College History

Prior to moving to its present location, St. Nathy’s College resided at Edmonstown House (now the residence of the bishop of Achonry). This was the home to St. Nathy’s College from September 1893. Shortly afterwards, the diocese purchased the Ballaghaderreen Military Barracks from the War Office. This had been erected in the early nineteenth century after the 1798 Rebellion and had been the centre for the Ordnance Survey of the region carried out in 1837 – ’39. Subsequently it was unoccupied. From 1893 enrolment rapidly increased and, although Edmonstown Park College was a considerable advance in accommodation and facilities, it soon was quite inadequate for the places in demand. The College transferred to the Military Barracks in January 1896.


Patrick Morrisroe was consecrated bishop of Achonry in 1911. Very shortly afterwards he gave his attention to providing more facilities for the College. At the priests’ diocesan retreat held in the Cathedral in 1913, Dean Edward H. Connington proposed that all the priests of the diocese would pledge money for a new College building. This motion was adopted and, two years later, it was also agreed that subsequently each priest prior to being offered a benefice in the diocese would pledge money to offset the debt on the proposed new College.

Fundraising had previously been undertaken by Bishop Lyster at home and Fr Blaine in Argentina. Dr. James Daly, a colleague of Fr. Blaine, had also been fundraising abroad for more than a year. Work began on the New College which was completed in 1916. The architect was W. H. Byrne, Dublin and the main contractor was James Kieran, Dublin. Consulting Engineers were Maguire and Gatchell, Dublin.

The building was U shaped in classic style of three stories. It comprised an oratory, study hall, two large dormitories on the Fair Green side, two small dormitories, seven bedrooms on the second floor and seven sitting rooms on the first floor for the priests and students, a science room on the ground floor, study hall, stage hall divided normally by partitions into three class rooms, six classrooms, reception room and four washrooms cum toilets. In the Old College (Military Barracks) facilities continued for kitchen, dining rooms for staff and students, truck rooms and some class rooms. The new building was located in front of the Old College. The entrance to the Old College was modified and a new perimeter wall was erected along Chapel Lane. The New College opened its doors in September 1916 to 105 students, 70 of whom were boarders and an overall increase of thirty on the previous year.

By today’s standards the washing and sanitary facilities on the half landings of the stairs were meagre. The plumbing consultants were Musgrave and Co. St. Ann’s Ironworks, Belfast. Water was pumped from the basement / boiler house to the roof and attic tanks and sourced from a deep well near the eastern side entrance. The well was also equipped with a large hand pump for additional needs. The Consulting Engineers for electric lighting and power were Louis J. Lawless, Dublin.

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W.H. Byrne also designed modifications in the Old College. These involved the incorporation of the stairs and small end rooms on the east side into the adjoining large rooms to provide a large student dining room on the ground floor, a dormitory on the first floor and a Diocesan Library on the second floor. A new stairway in the battlement area replaced the old stairs.

The next extension to the College was the Recreation Hall which joined the New and The Old College on the north end. This was a one storey building and continued that function as a recreation hall until 1964. Andrew Breslan, Dublin later, in 1925, completed minor repairs and improvements to the Old College, the surroundings of the Recreation Hall and the boundary wall as well as to the drainage and sewers. Shortly afterwards, when the E.S.B. replaced the Ballaghaderreen Electrical Supply Company, the Old Electricity Office (Powerhouse) on Chapel Lane was purchased and furnished as a Science Laboratory.

In the thirties and during the presidency of Canon Ambrose Blain accommodation was, again, insufficient for boarding students. This shortage prompted the planning of the New Wing which was well underway in 1930. The president and the bishop began a building trust fund in the National Bank. They initially envisioned the provision of a study hall over the Recreational Hall and a two storey building of class rooms, dormitory and dining room adjoining and behind the Old College. This was revised and a three storey building linking the New College and the Old College on the Fair Green side was adopted.

Fr. Thomas Curneen, as president, undertook this project shortly after the outbreak of World Ward II. The New Wing consisted of three very large halls, the ground floor furnished as a dining room, the first floor as a study hall and the second floor as a dormitory. Between the New Wing and the New College, three large washrooms and toilets and a large side entrance on the ground floor were built. The style was a classical façade matching the earlier building. The Old College or Barracks had to be modified and the end section of the battlement which housed the dairy on the ground floor and two staff bedrooms on the upper floors was demolished so that the New Wing completed the quadrangle enclosure. The plan involved linking the New Wing and The Barracks through the new servery / washroom on the ground floor and by means of a fire escape from the gable top of the New Wing to the adjacent gable of the Barracks on the first floor. The Military Barracks ceased to be used for student classrooms, dining and trunk rooms and was increasingly used as residential accommodation for domestic staff and as a student infirmary. The official opening of the extension by Bishop Patrick Morrisroe was on the 6th September 1941. The contractor had been Mr. James Glynn, Ballina; the Architect was W.H. Byrne & Son, 20 Suffolk Street, Dublin and the Engineering Consultants were Hadens Engineering Co. Ltd. 199 Pearce Street, Dublin. The enrolment was then 150 having dropped from about 215 in 1935, but it rose rapidly to 190 four years later.

The student enrolment, and particularly boarders, gradually increased at the end of the forties and into the fifties. To provide extra accommodation, Canon James Colleran proposed building a new oratory on the ground floor and converting the existing College Oratory on the ground floor into two classrooms. The proposal was put to the priests at the diocesan retreat in the College in 1954 (the Marian Year) and the project was undertaken.

There was a very generous response to a diocesan collection in all the parishes for the New Chapel. An Oratory with accommodation for about 220 students and a cloister where the growing staff of priests could celebrate private Masses was designed by Noel R. De Chenu and John O’Reillly Architects, bill of qualities prepared by Padraig Mulcahy, Merrion Square, Dublin and building was completed by Kelly and Sons (Builders) Westport in 1957.

One detail worthy of note was the Stations of the Cross designed in oak by Walkinstown artist Mr. John Haugh. The main altar was dedicated to the memory of Canon Hugh O’Donnell who was president from 1911 to 1920. The seating (pews) was supplied by O’ Huigin Teo. Galway. At the same time a new sanitary building and water tower were built in the garden at the entrance to the football field and grounds.


In the sixties the then president, Fr. Thomas Fleming, built a recreation hall and an assemble hall cum theatre. The project, designed by Brendan P. Geffers Architects Dublin, was considered too costly and so was modified. A large recreation hall with elaborate features such as dipped tiled ceiling, copper roof and ornate masonry gable ends was built by James Faragher of Tuam. The architects were John C. Thompson and Company, O’Connell St. Limerick and the Consultant Engineers were Lyons, Boland and McArdle. The hall was nearing completion when Fr. Fleming died unexpectedly in March 1965 and it came into use for the first time as centres for the Leaving and Intermediate Examinations in June 1965. The revisions and modifications that were carried out during the construction phase caused many delays and problems and inflated the costs.

Subsequently the hall was used for projecting films, as a visitor’s reception area and for recreation with chess, tennis and recorded music. The old recreation hall and boot room became a shoe locker room. The lockers were heated and ventilated and intended for change of shoes and for drying football togging gear. A washroom equipped with showers, foot baths and hand basins was built adjacent to the old boot room. A new exit to the yard and direct assess to the Recreation Hall was opened through the end room in the old building which had functioned as a tuck shop and classroom. Along the connecting corridor and along the Recreation Hall gable an ambulatory was provided.

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The next major influence on St. Nathy’s was the introduction of the Free Post-Primary Education scheme which came into operation in September 1967. Gradually the number of day boys increased as fees were paid by the Department of Education and also resulting from the provision of free school transport for students who resided more than three miles from the nearest post-primary school. The effect was that enrolment of about 200 boarders in 1967 declined to 170 in 1976 while, in the same period, day boys increased to 136, for a total of 306. All classrooms were stretched to capacity and additional accommodation was sought.

The temporary solution was the provision of three prefabricated classrooms. The first was located in the area between the Old College and the Garden. In 1975 M. O’Carroll and Associates, Roscommon designed a prefab unit of two classrooms and cloak room which were erected in the Garden between the Oratory and the toilets. As well as an expansion in student enrolment there was also an expansion in the curriculum and steps were taken to have Mechanical Drawing and Woodwork taught for the Intermediate Certificate. This also involved co-operation with Roscommon V.E.C. and Ballaghaderreen Vocational School. An arrangement was made whereby the College and the Vocational School shared their specialist teachers as both schools expanded their curriculum range of available subjects. From 1964 such co-operation had enabled Agricultural Science to be taught in the College.

The downturn in Agricultural prices and income in the late sixties, together with increasing burdens of farm management and the outstanding debt on the Recreation Hall, led to the sale of most of the College farmland and the dairy herd about 1972. Fr. Charles Joseph Doherty also carried out considerable repairs and refurbishment of the Military Barracks. New windows were fitted, the building was re-roofed, the walls were stripped of ivy and replastered. The contractor was Eugene Madden. The kitchen was modernised under the direction of Sr. Maureen Lally.

The need for further expansion was recognised and planning was initiated and advanced by three presidents Fr. Thomas Flynn, Fr. Robert Flynn and Fr. James Colleran who took the New Building project to the contract signing stage in May 1982. Fr. Andrew Johnston (the incoming president) took responsibility for the construction and, sixteen months later, saw the completion of two new science laboratories, a Drawing Room, Woodwork Room, Biology Demonstration Room, seven classrooms, office, staff room, social areas and toilets. The architects were Jeffers, Kearns and Associates, Galway. Brian Reilly & Associates were the quantity surveyors. Kevin Madden, Galway was the consultant for mechanical and electrical services and the contractors were Mulhers Brothers, Crossmolina.

The blessing and official opening of the New Building was held on Sunday 29th April 1984, performing by Bishop Thomas Flynn and Mr. Ted Nealon minister of State for Art and Culture, both of whom were past pupils. Invitations to the opening were sent to all students of the College, their parents, national school teachers in the catchment area, priests of the diocese, school staff and public representatives.

Some ten years later in May 1985 it was agreed, in principle, that the three existing schools in Ballaghaderreen should amalgamate into one school located on the existing St. Nathy’s College site.

A building contract was signed on 21st December 1993 by Fr. Johnston, Bishop Thomas Flynn and Patrick Reynolds on behalf of builders Michael Reynolds and Sons Ltd. Carrick – on – Shannon. The architect was Niall J. Kearns of Galway. After much discussion and consultation, the building was officially opened on April 19th 1996.

As a result of this building project, the school was provided with some of the finest teaching facilities in the country. However, it lacked badly needed recreational and sporting facilities. Handball alleys and outdoor courts which had previously existed were demolished to make way for new classrooms but, unfortunately, were not replaced.

When it became clear that the school would have practically no sporting facilities and, in effect, be worse off than prior to amalgamation – staff, students and parents alike set about fundraising. Thanks to their very considerable support, dedication and commitment, a substantial sum of money was raised. Additional contributions from the trustee, along with corporate sponsorship, brought the total close to €500,000.

Thus, Phase I of this Sports Complex, completed in September 1995, was financed. It provided facilities for basketball, racquetball, handball, volleyball, indoor soccer, badminton and gymnastics to mention but a few. However, the structure lacked such basic facilities as heating, showers, toilets, changing rooms and adequate floor covering.

For several years the Sports Complex remained unfinished and, largely, barely functional. The then Minister for Education, Michael Martin, accepted an invitation to visit the school in September 1998. To his credit, the minister was sympathetic and promised assistance. He later sanctioned €100,000 from his Department to assist with the completion of the building.

Most of this financial assistance went towards the laying of a floor and the completion of other structural works. However, it soon became obvious that, with the building boom of the late nineties, it would require significant and substantial financial funding to fully complete the project.

Costings were obtained for Phase II of the Sports Complex which would provide the necessary changing / toilet / shower facilities as well as providing heating to the existing building.

That cost was estimated at €500,000. Minister Michael Woods was sympathetic to a request for assistance and, in June 2001, his Department sanctioned this amount. Work began on the final stages the building in September 2001 and, just a few days before being opened by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern T.D. on February 28th 2002, the building was finally completed. The contractor had been Noel Regan, Ballaghaderreen. The architect was Niall J. Kearns, Galway.

In September 2004, the College added to its sports facilities when it took possession of a reclaimed and now all-weather football pitch – a project which had begun in March 2001 by Sean Hegarty, Donegal.

Recent modifications to the campus also saw the 1985 building being reroofed as well as adjustments being made to internal corridors in June 2004. The architect responsible for the project was Niall J Kearns, Galway. The roofing contractors were Coleman Lynch, Ballaghaderreen. In June 2005 the entire school campus was broadband enabled with broadband access provided to all rooms on campus. This project had been carried out by Eircom.

In June 2006, the Old Military Barracks, as well as the 1916 and 1941 buildings, were totally rewired and upgraded for fire alarms. The contractors were Matty Conaty, Mullingar. The Consulting Engineers were Delap & Waller, Dublin.

During the summer of 2007 the school was made accessible for individuals with physical disabilities. This involved the removal of steps as well as the addition of ramps on all ground floors. A lift was also installed in the 1916 building. The following summer extensive restoration work was, again, done on the 1916 building which had its paint work restored to the original colour when built.

In December 2008, following extensive refurbishment, the College Gate Lodge was leased to a local business and opened as a Coffee Shop and Art Gallery. This was the first time the building was used for over three decades. During that time it had lain derelict.

During the summer of 2009 extensive work was carried on upgrading fire exits from all buildings, especially the older Barracks, 1916 and 1941 buildings. In addition, the Barracks was totally refurbished and upgraded. Thus, after many years of being in disuse, the building again became functional and provided much needed additional conference, meeting rooms and classrooms.

In the summer of 2009 the College Oratory was repainted and had its glass windows replaced with stained glass. The stained glass was designed and made by Eugene Harrington of Demesne Glass of Frenchpark. The new glass complimented the original Millennium stained glass window erected in the Chapel sanctuary to mark and commemorate the millennium. The Oratory was also adorned with a commemorative sculpture in metal by local artist Sally McKenna. The work, entitled “St. Nathy’s Oak” represented the connection between the saint and the oak tree of Ballaghaderreen.

The summer of 2009 also saw the entire school campus being insulated under an Energy Efficiency Scheme of the Department of the Environment. This saw all attics being insulated as well as all cavity walls being filled with insulating material.

Summer 2009 also saw the completion of a Bicentenary Commemorative Garden in the quad in front of the Barracks building.