depth of Winter in 1844, a few days before Christmas. Midnight Mass was the first Mass to be offered at the new “Bethlehem” and by remarkable coincidence it was offered in a room which had formally been a stable.

The grounds and original buildings were left by the Gaynor Family to the Bishop for an orphanage for girls.

In 1846, a day school was established. Further building had to be carried out to the right of the house; a beautiful shrine of Our Lady was constructed which is now known as “Our Lady’s Grotto”.

In 1849 the Ursulines left Summerhill and went back to Sligo.

In 1856 Bishop Laurence Gillooly was appointed Bishop of Elphin. In 1857 a certain William Potts leased 35 acres of land to the Bishop for the life-time of Prince Arthur and Princess Louise (Queens Victoria’s children) to build a Diocesan College. Bishop Gillooly could not build the college on such a flimsy lease; he could not buy the land

Because Catholics were forbidden by the penal laws to buy land. So on Mr. Potts death, Bishop Gillooly persuaded his son to take back their title to 4 acres of the land and release it to them for life. It was on this that old Summerhill was built. It opened its doors to students, lay and clerical in 1857. In that same year, the firm of P & H Lyster were given the contract of building the chapel and the Professors rooms over it.

In 1871 they were given the contract of building the extension south of the chapel.

Bishop Gillooly, having made Sligo his diocesan capital, brought the Seminary to Sligo. So the residential students and professors from old Summerhill transferred to the new Summerhill College in Sligo.

On 1st December 1880, Bishop Gillooly invited the de La Salle Brothers to establish a certified Industrial School in the vacant college. Due to lack of finance for the building and purchase of materials required, this venture was short lived and the Brothers left Athlone for another diocese.

In January 1882, a colony of six Sisters from Sligo Mercy Convent arrived at Summerhill to run the orphanage.

In 1957 second-level education was made available to all by the opening of the Secondary Top – a school in which the students followed the programme for secondary schools but under the auspices of the Primary Education branch. This operated very successfully from 1957 – 1965. In that year, Summerhill experienced its final revolution to date.

The combined boarding and day school, Scoil Pheadair, established by the Sisters of Mercy in Athlone in 1925 was severely hampered by lack of space – so it was decided to transfer the boarding school to Summerhill and operate Scoil Pheadair as a day school. A new modern primary school was built on the Drum Road, and the primary students transferred thereafter. The school was then entrusted to Messrs. O’Gorman & Sons for reconstruction in 1965 to be followed by further works in 1968.

Text from

A Brief History of St. Aloysius College
The school was founded in 1960 by Monsignor John McCarthy and Dr. Vincent Hanly, Bishop of Elphin. The institution is named after Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, the Renaissance Italian aristocrat born in 1568, who joined the Jesuits, and was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726.
The first classes took place in a small room attached to the Dean Crowe Theatre. It had one class consisting of twenty-four first years and two teachers. The college had the use of the facilities of the Dean Crowe Hall. One of the rooms attached to the hall served as a classroom. Another, which did duty as a pongo-room at night, served as a cloakroom and lunchroom during the day. When new first years were enrolled in 1960, they enjoyed the use of the pongo-room. Science and music were provided by outside agencies. In the first few years, little or no opportunity existed for the provision of sport. Students had to be content with handball played against the walls and sometimes the windows of neighbouring houses. Such games were often interrupted by noisy complaints from frustrated neighbours. Conditions were Spartan. School desks were donated by the authorities of local primary school after they were considered obsolete. Blackboards were fabricated by the first Principal, the late Fr. John Feeney.

In 1962, the school moved to a much larger, dedicated location at Deer Park Road, its present-day location. The Georgian house there, built at the beginning of the 19th Century, was the sole venue for classes in the early years after the move, but as the number of pupils grew, newer classrooms, study areas and recreation facilities were built.

Given the reduced circumstances in which the college was obliged to operate during the earliest phase of its existence, it might be imagined that the academic standards suffered as a consequence. This was not the case. The ability of the early students was far above average, as was their conduct and their anxiety to do well. Being members of the only class in the school was, in many respects, a decided advantage, making it possible for them to seek individual attention whenever they felt this necessary. Those who were the foundation members of the school still comment on the quality of their education and on the friendly atmosphere in which they worked. The great majority who enrolled in 1960 completed their secondary education at the college and, without exception, have distinguished themselves in many fields of endeavour.

The college had few rules. The emphasis was on good manners, upright conduct, originality of thought and the spirit of innovation.

Previous Principals of St. Aloysius College

1960 The first Principal of the college was Fr. John Feeney who previously worked in Summerhill College, Sligo.