|Where We Live & Work|
|George's Hill - The Story of Our Community|
Presentation Convent, George’s Hill, Dublin 7 was founded on 20th August 1794. Teresa Mulally, a humble woman of independent means had, in 1766, quietly started a Catholic school in Mary’s Lane for the poor girls of inner-city Dublin. Striving to ensure its future, she had purchased a plot of land on George’s Hill in the hope that she would get a religious community to continue her work of teaching poor Catholic children. She even had a convent and school built on the plot of ground which was approx one rood in size. It was in the city centre of Dublin, north of the Liffey in Halston Street Parish. It was surrounded by streets. Newgate Prison and the Central Criminal Court were across the street.
The founding Sisters were Sister M. Francis Xavier Doyle and Sister M. Ignatius Doran, both of whom had previously taught in the school. The convent was a four storey building with basement, the entrance being on the George’s Hill side. The initial benefactor was Father Philip Mulcaile S.J., Mrs Coppinger and Mr. John Bray.
In 1906, a large school room was taken in to the Convent which offered room for a Novitiate and four cells. In 1953, the two top storeys of the Orphanage were taken over to provide eight additional rooms for the Sisters.
The first school dates back to 1794. It consisted of a large room on the ground floor of the Convent. Later, a further large room in the Orphanage was acquired.
When the Sisters took over the school in 1794, Teresa Mulally did not wish that the pupils would get a Summer vacation. When the Sisters stated that they needed time to recoup their strength and have time for their retreat, Teresa relented.
No amount of literature could capture the wit and wisdom heard all around our streets. The children have inherited this quick wit and humour. One example of this is when five girls from 6th class had a row and were sent to the Principal. She sat the girls down and each told her their story. Then one of them “piped up” “Sure sister, you couldn’t believe the Hail Mary out of her mouth. She tells lies all the time and they’re not even true”. Sister had to brace herself to prevent a smile at this critical moment in the argument!
During the 1916 Rebellion, the George’s Hill Convent and Schools were between two firing lines. A machine gun was placed by the military in the street opposite and they fired at their opponents at the other side of the buildings. Windows and walls were pierced with bullets. For two days and nights, destruction seemed inevitable. However, by Saturday evening a truce was made and George’s Hill was saved.
Many additions were made to the school over time. In 1862, a new school with four large classrooms and basement was erected adjacent to the convent at the cost of £1,700.9.10. In 1906, an addition was added costing £4,179.4.9 In 1908, A school for junior boys was erected which cost £1,600.10.7 In 1930, the tenement houses erected by Teresa Mulally, foundress, were evacuated and reconstructed to provide an Infant Department. This cost £3,213.11.4 And in 1972, a new Primary School was opened. The total cost was £189,374.4.6 The Department grant at the time was £157,395.99
A Secondary-top was introduced in George’s Hill in 1954 - a classroom in the Primary School was taken over. A new cloakroom and sanitary block was erected in 1955, the cost of this addition was £12,000.00. The Board of Works defrayed two thirds of the cost.
In 1969, the Sisters were granted full Secondary School status by the Department of Education. In 1972, the old Primary School was renovated to meet the needs for a Secondary School. The cost amounted to £3,000 which was paid by the Community.
George’s Hill school is situated in a deprived area. The children of the locality would have no hope of secondary education unless free education was made possible. The problem of unemployment was acute in the area. In 1969, the enrolment was 325 pupils and teaching staff numbered 15. Accommodation was sufficient. George’s Hill Primary School was the main feeder for Secondary School. In 1980, the intake was 80 pupils, 43 were from Primary School and 37 from other schools. A decline in the population in the inner city was noted and the secondary school was phased out in 1988 and closed in 1990. A re-union for Secondary pupils was organised that same year.
1966 marked the be-centenary of the foundation of the first Catholic school for girls in St. Michan’s Parish by Teresa Mulally. The bi-centenary celebrations consisted of Solemn High Mass celebrated by the Archbishop. A pageant – “The Story of George’s Hill” was presented to a large audience in the nearby Fr. Matthew Hall, Church St. Both Primary and Secondary Pupils took part in the Pageant.
The school was located in the inner city area and the problems of unemployment, alcoholism, poor housing and working mothers were acute. These problems made the task of teachers difficult. With these difficulties in mind, a curriculum change was initiated in 1985. An early school-leavers programme was introduced for a weak second year group and a vocational preparation and training programme was started for post-Intermediate Certificate students.
Other ministries included: Nagle Rice Club for teenagers, Youthreach Programme, Mothers Club, Typewriting Evening Classes, Adult Education Classes, Personal Development Classes, Eucharistic Ministry, Retreat for Parents, Training Parish Choir, Red Cross and Home School Liaison.
In 1994, the Sisters vacated the Convent and took up residence in a new building on Halston Street. The convent was converted into apartments. The closure was due to the fact that the number of Sisters in the community had decreased greatly and after months of discernment, it was decided to donate the convent, old primary school and orphanage to Focus Ireland to be converted into apartments for homeless people. This would be in keeping with Teresa Mulally’s vision.
In 1992, the convent, chapel and school were handed over to Focus Ireland to give accommodation to people with special housing needs. There are 7 units of accommodation in the complex.
Current ministries include teaching in Primary School, Child Protection, Family Ministry, Marriage Tribunal, Prison Visitation, Ministry of Senior Citizens, Hospitality and Archival work.
There were many foundations from George’s Hill. In 1807, Mother Xavier Doyle and Sr. Angela Bigger went to 67, James Street to found a Convent. Mrs Cruise had left her house and property to them. The community moved to Richmond Rd, Fairview in 1820 and to Terenure in 1866. On 7 June 1813, Mother Ignatius Doran and Sr. Catherine Lynch founded Drogheda Convent. Mother Angela Bigger and her sister, Sr. Clare Bigger founded Killina, Rahan, in July, 1817. Mother John Hughes, Srs. Teresa and Gertrude founded Granard Convent in 1871 and on October, 10th, 1882, the community moved to Portadown. All the foundations were autonomous houses.
In 1880, Mother John Hughes accompanied by her sister Sr. Agnes Hughes of Doneraile Presentation Convent and Sr. Teresa Chaloner of Manchester Presentation Convent, sailed to America and founded the “American Indian Mission” at Nebraska, Dakota.
The formal opening of our Heritage Centre took place on June 22nd 2002. Sr. Margaret McCurtain O.P. gave a most encouraging and inspiring address. The centre incorporated a display of artefacts and graphic panels telling the story of our foundress, Teresa Mulally and the Presentation Sisters. The setting up of the Centre was carried out with the help of Orna Hanly and Team, 20 Ormond Quay, Dublin.
President Mary Robinson visited the school in 1993 and opened the Exhibition of the Arts and Crafts in the School Hall. President Mary McAleese honoured the school and staff with a visit in 2001. She complimented the teachers, the parents and children for the work that had been achieved.
From an Old Article:
A STRANGE DUALISM: To the casual visitor Presentation Con¬vent, George's Hill, presents a strange dualism. It has on the one hand all the-ingredients for a Gothic novel — a secret passage, a discreetly masked doorway, subterranean vaults reached by a grim steel door, precious archives padlocked in a solid black chest. Yet the setting for this sombre ensemble has a disconcerting aura of fantasy. Places such as the Glasshouse Plot on which the convent stands, or Cuckoo Lane which flanks it to the north, or Phrapper Lane where the foundress lived, might have come straight out of Hans Christian Anderson. Such was the locale for a quiet drama of vision, courage and steely tenacity enacted in the third quarter of the eighteenth century.
Its central characters were, to a super¬ficial eye, an ill-matched pair — a dress¬maker and a Jesuit. The former was Maria Teresa Mulally, an only child, born in 1728 in Pill Lane. (The "Pill" was, until the seventeenth century, a patch of slob-land on the north bank of the Liffey estuary). By the time she was twenty Teresa had opened business as a milliner in her father's parlour. A windfall in the form of a size¬able prize in a state lottery left her finan¬cially independent after the death of her parents. Her friend and counsellor was Father Philip Mulcaile who as a child of nine had been sent to France in search of the Catholic education denied him at home. Just one year after his ordination in the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits were expelled from France under the regime of Etienne de Choiseul. The young priest returned to Ireland and took up duty as a curate in Dublin's oldest parish, St. Michan's. Teresa was one of his parishioners.
ELEGANCE AND INDIGENCE: The backdrop to the drama is one of sharp contrasts. The eighteenth century was Dublin's Golden Age. Gentry vied with each other in creating magnificent town and country residences. Georgian elegance reared its proud head above the ragged and tattered urchins who crowded the nearby lanes and alleys. A report by Sir John Fitzpatrick, Inspector General of Prisons, on a visit to the Royal Charter School, Strand, Dublin gives us a chilling vignette of the education given to the poor in the ‘second city of the empire’. One of twenty-seven similar reports, it reads more like a dossier on a factory than the findings of a school inspector:
Numbers varied from 32 to 77, February to November 1787. A great number are small. 57 work at spinning cotton; several appear to be 7-8 years old; many look delicate; they are con¬fined within doors and stand at least 7 hours a day at the wheels. The master told me they must work every day, winter and summer, to indemnify him for the charge on their labour.
In such conditions the children were taught to read somehow. For this minimal privi¬lege they paid an appalling price - the loss of their Faith plus a grueling grind of slave labour. The polished society of Georgian Dublin had no time for "beggars' brats". Teresa Mulally, a humble dressmaker, saw in them God's children and spent her life for them. Teresa was the first to offer the poor girls of Dublin the priceless blessing of a free Catholic education.
CAMOUFLAGE: In Father Mulcaile she found a wise friend and counselor. On his advice she began to look around for a suitable room in which to start a school. In this she had to tread warily, for the Penal laws, which forbade Catholic schools, were still in force. She chose an old three-storey house in Mary's Lane and there, in a top backroom, began her life's work in 1766. Soon the school expanded to two rooms. Stringent secrecy had to be observed. This was just the kind of school which the Castle authorities frowned on, while in¬formers were always on the prowl. To meet the situation a little camouflage was resorted to. In the front room the girls learned needlework, in the back room the catechism and the three R's. As the rooms were on the top floor it was possible to keep a look out for warning signals. When danger was sighted catechisms and copy¬books were hastily stowed away and the children were assembled in the front room where they were busily employed in the art of 'turning a heel' or 'closing a toe'. When school broke up at the end of each day, the children were sent home two by two, and at intervals, to prevent their attracting notice.
SPELLERS AND READERS: The horarium followed in Teresa's school might occasion, in our day, the lift of many an educational eyebrow: From March to September they came to school at half past seven, joined in the morning prayer and went to eight o'clock Mass. Next they answered their tasks of catechism and spelling. Then they sat down to work! An extant document in George's Hill tells us what that work was The spellers spelt and the readers read until three o'clock when they broke for one hour. Returning at four the working girls took up their work while the 'spellers and readers' were assigned tasks for the next day. The day ended at six after spiritual reading.
SCHOOL HOLIDAYS IN THE 1770's : Details concerning holidays would pro¬voke wry amusement today: For the first ten years of the school the children were allowed vacation at Christmas but experiencing the bad consequence of it to the children (as some never returned and others ab¬sented themselves for a long period and returned having forgotten what they were already taught) it was thought expedient to give no vacation!
EDUCATIONAL BALANCE SHEET: Despite the off-putting length of the school day, not to mention the school year, there were some significant and enviable features in Teresa's schedule. We might single out two. At a time when the Catholic religion was beneath contempt she had her priorities unflinchingly right: the-Mass, prayer and religious instruction were the warp and woof of her educational design. A second distinctive feature, especially after 1771, was the harmonious blend of the intellectual and practical in her simple curriculum. In that year, Teresa, with her sharp perception of the realities of the situation, had added to her subject-list the teaching of housework, glove-making and lace-making. In effect she had, without fanfare, opened the first mini-comprehensive school in Ireland.
LACE AND STUCCO: We have little tangible evidence of the quality of the lace made in Teresa's school. One homely entry in the George's Hill annals records: In 1777 £29 was received from the sale of lace. A few streets away, the most distinguished artists and architects of the day — men like West and Gandon and Cassels — were designing, with incredible artistry, buildings that made Dublin the showpiece of the British Empire. One wonders if Teresa taught her ragged little ones an appreciation of the aesthetic in a simple lacy design even as their affluent counterparts were savouring it in the exquisite work of Italian and French stuccodores in mansions nearby. We do not know; but what we do know is that her zeal was an all-embracing thing — a kind of compulsive flame. For Teresa to see a need was to be driven to answer it. Nor did her concern stop there. Already she was looking down the corridors of time, planning for the perpetuation of her work after her death. The solution, she decided, was a religious order devoted to the poor. Unfortunately such an order did not yet exist in Ireland although the blueprint for it was taking shape in the mind of the future foundress of the Presentation Order, Ms. Nano Nagle.
A LETTER FROM NANO: We do not know for certain when Teresa first met Nano Nagle but among a precious set of letters in Nano's handwriting treasured in George's Hill archives is one to Teresa dated 29th September 1776. In it Nano sketched her embryonic Order, the seed of which had been sown on the previous Christmas Eve when Nano and three companions began their novitiate in a cabin convent in Cork. The new Order seemed a perfect and speedy solution to Teresa's problem.
Alas! It was to take the prayers and efforts of many years, laced with set-backs, before Presentation Sisters would arrive in George's Hill. Teresa's calibre can be gauged if we keep in mind that she was now teaching long hours, while dogged with ill-health and harassed by the problem of financing her school and orphanage. The years were slipping by ... one . . . two . . .six …and yet no prospects of the longed-for Cork Sisters arriving to her rescue. It certainly wasn't Mother Nagle's fault — only her heartbreak. Few things would have given her greater joy than to answer Teresa's pleading for a foundation in the capital but the paucity of vocations as well as prior commitments to the Kerry diocese hamper¬ed her. So, practical Teresa decided that the speediest way around the obstacle was to send Dublin girls to be trained by Nano in Cork. Even that was easier said than done. It took eight more weary years to find two suitable candidates.
THE GLASSHOUSE PLOT: Meanwhile with indestructible faith Teresa had gone ahead and built a convent. It was completed in 1789, three years before those first two postulants were received. The site was the famous Glass¬house Plot so called because of a glass factory established there in 1690 by an officer in the army of James the second — Captain Philip Roche. He had studied glass-making on the continent. The tall chimney and circular glasshouses had been derelict now for some years. Soon a solid unpre¬tentious four storey building took shape. The lower part was intended as the school, the upper part the convent. Today, nearly 200 years later this block still forms the convent proper. Beside it the indefatigable Teresa began almost immediately to build a home for her beloved orphans.
PIONEERS: In August 1794 Teresa made what must have been the happiest journey of her life — a trip to Cork to escort back the first two nuns for George's Hill. Was it a delicate tribute to Father Mulcaile whose Order was now unhappily suppressed that these pioneers, Brigid Doran and Fanny Doyle, took the names of great Jesuit saints — Ignatius and Francis Xavier? Soon they were joined by Judith Clinch and Teresa Biggar. All four had much in common. They were Dubliners. They had taught in Teresa's school in Mary's Lane. They were linked by a shared enthusiasm. That enthusiasm was no wild-fire elan, fizzling out in face of the prosaics of daily striving. It was to glow steadily through the years, impelling each in turn to go from George's Hill to make other foundations. Meanwhile, with their arrival, the clouds were beginning to lift.
With the infant community firmly in¬stalled, Teresa, despite the nuns' pleading, went to live in the orphanage. Many years before, Nano Nagle had invited her to be¬come a nun but she felt she was unworthy of such a privilege. Her honest conviction on that point never changed. Now, though she did not live in the convent she mother¬ed the young community, managing their legal and business affairs until death took her from them.
WITHOUT PLATE OR NAME: It came all too soon. After 1800 the shadows began to deepen. In 1801 she lost her life-long friend Father Mulcaile. In 1802 she herself began to fail rapidly. She would never again leave her little room on the third floor. Instead the Sisters came to her to spend recreation with her, to read to her, to pray with her. For the novices she had one favourite counsel: My petsy, make your election sure. On the 9th February 1802 she received the Last Sacraments sitting in her chair, fully conscious and alert. She even asked a novice to read the prayers after Holy Communion. Before night fell she had given up her brave soul to God. She was buried, as she had wished, in a simple coffin without plate or name. In the vault under the altar of the convent chapel her remains lie beside those of her faithful fellow-worker Fr. Mulcaile S.J.
A FALSE IMAGE: Convents are proverbially oases of tranquility, 'havens far from the madding crowd’ (figuratively, if not liberally), un¬touched by the storms that buffet ordinary humanity, insulated from the shocks that fret and shred the peace of men. The story of George's Hill, however, makes a shambles of that image.
When Teresa Mulally was building her school, a bizarre complex of buildings was rising stone by stone just across the street from the Glasshouse Plot. Not one but three prisons soon stood there, with such Dickensian names as Newgate, the Sheriffs' prison and the Marshalea. Newgate had the sinister distinction of having a scaffold for public executions on its first-storey bal¬cony. Beside it stood Green Street court¬house completed one year before the 1798 Rising. Prisons and courthouse were sited on "The Little Green" adjacent to the George’s Hill Plot.
The convent annals of this period have one laconic entry: The Sisters often witnessed the grue¬some scenes that went on in The Little Green. From the top windows of the convent, the nuns could have seen the brothers Sheares as they stepped on the execution platform one July day in 1798, or Hurrish the Sweep being publicly whipped. They could NOT have seen but they surely must have prayed for the best loved of the great house of the Geraldines as he lay dying in delirium from the wounds inflicted by Major Sirr . . …..
Two years later the Act of Union led to the exodus of the gentry from Georgian Dublin leaving their houses to be gradually metamorphosed into the slums immortalized by Sean O' Casey. From these came children who had to be clothed and fed before they could be educated.
The convent's closest brush with trouble came in 1916. Here the annals are more explicit:
Easter Monday 1916: A free afternoon but before we went to the garden to enjoy it sniping began from roof-tops around. Curiosity led a few of us to go to St. Teresa's classroom for a look out! At Cuckoo Lane we saw a small group of men emerging from the underground passage at the forge shouting to passers by 'Don't go that way — you'll be shot'. This amused us, blissfully ignorant of what lay ahead. By evening barricades were blocking the surrounding streets . . . Explanations filtered slowly in — the Sinn Feiners and citizen army had risen in rebellion. To us Sinn Fein was just a name synonymous with Gaelic League! . . .The local clergy, when they could venture out, gave us details. Our revered P.P. had no time for "Sinn-finners"!
Tuesday: Snipers on the school and convent roofs — rifle shots, bullets flying in all directions. We prayed much and tried to work but in vain. Bang, bang, bang prevailed. During the night a crusade of prayer was kept up, begging God to guard the poor bewild¬ered citizens, ourselves and the Sinn Feiners.
Wednesday: An atmosphere of dread prevailed as we realized our convent was between the two armies—machine guns booming; sniping ceaseless. Win¬dows and glass partitions in top-storey classrooms were riddled with bullets, leaving behind sparkling designs of the shattered panels, and carpets of broken glass on the floors. Bullets smacked the walls. One ventilator proved a target for prolonged attack judging by the pile of spent bullets found there. We were advised to keep to the base¬ment and if shelling became severe to go prostrate on the ground; also to keep doors locked as looting was pre¬valent. However the front entrance gate was forced open, the bell rang furiously and in a matter of minutes we had neighbouring families to shelter and feed — which we gladly did.
Thursday Night: Flames reddened the sky over St. Michan's Church and seemed to leap across the roof. Reverend Mother decided to leave the convent. Sacred vessels were removed. One wise Sister was prepared for death — she had her Vows, blessed candle and crucifix in her hand while tears streamed down her face. Reverend Mother had hoped that some soldier outside our garden wall would escort us ‘safely’ to Gardiner Street. A case of any port in a storm! However pray¬er prevailed and the flames lowered.
Saturday: Sad news. The Irish leaders have surrendered ... To relieve the starvation, the Corporation sent out large supplies of flour, etc. Our school became a depot for distribution. It was a case of "all hands in" while supplies lasted. We were saddened by the nervous distraught people who came clamouring for a little flour or any¬thing we could give ..."
About the civil war of 1922 there is just one laconic entry: Seizure of the Four Courts; convent and school windows blown in. We spent -most of the week in the base¬ment awaiting the bombarding of the Four Courts However our convent, though shaken, remained standing . . .
And standing it still is — augmented by extensions, the latest a new primary school opened in 1972 and a completely renovated secondary school.
INCONGRUOUS MEDLEY: In this truncated sketch dictated by space limits, large stretches of George's Hill history have to be bypassed. A final cursory glance through its annals causes items to flash out in an oddly incongruous medley. Here is a random sample:
1830: A 43-year-old postulant began her novitiate in George's Hill. She was Catherine McAuley, destined to found the Sisters of Mercy. 1880: Mother John Hughes left George's Hill to found a Mission among the North American Indians of the "Tribe of the Spotted Tail" at Fargo, North Dakota. 1894: Cardinal McCabe, in his anxiety to save the children of the poor from the ‘Soupers’, asked the Sisters to increase the number of free meals to pupils. They had already been supplying 100 per day. For this he donated £300. 1919: The convent was raided by Black-and-Tans. 1966: Bicentenary of foundation of Mary's Lane school coincided with Golden Jubilee of 1916 Rising.
PERMANENCE AND TRANSIENCE: In George's Hill the past and present fuse. This fusion is concentrated symboli¬cally in two items that the visitor cannot miss — a Calvary group on a squat lime¬stone mound and a delicately carved cruci¬fix in Indian wood. The Calvary group stands in front of the school; the crucifix is kept in a glass case in the sacristy. The mound of grey stones on which the Calvary group stands is no ordinary pile. Every stone in it once formed part of the Penal-days chapel in Mary's Lane, where Teresa Mulally climbed her own Calvary each morning as she began her day with three hours of prayer.
The crucifix is, per¬haps, George's Hill's most treasured and most poignant relic. It was the dying gift of Father Philip Mulcaile, S.J., to the convent he had helped to found. It had once been among the treasures of the Jesuit College in Paris, but had been given to Father Mulcaile when the Jesuits were suppressed, to prevent it falling into the hands of desecrators. No wonder he treasured it. It had been used as a mission crucifix by Saint Francis Xavier.
In the 1990’s the convent was handed over to the Focus Housing Association who developed 6 units of transition accommodation for families and 13 accommodation units for single persons. The project supports former out-of-home families to develop the skills necessary to live independently. A small number of apartments were retained for Sisters. The closing of the George’s Hill Secondary School was the catalyst for that development.
The Primary school at George’s Hill continues to thrive (2008). Its student population reflects the rich diversity of inner-city life. Over half the students are newcomers to Ireland.
The story of George's Hill is, fittingly left open-ended. It is for those who walk in Teresa Mulally's footsteps to shape the next chapter, to make the next epoch as radiant with unselfish love of God and His children as has been the past.