St. Mel’s College, Longford: A School With A Great Tradition

Photo by Lalin Swaris

St Mel’s College, Longford, is 155 years old. Many Longfordians went to school here, including my own father. He spent three years there, and every time I pass I think of him as a teenager looking out of the windows; so there is a feeling of a personal connection.

My father had a varied educational history due to to travelling to West Cork at the age of three after his mother died, to return again to Longford at a later date to live with his father’s new wife and family; also he himself admitted that he found it hard to settle down to academia. I wrote a poem about this, which is in my collection of poetry, ‘Dipping Into The Font’. or

 Coming and Going 

 I was born in County Longford, along with my brothers and sister, 
 At three years old, Mammy and baby died. Oh how I missed her. 
 My aunt came and took us to County Cork, 
 Where we learnt manners and when to talk. 
 After happy years of family and many a valued friend, 
 Confirmation, brought this time to an affective end. 
 We went to Longford, a place on the wall; 
 But my sister didn’t come at all. 
 I travelled with Uncle on the old steam train, 
 Landing in Longford to meet Daddy again. 
 We drove in a car to a thatched country house 
 Where I met Daddy’s new family and friendly spouse.
  I soon made friends in Daddy’s school, 
 Where unfortunately I often broke a rule. 
 We went to Mass in the old jaunting car, 
 And listened to ghost stories by the crackling fire. 
 My father sent me to Cork and Dublin to learn, 
 When my education became a concern. 
 Eventually I settled in Longford, home of St. Mel, 
 Where I thought I was doing rather well; 
 But examinations revealed this wasn’t the way, 
 And I stayed home on the farm cutting the hay. 
 I read Sexton Blake; living my dream in London town, 
 I wanted to be where I let no-one down. 
 Then the opportunity of a job arose, 
 And I was taken to town to buy new clothes. 
 I left my father and the growing family, 
 And my new mother said these words to me:  
 “Mind your religion a Mac. Don’t forget to write often. 
 Look after your money and God bless you.
 When she poured these phrases in my ear, 
 I could not resist a lingering tear. 
 So I crossed the Irish Sea in August ’38, 
 Wondering what new adventure would await. 


History of St. Mel’s College

1865 – The College opened in September with 48 boarders and 25 dayboys. The architect was Mr. John Burke, the builders Messrs. Kelly of Granard and the total cost was £16,000. Fr. James Reynolds was the first President. Previously he had been Superior of St. Mel’s Day School in the Market Sq.

1871 – For most of the next decade the College was a major Seminary where students pursued courses in Philosophy and Theology right through to ordination. Approximately 650 former students of the College were ordained priests between 1865 and 2000.’

1879 – The Theology class was discontinued and students for the priesthood went to Maynooth and Continental Colleges. The Intermediate Education Act came into operation, providing payment to Schools like St. Mel’s on the basis of examination results.

1880 – The avenue of trees was planted during the presidency of Fr. Hoare who became bishop in 1895.

1884 – Student numbers dropped to 17 boarders and 19 dayboys. The fees were £30 a year for boarders and £4 for dayboys. Over the next ten years the College faced a tough battle for survival because of falling enrolments. Suggestions were made to invite a Religious Order to run the school or to turn it into a Training College for Primary teachers. Nothing came of these plans.

1896 – Bishop Hoare established a system of scholarships or half-burses which helped to increase the student numbers to 78 in 1897.

1908 – Irish was introduced on the Curriculum for the first time. Canon Fullam died aged forty-seven after fifteen years as President. Newspapers acclaimed the College’s outstanding examination results, moving from 79th place in Ireland to 15th with the highest percentage of passes in the country in 1908.

1914 – Stained glass windows were installed in the College Chapel.

1915 – Golden Jubilee celebrations were marked with the opening of a new Gymnasium and Library (now the Study Hall), built at the cost of £3,000.

1921 – The College was raided by Crown Forces during the War of Independence. Student numbers stood at 135 and Canon Michael J. Masterson retired after thirteen years as President. General Sean MacEoin was feted at a banquet held in the college to mark his release from Mountjoy Jail.

1926 – The Intermediate Certificate and Leaving Certificate were introduced.

1933 – New Dormitory and Baths were built.

1939 – The Emergency brought great hardship and food shortages. The President’s diary at the time recorded that the College was allowed 18 pounds of tea per month for 143 people, half a pound of sugar and half a pound of butter per head per week and half a ton of anthracite per month for cooking.

1944 – Three Mercy nuns arrived to supervise the kitchen and the Infirmary. For the next thirty years nuns were to play an important role in the life of the school.

1951 – St. Mary’s was built at a cost of £12,000 to accommodate the Sisters of Mercy and other staff. There were 169 students enrolled, 120 of them boarders. Fees were £40 a year for boarders and £8 for day boys. The death took place of Monsignor Thomas Langan at the age of 98. He had entered St. Mel’s in September 1865 and in 1935 his recollections of the early days of the College were published.

1965 – The Centenary year of the College’s foundation was marked with the building of ‘New Wing’, providing accommodation for 100 boarders, as well as a new Refectory. ‘Prefabs’ were also built to cope with the increasing numbers.

1967 – Free Education was introduced. New lay teachers were appointed over the following years to cater for the influx of new students, mostly day boys.

1985 – A new Assembly Hall, Classrooms and Sports Hall were constructed.

2000 – A new £2M extension was started and the Gymnasium was completed… The decision was taken to phase out boarding, with no First Year boarders being taken for the first time since 1865.

2001 – The long-awaited extension was completed and officially opened in November by Cardinal Daly.

2002 – Appointment of Mr. Denis Glennon as the first lay Principal, on the retirement of Fr. Frank Garvey. The last boarding students departed, ending a tradition which began in 1865.

2008 Transition Year was introduced to the college for the first time.

2009 The old school ref was refurbished as a school canteen and reopened as The John Gerety Hall in honour of the late John Gerety who was caretaker in St. Mel’s College for over 40 years.

2010 St Mel’s College welcomed the parishioners of Longford following the fire on Christmas Day 2009 in St. Mel’s Cathedral.

Photo by Lalin Swaris

Memories of St. Mel’s College

In 2017 former principal, Denis Glennon, brought out a book called, ‘Selected Memories: St Mel’s College 1865-2015′. Denis Glennon, in talking about St. Mel’ College said…

“At the time it gave people an education they wouldn’t otherwise have got.”

“Parents in those days as in today always wanted the next generation to do better than themselves and this opened the door to that.” Longford Leader

Many people have good memories of St Mel’s College. This is just one of them…

“There’s an old saying that an education isn¹t much use unless you are also given the knowledge of what to do with it. That has always been the glory of St Mel’s College: the promotion of a value system which extended far beyond the classroom walls. Most of us don’t realise the importance of our school until we have moved on so the day I left, armed with the invincibility of youth and the excitement of the unknown, I foolishly thought I would never look back. The truth, however, is that I never stopped looking back. And it’s not because of the friends I made, or the memories I took with me, or the things I learned, or the traditions I soaked up, or the dreams I had, or the lessons in life I was taught . . . No, it must surely be all of those things, and more besides, that have stayed with me. St Mel’s has always worn its great traditions lightly, developing and educating in equal measure and with the minimum of fuss. It was never one for the grand gesture, and it never will be.”
John Greene, Sports Editor: Sunday Independent.

Photo by Lalin Swaris
Playing fields of St. Mel’s College with St. Mel’s Cathedral in the distance. Photo by Lalin Swaris

5 thoughts on “St. Mel’s College, Longford: A School With A Great Tradition”

  1. There is an issue with your email. For some reason the images are huge and the print is very wide so I have to scroll across the page to read. I have no idea what might be causing this. Perhaps the plug-in your using for your blog? You might ask Dara to look at it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.