St. Jarlath’s College was founded in 1800 by Oliver Kelly, under the patronage of the then Archbishop of Tuam, Edward Dillon. It was primarily as a preparatory school for Maynooth seminary. Located in the Mall and two adjacent buildings, little is known about this early school beyond it fulfilling a large gap in the educational requirements of members of the Catholic Church in both the Arch-Diocese of Tuam and in Connaught as a whole. After several years of activity, the 37 year old Rev Kelly was promoted to the office of Archbishop, and proceeded to look after the College he had founded. In 1816, the Archbishop moved to accommodate the vacant premises of the recently bankrupt Ffrench’s bank. In the following years, Jarlath’s grew in both size and reputation, even functioning as a seminary in its own right, largely independent of Maynooth. The new location also brought boarding to the College for the first time, previously having to rely on people in the town to house students. The College eventually purchased the Ffrench’s building in 1827, around the same time that construction began on Tuam Cathedral on the College grounds.
Dr Kelly passed away in 1834 after a long history with the College; even as Archbishop he took an active role in the College in matters such as staff selection and student welfare. His successor was the controversial bishop of Killala, John MacHale. Dr. MacHale would leave a big stamp on the College over his forty seven year stint as Archbishop of Tuam, his keen interest in Irish history and language fostering the beginnings of a long tradition of patriotism and Irish nationalism in the College and surrounding diocese. The famine struck a blow to the College just as it did the rest of the country, with student numbers dwindling to as low as 16 during the worst years. The College survived through, and indeed several professors in Jarlath’s worked hard to alleviate the worst effects on the famine-stricken Tuam.
Expansion of the College continued throughout the 1800’s. The Ffrench’s building, while impressive, wasn’t enough to meet the needs of the College and some students were forced to find digs in the town. Various buildings were leased for a few years at a time for varying lengths of time, culminating in the eventual expansion of the College in 1858. This ‘New College’ would form the core of the school to this very day, the three story tall building housing dormitories for students as well as rooms for deans and professors. Further expansion was undertaken by President Rev. Ulick J. Bourke, the work being initiated in 1869. Along with the building of a new wing to the college, Rev. Bourke also built the school Chapel and a library. Further expansions (such as the building of a study hall and the implementation of electricity) were undertaken in the next few decades until 1927 when a major expansion of the oratory and the building of a gym and pool were undertaken. A new wing was then built in 1950 to commemorate the College’s 150th anniversary.
Following the implementation of free education and the availability of bus routes in the early 1970s, there was a big spike in day boy numbers enrolled in the College. This marked a huge shift in the dynamic of St. Jarlath’s, which had always been primarily a boarding school. However, despite the inherent difficulties involved with adapting to this change, the school coped with and soon had overcome most of the problems presented by such a huge change. It was announced early in the new century that due to a decrease in the number of students interested, boarding would cease in the College, which it did in September 2006. This was a massive change for the school, for the first time being run exclusively for day boys.
The College has made a big name for itself in the realm of Gaelic football. Since its first adoption in the College in the early 20th Century, Jarlath’s has had a tradition of excelling, shown in the record 12 all Ireland Hogan Cup titles won by the school since the competition began. Jarlath’s has also acted as a de facto training ground for Galway county players, such as in the 1998 All-Ireland winning Galway team where eight of Galway’s starting fifteen (and five substitutes) had played for St. Jarlath’s in the past.
In 2000, a decision was made by the Archbishop to amalgamate St. Jarlath’s with the neighbouring former CBS St. Patrick’s College. A new school on a new site was originally proposed, but eventually it was decided for the schools to amalgamate into the old St. Jarlath’s building with some significant renovations and extension work. This process was completed in the 2009-2010 school year, phased in the year before by all first years admitted to Jarlath’s. A big change brought by the amalgamation was the new uniform, as traditionally Jarlath’s had let students dress as they wished. The new uniform however was decided on as an effort to help fully integrate the two schools, and create a new sense of identity for the new amalgamated College.
And so, as the old College is wrapped up after 210 years, the new St. Jarlath’s will surely keep up its proud spirit and tradition of excellence.
Ref: St. Jarlath’s College Tuam (1800-2000), John Cunningham