Many students have been disappointed in securing accommodation in existing Irish Colleges, and it has been decided to open a new one in the historic district of Ardmore. A magnificent house has been secured with residential accommodation for 40. Residential Accommodation £2 to £3 per week. Tuition Fee £1.
The above advertisement appeared on a pamphlet, Clock Labhrais, which reported on the status of Irish in the schools of the diocese, for the year ending June 30th 1920.
Coláiste Deaglán held its first session then, that same summer at Ardo House, which had been rented from the McKenna family for the purpose. Classes also took place there the following summer.
Monea House was then acquired from the Bagge family and as Coláiste Deaglán, prospered until the mid-thirties. The influx of teachers (attending as pupils) then had declined, as most of them had by this time, acquired proficiency in Irish but several continued to come, to enjoy a holiday in congenial surroundings in the company of friends and of figures well-known in national circles. The clientele by then also included teenagers from various secondary schools, coming both to improve their Irish and to have some fun.
The residential accommodation in the college was always augmented by the guesthouses in the village and visitors rented houses in the district and sent their children to the classes each day. It is certainly true that Coláiste Deaglán gave its first fillip to the tourist industry in Ardmore, and for many years was its mainstay. It was only after the war, from the late forties on, that the industry began to develop, as we now know it.
The first wave of enthusiasm for Irish had waned by then and the writing had begun to appear on the wall. In an effort to re-vitalise the college, a limitedcompany was founded in 1937 with Deaglán O Cuilliú, Grange and Liam O Míocháin, An Rinn, as principal shareholders. A new addition was built at the eastern side this became the property of the Dungarvan Mercy Convent. It then became the Round Tower Hotel, run by Michael and Mrs Ronayne, and now owned by Aidan Quirke, formally of Clonmel.
The first rural week organised by Muintir Na Tíre was held in Coláiste Deaglán in 1937 and another one in 1938. These occasions brought it very much into the limeligh, atended as they were by influential national figures and by no less a person than Dev himself who stayed for the week, going to mass each morning in the local church, and taking time too, to visit an old neighbour, William Harris from Bruree who had a public house on the site of Harty's residence. One night, at the céili in An Grianán (a separate hall built for dancing and extra classes), Mrs Cullen asked him out dancing at a Rogha na mBan, and there was a general rush for the floor, everyone looking forward to meeting Dev. In Fallaí Luimní.
Maud Gonne McBride also attended and spoke at, at least, one of the nightly sessions. Canon Hayes, founder of Muintir na Tíre, was there of course; so was Dr. Ryan, the then Minister for Agriculture. Gertrude Gaffney, correspondent for the 'independent' and Aodh de Blacam for the 'Irish Press' gave first-hand accoutns of the day-to-day events, in their respective newspapers.
In the forties, a course for vocational teachers was convened at Coláiste Deaglán, two years in succession. Andrias O Muimhneacháin, iar-uachtarán of the Oireachtas helped to run that course; Caitlín Ni Ruairc also taught there. She was later to help Lady Goulding in founding the Rehabilitation Centre in Dublin.
These sessions evoked memories of the earlier years when the place was vibrant with life and hope and love of the old language. However, it was its swansong and it was sold to the Tourist Board, who perhaps had visions of a hotel there, but all the villagers saw happening, was the demolition of the high walls around the orchard and the opening-up of the big yard between new and old buildings, where aeríochta used to be held in the earlier days.
It was sold in 1954 to Mr F Nugent and Mr J O'Brien. For the next four years, the I.C.A. held meetings there, in the big room at the right hand side of the entrance hall. The G.A.A. later had the room at the left, and there was considerable liaison between the two groups. Then in January 1958, the tenancy was ended and the building was demolished. So ended Coláiste Deaglán.
To the local boys and girls who knew it in the thirties and early forties, it looked like an 'institution' that was always part of Ardmore and would go on forever. It seems alsost incredible that it lasted less than forty years.
The memories of youth are wound round it inextricably, the wonderful céilithe at the Grianán each night; of endeavouring to direct the big feet of Jim Murphy-O'Connor, brother of the bishop of Arundel and Brighton (now Archbishop of Westminster) through the intricacies of Rinnce an Fhéir, without revealing that he knew no word of Irish (he was being given directions in Irish by fear an tí); of classes with red-haired Michéal O'Conchubhair, the most popular teacher of all; of Michéal O Foghlú playing the bagpipes not alone in the hall but up and down the street with Seainín 'Coe'; of the Italian count who came to Muintir na Tíre rural week and spoke of his lands round Bobbio, the monastic foundation of St. Columbanus. Big Liam Moloney, the 'Gas', Pilip Ó Laoghaire of Cor Cois Laoi fame, Muiris O Faolain, the seanchaí all flit in and out of the pictures conjured in the mind. Máire Ní Mhéara, one of the three Clonmel sisters, came year after year to teach irish Dancing. Eilís Dillon, the well-known novelist, was Bean an Ti, once or twice.
Michéal O Foghlú was the person associated with Coláiste Deaglán, throughout the whole period of its existence, being its secretary all that time. A local man, he spent some time in Scotland, was involved with Irish classes there and went to Wales in 1911 where he worked in Connradh na Gaeilge classes with Pádraig O Mileadha, the Sliabh gCua poet. There was a life-long friendship between them and they corresponded frequently, mostly on poetical matters. Traditional music was the breath of life to Michéal. "Saothar na mBeach", "Cuisle Ceoil" and "Seoda Sidhe" were collections of songs published by him. he founded a pipers band in Ardmore and brought them to aeríochta and feiseanna.
All members of the Cullen (O'Cuilliú) family were always deeply involved with the college. Deaglan was headmaster in Grange which he made an all-Irish school, and, as indicated in theinitial advertisement, he was the first headmaster in Colaiste Deaglán and a guiding light in it down through the years. The family was very musical and played for the céilithe, Una (Mrs Prendergst, Dungarvan) on the piano and her sister, Máirín and her father, Deaglán on the fiddles. Mrs Harty played the melodeon as well. The musical tradition was well exemplified too in Labhrás Ó Cadhla, a native of Kilbrien who had a wealth of Irish songs, many of which were recorded for the Folklore Commission. He also played the uileann pipes. Deaglán Suipeál of Grange, another singer of note, was often heard on the sound waves, in the early days of Irish broadcasting. Sean Ó Suilleabháin former chief archivist in the Folklore Commission and known internationally for his work on folklore, was a distinguished name connected with Coláiste Deaglán.
Séamus Ó Suilleabháin, more popularly known as the 'Gas' was ard ollamh 1923 - 1930, and after his death came Séamus Dalton (related to the Troys of Curragh), former chief translator in Dáil Éireann, who filled the post 1930 - 1933. With him on the staff were Michéal Ceitinn, Seán Ó Dúnái and Micheál Ó Concubhair of Ardmore, Muiris de Léis of Old Parish and Sean Ó hAlluráin of Clashmore.
Séamus Pender from Waterford followed Seamas Dalton. He had a travelling scholarship in history and studied in Germany under Pokorny, a well-known authority on Old Irish. He was lecturer and later, professor of history in U.C.C.
Sylvester Conway from Clare, headmaster in Cappawhite Vocational School, was ard ollamh later on and still in the thirties, there was an t-Atheir Tadhg Ó Murchú who taught in Farranferris, established Brú na nÓg in Dun Caoin and became parish priest of Carragi na bhFear, Co. Cork.
Liam O hUalaigh was a member of the staff in the forties; he was a pious Corkman and a teetotaller. Michael Ceitinn, on being asked a few years later, how Liam was, said sarcastically, "Conas a bheadh se ach mar a bhí sé i gcónaí, ag ól tae agus ag léamh an Messenger".
At the beginning of the war, a big Red Cross dance was organised by the local committee and held in the new building at the college. I have vivid memories of Séan Ó Dúnaí sipping his pint in Rooney's kitchen, shaking his head sadly as he repeated over and over again, "Coláiste Deaglán, Mick Delahunty's jazz band", that it should come to this!
The college grounds extended from Crowley's house (old Post Office) right out to the end of the row of seven houses. The orchard, surrounded by high stone walls, was at the eastern end. Then there was a spacious yard with separate entrance from the road. The house itself was somewhat slightly to the rear of Dr McNamara's house and extended a considerable distance backwards. The lawn in front was surrounded by old trees and fumbling for the key of the big Georgian door, on a dark winter night, in pre-electricity days, wasn't an experience for the faint hearted among the I.C.A. The Grianán (where ceílithe were held) was to the west of the house, but nearer the road; there was a separate small gate, giving access to the grounds here. The principal entrance, but rarely used, was at the far end of the terrace of seven houses, and a long driveway lined by several old trees, led over to the house. It was first the dignified gracious residence of local landlords and then for well over thirty years, fulfilled a very different role as a nurturing place of Irish language and music and culture. Sadly it has completely disappeared, but it is good to remember it and right that the present and other generations should be aware of that brief but brilliant and exciting period in the life of Áird Mhór.
Author: Siobhan Lincoln