Clane - The Story of Our Community

The community was founded on 25th April, 1839, the feast of St.Mark,.  It was founded from Portlaoise by three Sisters, two of whom were from Carlow and one from Drogheda.  The founding Sisters were Mother Teresa Brennan (Superior), Sr. Catherine Donoghue and one other from Portlaoise, Sr. Bernard Kinsella and Sr. M. Gertrude Murphy from Carlow and Sr. Mary Paul Dullagher from Drogheda.

The community was founded because the benefactors saw a great need to help the poor when they saw their wretched state and, under the direction of Dr. Kenny S.J., invited Presentation Sisters to found a community in Clane when Mother Mary Aikenhead had turned down the opportunity.

Though benefactors wanted to help children of Castlebrowne and Mainham, on Dr. Kenny’s advice they decided on Clane village - the Sisters would be more secure than at a distance, and so they built beside the Church where there was already a school run by the Patrician Society.  The location, beside the church in the village of Clane was safer and meant that the pupils (young girls) wouldn’t be meeting Clongowes boys!

The convent was a single house comprising ground floor, two bedrooms, kitchen, refectory and pantry on ground floor. The first floor included Chapel, Sacristy, Parlour, Community room and entrance hall. The second floor contained 8 bedrooms and a Novitiate. The house had been built just four years when the Sisters moved in.

The initial benefactors were Mr. and Mrs. Sweetman who contributed £700 to build a convent and a Mrs. Judith Brown, donated £350.  Andrew Byrne and his wife continued  the good work of the Sweetmans.

In the 1850’s, the convent was enlarged by building an extension at the back, thus making it a double house.  The Hall door was moved from the side of original building to the front of it, and was reached by granite steps.

The exact date of the first Presentation school is not known but it is around 1839. It was housed in an old building (which had probably been built in 1818, twentyone years before the arrival of the nuns) – it was located in front of the convent and comprised a large room (50’ x 22.5’) with 8 windows and two fireplaces. This room was in front of the convent.  A Jesuit brother, put down a wooden floor and it came under the Dept of Education quite early and became a National School. Spinning and Religious Education was taught and older girls were taught shirt making which enabled them to make a living.

For many years, the number of pupils fluctuated. During the Winter of 1916-1917 there were never more than 70 pupils present in school. This created hardships for the Sisters as income depended on numbers on Roll.  The Sisters in Naas came to their aid on several occasions to help them through lean times.  Fr. Colgan, P.P., bequeathed an old parochial house to the Sisters and they used it as a school building.  In 1929, the Convent school was renovated.

The building of an extension to Clongowes Wood College in 1923 -1930, was a boon to the school and village.  Most of the workmen from Dublin found accommodation for themselves and families in the village and nearby.  Numbers in the school rose to 130, but when building finished, they returned to their old homes and the number of pupils dropped.  But by 1928, numbers had risen again to 90.  However in 1940 there were only 57 girls and 4 junior boys. In 1929 the primary school was renovated.

In 1960, Sr. Perpetua Lonergan came to Clane and assisted by Sr.Lucy and all the community, set about building up the school to provide secondary education for the girls. In 1962, a Secondary Top under the Primary Section of the Dept of Education, began.

In 1967 the introduction of ‘Free Education’ for all children of the country was introduced.  The Free Transport Scheme made it possible for the Clane school to serve localities as far away as Timahoe, Allenwood, Coill Dubh, Staplestown, Rathcoffey and Donadea.  1967 also saw the advent of co-education, so boys were also welcomed to Scoil Mhuire.  Numbers grew rapidly so this demanded extra accommodation. A house bequeathed by Fr. Colgan was built into 4 classrooms and prefabs provided in Convent grounds and down the road in a field owned by the Council.

In 1980, two new primary schools, one for boys and one for girls, were sanctioned by Government.  The Convent had purchased 40 acres to build a Secondary School and some of that land was made available to the Parish for the new Primary Schools and the remained was used, later, for the Secondary School.

These three schools now serve the school going children of the parish at primary level, and an additional nine surrounding parishes and localities in the case of the secondary school which is now Scoil Mhuire Community School. In all there are about 1400 children in the Clane schools every day. There are four sisters involved in teaching in Clane at present.

1999 saw the 160-year anniversary of the Presentation Sisters in Clane. In that length of time, Clane has been served by seventy six sisters who have been attached to the Convent since the foundation. Thirty seven sisters have been called to their eternal reward where we hope they are 'shining like stars'.   Other sisters have been assigned to work in Missions in Africa, South America, Central Europe, England, and elsewhere in the home mission of the Presentation Northern Province, Union of Presentation Sisters.   

From An Old Article (author and origin unknown):

The Annals of this Convent of the Presentation of the ever Blessed Virgin Mary, founded in Clane Co Kildare on the feast of St Mark, April 25th, 1839. Dedicated to Jesus in the Adorable and Most Holy Sacrament

The ground on which the Convent was built was formerly in the possession of the Patrician Society. Mr and Mrs Sweetman, a worthy and respectable Catholic family, came to reside in Longtown a few miles from Clane. Being ever prominent in works of benevolence and remarkable for their great charity they did not long remain ignorant of the wretched state of the poor around them. Mrs. Sweetman went amongst them, instructed, clothed and employed the women in spinning for their livelihood. Her next attention was to the poor children and Mr. Sweetman met her views in nobly contributing £700 to the building of the convent. Mrs Judith Brown generously co¬operated in this good work by giving the magnificent donation of £350. She had for many years ardently wished for the accomplishment of this event and, in her zealous desire for the education of the poor female children of the Castlebrowne Estate, she consulted by letter the saintly and celebrated Rev. Dr Kenny. Eleven years previous to the foundation Rev. P Kenny was the Provincial of the Jesuits in Ireland.

Dr Kenny, in a long letter, advised her that the best place to build the convent was in the village of Clane— not too far from the children of Mainham and where it would be quite convenient to the bulk of the population. He advised that the Convent be built near the Chapel where there was a school run by the Patrician Society. The Sisters would be more secure than at a distance from the village. Lastly, he pointed out that

"the circumstances of a crowd of young girls passing and re-passing our limits (Clongowes Wood College) or of their meeting our pupils when going to or returning from school would, in spite of our   vigilance, or that of the nuns be liable to many unpleasant consequences. "

The convent building was commenced in 1836 and was finished in 1837. Many of the parishioners contributed to this good work, so anxious were they to have it completed. The convent was offered to the Sisters of Charity but Mrs. Aikenhead refused to send her Sisters.

The Presentation Sisters were chosen instead. The Foundress and first Superior was Mother Teresa Brennan. She was born in Portlaoise (Maryborough) in 1803 and entered the convent there. Her home was in the Convent grounds. With her came two sisters from Portlaoise, Sr Catherine Donoghue, and one other, Sr Bernard Kinsella, and Sr M.Gertrude Murphy came from Carlow and after some years returned there. One sister came from Drogheda - Sr Mary Paul Dullaghan - who was appointed Superior by the Bishop. She died in 1876.

The Convent had been built about four years when the nuns came. It was then a single house. The ground floor had two bedrooms, kitchen, refectory and pantry. The first floor consisted of Chapel, Sacristy, Parlour, Community Room and entrance hall. The second floor contained eight bedrooms and novitiate. In the 1850's it was decided to enlarge the convent by building an addition at the back thus making it a double house. The Hall door was moved from the side of the original building to the front of it and reached by granite steps.

In front of the Convent building was a large room 50'x 22.5' with eight windows and two fireplaces. The floor was of beaten clay and there was no ceiling. It was probably built in 1818 from the proceeds of a charity play held in the old Theatre Royal. This was 21 years before the arrival of the nuns and 20 years before National Education. Originally it had only one large room, built on the plan of the Kildare Street School. This is most likely the school operated by the Patrician Society. The teacher was James Byrne who taught Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Surveying. It was an Orphan School - numbers about 100, many of whom were from infancy nursed, clothed and educated until apprenticed.

The Building seems to have fallen into decay until the nuns came in 1839 and rebuilt it. There is a plaque on its wall which reads :

Scoil Bhride
St Brigid's National School
Togadh 1839       Ath Thogadh 1930

The Jesuit Fathers, who had founded Clongowes Wood College in 1814 – it was just 1.5 miles from Clane) were, from the very foundation until the present day, staunch friends of the Sisters. A brother came over and put down a wooden floor in the building. He also carved a wooden altar in the chapel. The saintly Fr John Sullivan SJ said the last Mass on that altar on 1st May 1927 and said the first Mass on the new marble altar, which replaced it, at midnight on Christmas Eve 1927.

As soon as the school was ready, it was opened to pupils, but we do not know the exact date of the opening or when it came under the Department of Education as the old registers and report books were destroyed. Judging by the School Roll Number (No. 1151), it may be assumed that it became a National School at an early date. In the beginning the Sisters taught Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Spinning with, of course, special emphasis on Religious Instruction. Following the example of our saintly foundress, Nano Nagle, the Sisters prepared the children for first Holy Communion and Confirmation. They also instructed women who were sent to them by the parochial clergy. Sr Brigid Dullaghan, the sister who came from Drogheda, taught the older girls shirt-making, thus enabling them to earn a livelihood.

Mother Teresa Brennan, the foundress, died in 1864 aged 60 years RIP.

The Sweetman Family of Longtown, which is about 2.5 miles, form Clane and in the Parish of Caragh, were benefactors from the coming of the sisters until the late 1930's when the last of the older generation died RIP. The family sold Longtown and went to live in London. One son Gerard remained in Ireland and at one time was Minister for Finance. He married a lady from Newbridge and lived in Kill. While he was still a comparatively young man he was killed in a motor accident RIP. Andrew Byrne, who during his life was a most generous benefactor of he Convent, bought Longtown. After his death his widow carried on the great work, which he had begun. Mrs Byrne's brother, Very Rev. Patrick Kinsella PP of Fairview, Dublin on the occasion of his frequent visits to his sister, celebrated Mass in the Convent. Mrs Elsie Byrne died in Jan 1998 and the farm passed to new hands.

For many years the number of pupils fluctuated between 70 and 100. During the winter of 1916 - 17 there were never 70 pupils resent at school. This was a time of severe hardship for the Sisters as their income depended on the numbers on the roll, The Mercy Sisters from Naas came to their aid on several occasions to help them through lean times.

During Fr Colgan's term as Parish Priest a lady left a goodly sum for parochial purposes. It was not used, as Fr Colgan made no improvements to schools or Church. He became blind towards the end of his years. He bequeathed an old parochial house to the sisters and they used it as a school building. All the schools of the parish were in a bad state. Firstly, the Parish Church was painted for the first time since its erection in 1880. In 1929 the Convent school was renovated.
An addition was built to Clongowes Wood College between 1923 - 30 which was a boon to the school and village. In those days very few people owned cars, and as most of the workmen were from Dublin and suburbs they found accommodation for themselves and families in the village and surrounding areas. The number on rolls rose to 130. However, when the building was completed these families returned to their former homes and the number of pupils dropped again but not as low as in 1916. In fact by 1928 the number had risen to 90. The 1940's saw the lowest number of pupils. In 1943 there are only 57 girls and 4 junior boys on rolls.

Sr. Perpetua Lonergan was assigned to Clane in 1960 and assisted by Sr Lucy Troy and all the Community she set about building up the school in order to provide Secondary Education for the girls in the area. A secondary Top school under the Primary Section of the Department of Education began in 1962.

1967 saw the introduction of Free Education for all the children of the country. The further introduction of a free transport scheme made it possible for the Clane school to serve localities as far away as Timahoe, Allenwood, Coill Dubh, Staplestown, Rathcoffey and Donadea.  1967 saw also the advent of co-education in Irish education, so boys were also welcomed to Scoil Mhuire at that time. Numbers on the rolls grew rapidly and this demanded extra accommodation. The house bequeathed to the sisters by Fr. Colgan was rebuilt into four classrooms and a cookery room in 1968. Prior to that it was leased to the county council and used as a Courthouse on the first Tuesday in every month. Further space was provided by the prefabs on the Convent grounds and further down the road in the field which prior to that grazed the convents herd of five cows.

In 1980 the Government sanctioned the building of two new primary schools in Clane one to replace the boys primary school and one to replace the old convent school neither of which were able to cater for the expanded population. 40 acres of land had been procured by the sisters prior to that in anticipation of building a new secondary school. Some of that land was made available to the Parish for the new primary schools and later a new Secondary School was built by the Government to cater for the growing population of secondary school students.