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Midleton situated nearly midway between Cork and Youghal was the first of the three foundations made by our Brothers in the year 1867 - the year of the Fenian Brotherhood's rash and futile attempt at insurrection. As an introduction to the narrative of our Midleton establishment, it may be of interest to read a note, written by one of the Brothers of the first community, Brother Dominic Sinnott, treating of the town and its origin:
"Midleton is pleasantly situated in a fertile plain, surrounded by green and picturesque hills of moderate elevation, and is remarkable for its 'beautiful environs'. An arm of Queenstown harbour reaches to the town, and at half-a-mile's distance from it is Ballinacurra, the port of Midleton. The town owes its origin to a celebrated Cistercian monastery founded in 1180, and called 'De Choro'. It was situated on the banks of the river Anna Curra, from the Irish curra,‘a bend or a weir' (sic). Among the Irish-speaking portion of the population the town is still known by its old name, 'Monaster-na-Curra.' Not a vestige of the ancient monastery now remains. It was suppressed in the sixteenth century, and its venerable ruins subsequently demolished to make way for the present Protestant church. The materials were used in the erection of the church and of the mill on the Mill Road, but some of the stones remained thrown aside for ages until, gathered with pious care, they were incorporated in the new Monastery of the Christian Brothers, which, with Schools attached, was built by the noble hearted and generous people at a cost of about three thousand pounds."
The advent of the Brothers to Midleton was the realisation of a long-cherished desire of the townspeople to have them as the teachers of their boys. This desire was increased by the knowledge of the success of the Brothers' schools in the neighbouring towns, and also by the unsatisfactory and languishing condition of the local national school. The first practical move to affect their object was made in the year 1865, when a deputation from them waited on their Pastor, Very Rev. J. Canon Fitzpatrick, to request him to take steps to bring the Christian Brothers to the town - the deputation at the same time promising their cordial and generous co-operation. As a result of the deputation, the Pastor convened a meeting of the parishioners to be held in the Parish church. The meeting was numerously attended, and the Parish Priest, who presided, said that he had frequently been asked by some of his parishioners to invite the Christian Brothers into the parish to take charge of the education of the male youth, and that was the reason why he brought them together in order to ascertain their wishes on the subject. He spoke highly of the work of the Brothers in the cause of education, which fact was well known to themselves. But the question which they would have to decide was this, viz., "Were they ready to undertake the expenses necessary for their establishment in Midleton, and for their future maintenance?" He laid before them the probable expenses of the undertaking, and showed the parochial accounts. He stated that Thomas Coppinger Esq., of Midleton House, bequeathed a sum of £20 per annum for the maintenance of the Christian Brothers located in Midleton, and a sum of £50 for furnishing the schools and concluded his address by giving £100 as his own private subscription towards the expenses. Amongst the resolutions proposed and carried was the following:-
"That we hereby pledge, by subscription or otherwise, the funds required for enlarging the present schoolhouse, erecting a suitable residence, and providing for the maintenance of the members of this devoted Order who may favour us with their services."
Subscriptions poured in; the buildings were commenced and soon completed, showing a suitable residence for the Brothers with ample school accommodation. The first community in Midleton consisted of Brother Jerome Murphy, Director; Brothers Dominic Sinnott, Bernard Schofield, and Joseph Nolan, who acted as lay-brother - all long since gone to receive the reward of the faithful and the true. They opened school on the 3rd April, 1867 and 240 boys were registered. In a week's time the number reached 300, and the increase continued, so that on July 1st the number of pupils was over 400. The Parish Priest, in writing to one of the Brothers Assistants at the time said: "Our schools are going on here very well under the very efficient working of the Brothers. Be so good as to thank the Superior-General for me for the very excellent teachers he has sent up ; the people here are already beginning to perceive and appreciate at its proper value the teaching and discipline of the Christian Brothers”
Unfortunately, as the years went by, these kindly sentiments of the Pastor began to wane. He assumed an unfriendly attitude towards the Brothers, which was shown by many petty annoyances and even by a threat on two occasions to dispense with their services. In the year 1876 a dispute occurred between himself and the Director, Brother Matthew Redington, over some point connected with the schools, which resulted in Brother.Matthew being removed, at his own request, from Midleton. He was placed in charge of the practising-school at Belvedere, Drumcondra, where the Novitiate then was. The new Director, Brother Dominic Sinnott, was not well settled down in his position when he received the subjoined letter from the Brother Superior: -
Belvedere House, Drumcondra, Dublin 28th April, 1877
My Very Dear Brother Dominic,
In consequence of difficulties which now press upon us and the imminent want of members to carry on the work of the schools, I must request you to give notice to your Parish Priest that I shall be obliged to withdraw the Brothers at the end of three months, when you will surrender both house and schools into his hands. I hope that within that time your good Pastor will be able to supply the places of the Brothers with satisfactory substitutes. In case your income is paid in advance, you will take care to return to the Parish Priest the balance of the unexpired period.
I am, etc., etc.,
J. A. HOARE.
P.S. - Should the PP be prepared to take up the schools at an earlier period, we shall be ready to surrender them into his hands.
The Brother Director waited on the Very Rev. Canon Fitzpatrick as directed, and read for him the Superior's letter. When the news leaked out amongst the people, they found it hard to believe its truth, but when they realised that it was but too true, they were touched to the quick, and they resolved to leave nothing undone to ward off such a misfortune. The most influential gentlemen of the town took a leading part in all the efforts that were made to secure this object. Two of them, deputed by the people, called on the Pastor to "ask an explanation of the Brothers' leaving and to request him to meet his people on the subject." The Pastor said to them, amongst other things, that the Superior-General had ordered the Brothers away, and that he would not "go on his knees to keep them"; that the education of the parish had been neglected for years, but he would not take the initiative in sending them away; that the Brothers collect all the respectable children into one room, and that the Superior of the schools attends specially to them - the few to the detriment of the poor, etc. The gentlemen replied that his Reverence was the only one in the Parish who was not anxious to retain the Brothers; that the people and the parents were perfectly satisfied with the present state of things, and that they were the best judges; that they had trial enough of the National system, and saw its working elsewhere. The Pastor resented these remarks and so the gentlemen withdrew, dissatisfied and displeased with the reception accorded them.
When the report of the interview was given to the people, their excitement rose to a high pitch and in strong language they expressed their determination that the Brothers should not be withdrawn from amongst them. Other incidents occurred that fanned the flames - one of which was the wide circulation of a printed sheet, headed: "Rescue the Cross and keep the Christian Brothers," and ended with "By order of the Committee." This too strongly-worded document was well calculated to rouse the religious sympathies of the people and strengthen them in the stand they had taken. It is said that a copy was sent to nearly all the Bishops of Ireland. Another incident was the appearance in the Teachers' Journal of an advertisement for teachers for the Midleton Male National School, applications to be addressed to: Very Rev. J. Canon Fitzpatrick, PP, VF, Midleton.
The Brothers for prudential reasons kept entirely away from the people, lest their presence should only stimulate the agitation. But some leading townspeople called to tell them of the state of feeling abroad; that a body had been formed to take and keep possession of the monastery and schools, should the Brothers steal away; others cautioned them not to attempt to stir, that they had set a watch upon them, and that it was impossible for them to escape from the town except by balloon! The Superior-General having been made aware of the excited and disturbed state of the town, wrote to the Brother Director as follows. "We feel most grateful for the very kind feeling of the people of Midleton towards the Brothers and for their wish to retain them in the parish. But bearing in mind that Canon Fitzpatrick has on several occasions threatened to dispense with the services of the Brothers in Midleton, we would much prefer that they should be allowed to leave quietly, and it is our most earnest wish (which please make known) that the people will not by any public action give trouble to the Parish Priest on our account - a course which we should sincerely deplore, and which, so far from serving us, would only have the opposite effect."
This letter did not cause the people to retreat one step from the position they had taken up; and they now resolved to appeal to the Bishop of the diocese, the Most Rev. John McCarthy. In accordance with this resolve, a deputation was formed, consisting of T. S. Copping er, Esq., lP., Chairman of the Town Commissioners, and seven other influential gentlemen of the town. In due course they proceeded to Fermoy, where they were received by his Lordship. The object of their visit having been stated and discussed, and Mr. Dennehy, R.M., who was one of the deputationists, having told his Lordship that he would not be responsible for the peace of the town if the Brothers depart - the Bishop said he regretted that the Brothers should withdraw, but that he had nothing to do with it; that he had not been consulted in the matter; that the Brothers had never complained either to him or to his predecessor of any annoyances received from the Parish Priest; but that now, if some of those present waited on the SuperiorGeneral, conveyed his sentiments to him, and got him to rescind his order of withdrawal, he (the Bishop) would make all things right afterwards. On their way home the gentlemen arranged that two of them should go the Belvidere, Drumcondra, during the coming week, to confer with the Superior-General. However, the Superior having learned what had taken place, and of the intended visit, came to Fermoy and waited on the Bishop, who received him with marked cordiality. As a result of their conversation it was agreed that the Brothers should not be withdrawn from Midleton; that their financial position should be improved; and that there should be no interference by the clergy in the secular instruction given in the schools. Before parting the Bishop requested the Superior-General to call again on the following morning to meet the Parish Priest of Midleton, Canon Fitzpatrick. He accordingly did so, and all three assented to the arrangements that had been come to at the conversation of the previous day.
In the meantime the two gentlemen who had been deputed to go to Belvedere arrived in Fermoy and had a long interview with the Brother Superior. On learning from him that the Brothers were not to be withdrawn, they agreed to everything else, and hastened back with the good news, which was received with great joy. That night the town turned out, and the bonfire, the band, and the other accessories of a popular rejoicing were requisitioned to express their feelings of affection and regard; at eleven o'clock the crowds appeared before the monastery, and the Brothers had to rise from bed to thank the demonstrators, and to listen to vigorous music, punctured with shouts of "Long live the Christian Brothers forever and ever and longer!" Thus, ended the 9th July 1877 – a notable day in the annals of Midleton. The Pastor did not accept the popular verdict in the Brothers' favour graciously. He still held that the National system was best for the town; and he raised difficulties over monetary matters connected with the support of the Brothers. But the liberality and energy of the gentlemen of the committee settled these difficulties also; for, having made such a stand to keep the Brothers, they were determined at all costs to maintain them decently. As the years went by things settled down quietly, and the schools proceeded on the even tenor of their way. We find that pupils of the schools passed in the Intermediate Examinations so far back as the second year of the establishment of that system and have since done good work at these and other examinations, ecclesiastical as well as secular. [From a Christian Brothers' Journal.] Canon Fitzpatrick died in the year 1892, and was succeeded by the Very Rev. Dr. Hutch, President of St Colman's College, Fermoy. He was very friendly towards the Brothers, and his former position enabled him to appreciate the labours of the Brothers in the cause of education, which, as occasion occurred, he was ever ready to proclaim in eloquent sermon or speech.