History, Mission & Campus of Maynooth College

Founded 1795

Maynooth College was founded in 1795 as a seminary for the education of priests and by 1850 had become the largest seminary in the world. Over its history it has ordained more than 11,000 priests. Many of these have ministered outside Ireland and it has inspired two major missionary societies, directed to China (1918 – the Columban Fathers) and to Africa (1932 – Saint Patrick’s Missionary Society).

The College was founded because it was urgently needed. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it had not been possible to educate Catholic priests in Ireland. Institutions had been established in Catholic Europe, where they had become concentrated in France. The French Revolution confiscated all of these in 1792 and 1793. In Ireland the Penal Code was being dismantled, and the British Government, at war with revolutionary France, was anxious to placate Irish Catholic dissatisfactions, and certainly did not wish to see ‘revolutionary’ priests returning from the continent. In consequence, a petition to Parliament by the Irish Catholic Bishops was successful, and ‘An Act for the better education of persons professing the Popish or Roman Catholic religion’ was passed in June 1795. It provided a modest grant to establish a college.

The Bishops began to look for a site. It was desirable that the College be near Dublin, but they found themselves not exactly welcome in several desirable locations. They settled on Maynooth because the local magnate, the Duke of Leinster, was benevolent, and his Duchess even more so. This more than compensated for the fact that Maynooth was a little more distant from the city than they would have wished. The College opened in the autumn of 1795 in a house recently built by John Stoyte, steward of the Duke. Though heavily remodelled in the 1950s, it is still distinguishable as the projection on the row of buildings facing the front gate, and it is still called Stoyte House.

Maynooth and the Fitzgeralds

Maynooth is a historic spot. It is Má Nuad, the plain of Nuada, a name that bulks large in early Leinster legend. But above all it is associated with the Fitzgeralds. This association began in 1176, when Maurice Fitzgerald was granted a manor there by Strongbow as King of Leinster. He began to fortify the spot where a small tributary joins the Lyreen river. The great keep had risen before 1200, and in 1248 a chapel is mentioned in the complex of buildings. In all probability it was on the site of the present Church of Ireland.

Created Earls of Kildare in 1316, the power of the Fitzgeralds peaked with Garrett Mór (1478-1513) and Garrett Óg (1513-34). When a complaint was made to the first Tudor monarch, Henry VII, that ‘all Ireland cannot rule this man’ he is reputed to have replied ‘then this man shall rule all Ireland’. It was a situation the King had to tolerate. Ireland was indeed ‘ruled from Maynooth’. The Great Earl – and perhaps even more so his son Garrett Óg – seemed able to combine control of Irish tribal policies with a wider European vision, instanced by such things as the library they assembled at Maynooth and the claim to fraternal kinship with patricians such as the Gherardini of Florence. So, when Garrett Óg decided to set up a church where priests would pray for his father’s soul, it should be no cause of surprise that there were hints of hopes it might develop into that centre of higher education Ireland had always lacked. When the College of St. Mary was established in 1518 the Fitzgeralds were on the crest of a wave. It would seem certain that it occupied the site of the Church of Ireland and the adjacent tower beside the front gate.

It all went badly wrong. The second Tudor King, Henry VIII, was not prepared to let the Fitzgeralds ‘rule all Ireland’. Garrett Óg was summoned to London. He left his son Thomas in charge. The epithet ‘Silken Thomas’ is a piece of bardic whimsy that does not do him justice. Neither does the legendary image of his playing his lute under the great yew tree still known as ‘Silken Thomas’s tree’. (It stands on the left of the path leading up from the College gate.) Tree experts are agreed that it was there in his time and indeed well before him, but historians, while not necessarily denying the image of the lute-player, have to insist that Fitzgerald heirs had more serious preoccupations, especially in dangerous times. The revolt he led was a deliberate attempt to assert Fitzgerald indispensability. But the great castle was battered into submission and the garrison massacred. Already Garrett Óg had died in the Tower of London ‘of thought and pain’. Thomas surrendered and was executed at Tyburn with his five uncles. The sole survivor, a child half-brother, was spirited abroad into Italy. But his restoration began in 1552 and he was the founder of a line that was content with the new pattern of court nobility. In the mid-eighteen century Carton and Leinster House (now the seat of the Oireachtas) showed off their glory. James the twentieth earl was created Duke of Leinster in 1766. His son William Robert, the second Duke, was the protector of the fledgling ‘Catholic College’ in 1795.

St. Joseph’s Square

Students flocked in. The problem was to find staff and to put roofs over heads. A long wing was run out from Stoyte House, called, not very imaginatively, Long Corridor. It was begun in 1798, and it might be said that each room was occupied as soon as it became ready. Today it looks very new, because it was heavily remodelled in the 1950s. The authorities had in mind to build a square, and the north side was completed in 1809, not without serious financial anxiety. Again, not very imaginatively, it was called New House. The first part of the south side to be built was a detached building at the western end, to be called Dunboyne House. At the back of this is a curious tale.

John Butler became Catholic Bishop of Cork in 1763. He was of an aristocratic family, and in 1785 succeeded to the title of Lord Dunboyne and to extensive estates. He became obsessed with the thought that he was obliged to produce an heir, and when Rome refused him permission to marry he joined the Established Church in 1787. He died childless on 7 May 1800, reconciled to the Catholic Church. He left all his property to Maynooth College. Inevitably, the will was contested by the family. At this stage the penal laws against Catholics owning property had been repealed, with one exception, still there, everyone agreed, simply because it had been overlooked. If a Catholic converted to Protestantism and reconverted to Catholicism he could not bequeath landed property. But could the religion in which Lord Dunboyne died be established to the satisfaction of a civil court? Faced with the prospect of endless litigation, the parties agreed to a division of the property. For Maynooth, this was wealth indeed, and it is genuinely hard to understand why it was decided to devote it all to postgraduate studies – there were two professors of theology and an urgent need for buildings for undergraduate seminarians. But that was the decision, and the building, Dunboyne House, opened for postgraduate students of the Dunboyne Establishment in 1815. It still keeps the same name and function.

The south side of what was now beginning to look like a square was completed between 1822 and 1824. St. Joseph’s Square has character, despite the ravages of time and sometimes questionable refurbishment. It may be that it is hard to go seriously wrong when building within a tradition (in this case the Georgian) and perhaps particularly difficult if there is not much money to spend.

South of the square is an untidy cluster of buildings which housed the lay college. At its heart is the finest heritage building in the College, the eighteenth-century Riverstown Lodge, which still survives the less worthy later additions that surround it. The buildings were incorporated into the seminary when the lay college closed in 1817, clearly made redundant by the opening of Clongowes Wood in 1814. Two large functional buildings, Rhetoric and Logic Houses, were built in the early 1830s and became the Junior House. In this area some relief is provided by the ‘Junior Garden’. It is outlined as the garden of Riverstown Lodge on a map dated 1809. It was rejuvenated by the late Cardinal D’Alton when he was President in the 1930s. He initiated what is its most notable feature, the rock garden.

Finding a Staff

In the 1790s it was clearly a problem to find teaching and administrative staff in a country when there had never been a seminary. Fortunately there was a solution in the many émigré priests who had fled the French Revolution. Some were French, some Irish, the latter being strongly French in culture. In consequence, the College had a strong ‘French’ flavour at the beginning. The passage of time brought its inevitable ‘greening’. A good place to get a sense of this is the cemetery, just beyond the Junior Garden, where the first burial took place in 1817. One might also reflect that the most famous of the earlier staff was neither French nor a theologian, Nicholas Callen, Professor of Natural Philosophy (or, as we would say, Mathematics and Physics) from 1826 to 1864. He was a pioneer of applied electricity, patenting an improved battery and a process for galvanising iron, and, it seems certain, making the first working induction coil, which, curiously, he did not patent. The apparatus he built for himself is in the College Museum, near the Junior Garden, and opened by request. The Museum also contains a collection of Irish-made scientific instruments and of ecclesiastical items.

Gothic: St. Mary’s Square and College Chapel

In the 1840s it became politically expedient ‘to do something for Ireland’, and part of that ‘something’ was a building grant of £30,000 for Maynooth. It was the height of the ‘Gothic Revival’, and its leading exponent, A.W.N. Pugin, was chosen as architect. He chafed at the financial constraints, but produced three sides of ‘St. Mary’s Square’ in plain thirteenth-century Gothic. While it dominates the humbler earlier buildings, it is much plainer than Pugin’s dream. His greatest grievance was that funds did not run to a College Chapel.

The Irish Catholics had by now begun the building of new churches, some in an ornate Gothic style. Yet the chapel of the national seminary was still a hall in the north end of Long Corridor, regarded as temporary when it was first used in 1800. But there were still more urgent needs, notably a new infirmary, built to the north of Pugin’s buildings in the 1860s. It looks like a Gothic sanatorium and tuberculosis was certainly in the minds of those who commissioned it. It has recently been remodelled (2002) as the headquarters of the commissions and agencies of the Irish Bishops’ Conference.

The Chapel, to be built by public subscription, was initiated by Charles W. Russell, President from 1857 to 1880. A distinguished scholar and administrator, he is perhaps most widely remembered as the friend and confidant of John Henry Newman, who said of him that ‘he had perhaps more to do with my conversion than anyone else’. The architect was J.J. McCarthy, Professor of Architecture at the Catholic University. The foundation stone was laid on 20 October 1875, and it was finally opened for worship on 24 June 1891. It is in French fourteenth-century Gothic, more ornate than Pugin’s buildings, but still restrained. It may perhaps be too dominated by the massive tower and spire, added a decade later.

The architect for the interior was William Hague but the guiding spirit was Robert Brown, President from 1885 to 1894. They were not free of the perennial problem, of having ‘to do much with little means’, but the outcome was an unqualified success. In a large complex of plain and generally utilitarian buildings, a visit to the College Chapel can hardly fail to be a genuinely religious experience.

The greatest contributing factor is, inevitably, the stained glass windows. It was not a great period for glass, but the cumulative effect is impressive – the great Rose Window centred on Christ the King in glory, and the row stretching down the nave and round the apse depicting scenes from his public ministry. They were supplied by three firms, Mayer from Munich and Lavers and Westlake and Cox Buckley and Co. from London. N.H.C. Westlake of the first of these London firms gave a ‘pre-Raphaelite’ feel to the interior with his Stations of the Cross and the great heavenly procession of saints and angels that fills the ceiling (the panels were designed by Westlake and executed by a Dublin artist, Robert Mannix). This praise swelling towards the altar is echoed in the floor, where a psalm-verse in a marble mosaic calls for perpetual praise of the Lord. The massive organ was built by Stahlhut of Aachen. A most impressive feature, rivalling even the light from the stained glass, is the row upon row of carved oak choir-stalls that fill the whole church. Their detail does really suggest the medieval craftsmen, except that here it was produced by a Dublin firm, Connollys of Dominick Street. The five apse chapels are a notable feature of the design. The central one, the Lady Chapel, has mosaics depicting the life of Our Lady, carried out with Italian glass by Earley Studios of Camden Street. The complex of buildings at Maynooth had been substantially completed by about 1900. The architecturally undistinguished Aula Maxima was built in the 1890s, the equally undistinguished but more unexpected swimming pool in 1903, one of the very first in Ireland.

Academic Development

The student body fluctuated between five and six hundred, all of them of course seminarians preparing for the priesthood. Authority to confer degrees came slowly enough to what, by the standards of the time, was a large ‘third-level’ institution. In the centenary year 1895 a petition was sent to Rome for authority to grant degrees in theology, philosophy and canon law, and this was granted in 1896. The thorny problem of civil university education acceptable to Catholics was resolved by the Irish Universities Act of 1908. There was provision for Maynooth to become a ‘recognised college’, and this began to function in 1910, with faculties of Arts, Science, Philosophy and Celtic Studies. In 1966 it was decided to open the College courses to religious and laity, and student numbers grew. There are now about 5,000, of whom only a small minority are studying for the priesthood. Legislation in 1997 established the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, as a totally separate body. Its main developments are to the north of the road from Maynooth to Kilcock, but it maintains a significant presence in the older heritage buildings.

The Latest Years

Here a few noteworthy recent developments may be listed. A new library was opened in 1984. Named the John Paul II Library, its main door faces a bronze statue by Imogen Stuart of the Pope with Irish youth. This is surrounded by the ‘heritage wall’ recording the names of benefactors. Near the main west door of the College Chapel is a bronze statue of Our Lady Queen of Angels, a gift to honour the many Irish priests who have worked in Los Angeles. It was dedicated by Cardinal Roger M. Mahoney on 3 October 1991. St. Mary’s Oratory, in the Pugin buildings, had been allotted to the senior students in the1850s, over the protests of Nicholas Callan, who claimed that he had been promised the large hall as a laboratory. The plain space was slightly embellished after it had been gutted in the fire of 1 November 1878, but it remained utilitarian despite the insertion of two genuinely distinguished stained-glass windows in 1939. They survived an unfortunate refurbishing in the name of liturgical renewal, and remain a chief glory in a total and happier reordering carried out to mark the new millennium. This renewal was made possible with a generous grant from the St. Joseph’s Young Priests Society. The Oratory is adorned with works of art by Patrick Pye (Transfiguration), Imogen Stuart (Madonna and Child), Ken Thompson (St. Joseph, Altar, Ambo, Chair), Kim en Joong, O.P. (non-figurative) and Benedict Tutty, O.S.B. (Tabernacle and Cross).

Finally, there is the bicentenary garden, located in St. Mary’s Square, designed to symbolise man’s spiritual journey towards God. It really should be taken slowly and reflectively. A detailed leaflet is available.

St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, is a catholic centre of theological, philosophical, humanistic and scientific education and professional and priestly formation since 1795. it comprises both the national seminary and pontifical university.

The National Seminary’s primary mission is to serve the church in ireland by forming candidates for the catholic priesthood. Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, functions as the principal centre (institution) on the Island of Ireland of priestly formation for all the Irish dioceses. Seminarians from overseas dioceses and religious congregations are also welcome having met the admission requirements of the seminary and received a nomination from their ordinary.

Rooted in the apostolic community gathered around jesus christ, The Seminary seeks to form future priests who will hand on the life and joy of the gospel and the tradition of the church’s faith in the mission of the new evangelization well into the future.

To accomplish this, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, directs a programme of human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation that is rooted in the principles outlined for the formation of priests in the circumstances of the present day in the post-synodal apostolic exhortation pastores dabo vobis 1992 [ “i will give you shepherds”]. through the integration of these “Pillars of Formation”, the National Seminary aims to form priests according to the heart of jesus the good shepherd.

Since 1896 Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth has also been a university with Pontifical Faculties of Theology, Canon law and philosophy. Today, The Pontifical University is committed:

To achieve the highest standards at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, in systematic theology, moral theology, scripture, liturgical studies, ecclesiastical history, canon law, patrology, mission studies and pastoral studies & philosophy.

To equip students with the required academic formation for ministry, profession or civil leadership.

To promote excellence and innovation in teaching, research and publication that respond to contemporary developments in ecumenical, inter-religious and cultural dialogues in an increasingly complex and diverse irish society;

To broaden access in higher and continuing education through inter-disciplinary and focused programmes that meet contemporary needs.

To create a supportive, learning and reflective environment, equipped with the best structures and resources available, to enable the academic, spiritual and human development of the student in an atmosphere which respects diversity.

College Chapel

College ChapelThe College Chapel is one of the most beautiful places of worship in Ireland. The College was founded in 1795 as the National Seminary, and this is the principal Chapel of the College. Over 11,000 priests have been ordained from Maynooth since its foundation, and they have ministered in every parish in Ireland, and most parts of the world.

Built between 1875 and 1891, this Chapel has 454 carved stalls, making it the largest of its kind in the world. Augustus Welby Pugin had designed the adjoining quadrangle in the 1840’s and the Chapel was designed by JJ McCarthy, professor of Architecture at the Catholic University. The spire was added to commemorate the first centenary of the College in 1895, and was designed by W Hague. Completed in 1902 at 273 feet, it is the tallest building in Leinster.

The funds for the Chapel’s construction were collected from the Irish people at home and abroad. It is a safe presumption that most Irish visitors to the Chapel will have had relatives who contributed to the construction of this building during the difficult years of the Land Agitation.

As you enter the Chapel by the main door at the western end, the first impression is the neo- gothic style, everything points heavenwards, the arches, the ceiling, the windows and the finials.

“Laus Deo” or “Praise God” is the theme of the Chapel, and the decoration supports this theme with all of God’s creation portrayed praising God.

  • The vegetable kingdom is illustrated in the wooden carved finials, each different, and each pointing heavenward praising God.
  • The animal kingdom is represented in the stringcourse carvings above the Stations of the Cross.
  • On the ceiling, the heavenly host is illustrated praising God.
  • Meanwhile the carved oak choir stalls contain the students and staff of the College, raising their voices in praise.

The Nave

The mosaic floor carries the theme with the words of the psalm inviting young men to holiness –

Laudate pueri Dominum, Psallite Deo, Psallite Quoniam rex omnis terrae Deus, Psallite sapienter

Young men praise the Lord, Sing praise to God, Praise Him For God is King of all the earth, Praise him wisely

The fleur-de-lis is prominent in the mosaic of the main aisle. Through the centuries, the three petals of the fleur-de-lis have been associated with the Trinity. It is also an enduring symbol of France, and as the College was founded just six years after the French Revolution, it reflects the College’s long standing connection with France. Of the early professors, six came from the Sorbonne. The cost of mosaic at the time of laying this floor was quoted at “20 to 35 shillings per square yard fixed” – there were 20 shillings in a pound.

Oak Carvings:

The Church is 222 feet long, the largest choir chapel in the world, having 454 carved oak choir-stalls, row upon row of church seats facing across the aisle rather than towards the altar, to facilitate the public recitation of the divine office. The oak carvings are the outstanding feature of the Church. While their detail suggests medieval craftsmen, they were produced by a Dublin firm, Connollys of Dominick Street.

The finials, or end pillars of the rows of stalls are also carved in detail, each one to a different design, representing the wild plants of Ireland. Each points upwards in the gothic style, continuing the theme of the vegetable kingdom praising God.

Stations of the Cross:

Above the oak carvings are the life size Stations of the Cross painted by Nathaniel H J Westlake of London. The stations are painted on canvas, and affixed to the walls. The names of the donors are inscribed on them, just a few of the thousands of individuals who gave generously to the College from Ireland and all over the world wherever Irish priests had gone to preach the Gospel.

String Course and Corbels:

laus-deoOver the Stations of the Cross are the string course and corbels, carved in French stone from Caen. Continuing the theme of “Laus Deo” are representations of the Animal Kingdom, birds and animals, stating that all creation sings the praise of God.

In the carving of the corbels are represented angels holding the various instruments such as the stole, cruets of water and wine, the keys, the missal, the chasuble, which are given to the clerical student as he ascends the various ministries and orders up to priesthood. Those who reach the fullness of priesthood as Bishops are also reflected in the two angels nearest the altar, who hold the mitre and crozier.


The Rose Window at the west end of the Chapel is best seen in an evening light. The design of this window is based on that of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Reims, where the Kings of France were crowned.

The central figure is Christ the King in glory, holding the orb of the Universe, surmounted by a cross. His right hand is clearly pierced, as are his feet. In the ring surrounding the figure of Christ, top and centre is Saint Michael the Archangel with the other Archangels, followed by the Blessed Virgin, St Joseph, St John the Baptist and the Four Evangelists. The Apostles and Prophets are in the outer ring.

“Laus Deo” (“Praise God”) is the theme of the College Chap

Saint Michael’s premier position directly above Christ the King can be explained by the fact that he is credited with extraordinary zeal at the time of Satan’s rebellion, giving him an exalted position as patron and protector of the Church. His feast day is celebrated on September 29th, and is known as Michaelmas, traditionally the name given to the first term in College.

The windows in the nave tell the story of the life of Christ in chronological order in the main panels, while above them in the sexfoil panels are corresponding scenes from the Old Testament.

Starting near the sacristy are scenes from the private life of Christ. The corresponding Old Testament scenes from the sexfoil window at the top, being given in brackets:

  • The three mysteries of Our Lady by which she was prepared to become Mother of God, Immaculate Conception, Annunciation and Visitation, (The vision and sending forth of Abraham, Genesis 16.16)
  • The Nativity, (the finding of Moses by the Daughter of Pharaoh)
  • The Presentation of Our Lord, (the presentation of Samuel to the prophet)
  • The Holy Family, (the family of Tobias)
  • Christ teaching the Doctors in the Temple, (Daniel interpreting the dream ofBalthazar, King of Babylon)
  • The Descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove at the Baptism of Christ, (the dovereturning to the Ark of Noah to signal the end of the Flood)
  • The Miracle of Cana, (Moses striking the rock to bring forth water in the desert).On the opposite side of the Church are scenes from the public life of Christ. Starting from the main door, the windows are:
  • Christ and the Canaanite woman, (Solomon and the Queen of Sheba)
  • The Miracle at the Pool of Bethesda, (the healing of Naaman the Syrian)
  • The Raising of the Widow’s Son at Naim, (the raising of the widow’s son at Jezreel)
  • Mary Magdalen washing the feet of Christ, (Ruth who washed the feet of Boaz)
  • Christ teaching from the boat on the Lake of Genesareth, (Jonah preaching on theboat)
  • The Multiplication of the Loaves, (the widow and the miracle of the loaves in theBook of Kings)
  • The Giving of the Keys to Peter, (the giving of the Law to Moses)
  • The Transfiguration, (Moses veiling his face before God on Mount Sinai).The windows are of Irish, English and German stained glass. The windows in the sanctuary and the two nearest the main door at the bottom of the church on the south side were made by Messrs. Cox, Sons, Buckley and Co., a great deal of the work being done in their glass kiln at Youghal. Most of the remaining side windows were made by Mayers of Munich.


On the ceiling of the body of the Church there is a vast heavenly procession, led by ministering angles carrying censers and lighted torches. Behind them are the Madonna and Child, St Joseph and St John the Baptist, followed by numerous angels each carrying a symbol of the passion. These are followed by a large number of the Irish saints: the missionaries Columbanus, Cillian, Gall and Romold. Next come the Irish saints representing the monastic schools of Clonfert, Clonard, Clonmacnois, Bangor and Lismore, while St Malachy, St Laurence O’Toole, St Patrick and St Brigid represent the pastoral bishops.

Over the main doorway are the Archangels Raphael and Gabriel, and in the next row are Saint Patrick & Pope Saint Celestine who sent Patrick to Ireland, with Saint Brigid opposite. She is the only female saint on the ceiling, excepting the Blessed Virgin near the altar.

Around each of the medallions, in Gothic characters, is painted a sentence or phrase from the scriptures, Psalm 83/84, Psalm 127/128, the Te Deum and the Canticle of Zacharia. The paintings on the ceiling were designed by Westlake, and executed by Mannix.


The magnificent College organ is on the gallery over the entrance to the Chapel. It was built by Herr Georg Stahlhuth (1830-1913) of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1890. The Maynooth organ was a revolutionary instrument in its time, because of its system of electro-pneumatic action which was fashionable at that time. The organ was rebuilt in 1927 and again in 1978, with new pipes added, bringing the total number to 2,983, some of which had to lie horizontally so as not to interrupt the view of the Rose Window.

The Sanctuary

Main Altar:

The High Altar dates from 1911, and replaced a smaller altar. It was the gift of Monsignor Gerald Molloy, Rector of the Catholic University in Dublin. The altar was consecrated in 1912 by the former President, Monsignor Daniel Mannix, shortly before his departure for Australia as Archbishop of Melbourne. The centrepiece of the altar is a relief of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper.


Over the High Altar the windows represent the principal mysteries of the life of Our Lord. Appropriate for a seminary chapel, the central window represents the sending out of the Apostles. In the small windows overhead are pictured the principal areas of the priestly ministry. Starting from the left hand side of the sanctuary the windows show:

  • Christ’s triumphant entry to Jerusalem, (in the small window overhead Baptism is being administered)
  • The Last Supper, (Holy Communion)
  • The Descent from the Cross, (Ordination)
  • Christ and the Eleven, (Crucifixion)
  • The Resurrection, (Offering Mass)
  • The Descent of the Holy Spirit, (Confirmation).


Opposite the sacristy there is an illustration of an angel carrying a scroll inscribed Laus Deo, the theme of the Chapel. Underneath are the letter IHS, often said to mean “I have suffered”. The real meaning comes from the Greek, pronounced JESOS HUIOS SOTER, meaning Jesus, Son, Saviour.

Beneath the windows are a series of six paintings of outstanding incidents in the lives of the Irish saints. The sequence from left to right is:

  • St Laurence O’Toole appealing to the Norman soldiers at the gates of Dublin not to sack the city
  • St Brigid and her companions pronounce their religious vows – Brigida ejusque sociae vota religiosa emittunt
  • Saint Bernard greets Saint Malachy on his way to Rome – Malachiam salutat Bernardus Romam pergentem
  • St Patrick preaches in the presence of the High King of Ireland – Patricius coram summo Rege Hiberniae praedicat
  • St Columbanus oversees the foundation of the Monastery of Bobbio – Columbanus monast(erium)Bobien(se) stabiliendum curat
  • St Columba sets sail from the port of Derry. – Columba navem a portu Derriensi solvit

Side Chapels: Behind the High Altar are five side chapels in the style more common on the continent of Europe. Their windows depict:

  • Saint Brigid
  • The flight into Egypt
  • The Presentation of Mary in the Temple
  • The Sacred Heart
  • Saints Flannan & Molua of Killaloe Diocese.

The most noteworthy of the Chapels is the Lady Chapel in the centre where blue is naturally the dominant colour. The Venetian Glass Mosaics are of very fine quality, and depict the four principal mysteries of the Rosary, the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Assumption and the Coronation of our Lady. They were designed and produced by the Manchester firm of Oppenheimer & Co, and installed by the Earley Studios of Camden Street. Around the walls just beneath the ceiling, the words of the Ave Maria are worked into the mosaic.

Many Royal dignitaries have visited the College Chapel:

  • 24th July 1903: Their Majesties King Edward VII & Queen Alexandra
  • 9th July 1911: Their Majesties King George V & Queen Mary
  • September 1963: HSH Prince Rainier & Princess Grace of Monaco
  • 1st October 1979: His Holiness Pope John Paul II
  • 2nd July 1986: Their Majesties King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain.


The restoration of the College Chapel was started in the 1990’s in anticipation of the College’s bicentenary in 1995. Through the generous support of Friends of Maynooth in Ireland, the United States and several countries around the world, €10 million has been spent so far. The result is magnificent, and this national treasure is being preserved for future generations. The College Chapel Organ was restored in 2014 by the Firm Fratelli Ruffatti of Padua. All in the College are indebted to those who have made the restoration possible.


The Restoration of the College Organ – Dominic Mc Namara (Síolta 2014)

The original organ was installed soon after the College Chapel was built (1875 – 1891) under the direction of the first professor of music in the College, Fr H. Bewerunge. Built by the Stahlhuth firm of Aix-la-Chapelle around 1890, in its time it was considered very distinctive, using electro-pneumatic controls, which enabled the console to be placed at the back of the Chapel, but distant from the pipes in the gallery. This kept the organist close to the seminary choir which sang from the back of the Chapel on the opposite side.

Due to the distance between the console and the pipes, there was a distinct time-lapse between striking the keys and hearing the sound, which made it difficult to play. The major restoration of the 1970s by Kenneth Jones under the supervision of Professor Gerard Gillen addressed this problem by moving the console to the gallery.

Over the last forty years however, the organ gradually deteriorated to a point where several of the stops could no longer be used. Even the casual observer could see that some of the large pipes on view had collapsed under their own weight. Most of the stops control 61 pipes, so if even one of them is damaged, that stop cannot be used. By 2005, there were several stops out of commission, and each year the situation became worse. The total rebuild had become a priority for the College, if we were to ensure that the organ was to keep its place as the principal musical instrument of the liturgy, as required by Vatican II. The nature of an organ is not unlike a sophisticated car, and needs to be maintained and serviced regularly. With thousands of pipes, each of which needs cleaning and tuning, an annual service is desirable, and a major restoration is needed every thirty years or so.


President Connolly put a committee together to examine the challenge, consisting of Professor Gerard Gillen, Dr John O’Keeffe and myself. Organ companies from Ireland, England, Hungary and Italy competed for the job, and the firm of Fratelli Ruffatti of Padua, Italy was selected. It took two years to build, but the organ in Maynooth College Chapel is now among the best in Ireland. Following its completion in 2013, it has a warmth and richness of sound that is hard to match.

The best of the original organ has been retained and restored, as well as some of the amendments made over the century. The beautiful casework which is what the public see was also retained, and has been beautifully restored by Irish craftsmen.

Statistics for the new and restored College Chapel Organ:

  • Keyboards: Three Manual and one Pedal
  • 50 stops
  • 3,106 pipes & 12 bells
  • Carbon fibre mechanical trackers
  • Digital recording / playback option.

History of the College Chapel Organ – Kevin Macolmson (Síolta 2014) 1888 Fr. Heinrich Bewerunge appointed Professor of Ecclesiastical Music and College Organist. He was also an authority on the art of Organ Building. As the College Chapel was nearing completion he commissioned Stahlhuth of Burtscheid & Aix-la- Chapelle to build a suitable instrument for the Chapel.

1890 The organ was completed in 1890 and the opening recital was held on August 6. The instrument consisted of a Great Organ, Swell Organ and Pedal Organ. It was run by voltaic battery. (Later converted to mains supply). The organ console was detached from the organ itself. It was positioned in the area now occupied by the candle presented to the College by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1979. It was described as a revolutionary instrument for its time. The detached console caused problems, however, as it was difficult for the organist to hear the true sound of the organ and there was a considerable time-lapse between depressing a key and hearing the corresponding sound.

1920’s Fr. M. Treacy succeeded Bewerunge as Professor of Ecclesiastical Music in 1923. He proposed a major overhaul of the organ. Mr. Guy Weitz, Organist of Farm St. Church in London was appointed as organ consultant. The contract was given to Henry Willis & Sons of London. Much of the original pipework was re-scaled and re-voiced. A Choir Organ was added over the Swell Organ. The work was finished in 1929.

1970’s By 1976 the organ was again in serious need of attention. Many stops were out of commission and some of the larger pipes had collapsed. Dr. Gerard Gillen, Lecturer in Music at UCD and later Professor of Music in NUI Maynooth, was appointed as organ consultant in 1978. The contract was awarded to Kenneth Jones Organ Builders of Glendalough. The project was an ambitious one. The vision was “an instrument capable of permitting faithful interpretation of the widest possible range of organ music of all styles and periods”. 1,600 new pipes and a fanfare trumpet were added. The console was relocated to the organ gallery and a completely new Positive Division was added. The Opening Recital was held on May 14th 1978 and included performances by Professor Stockmeier of Cologne and Nicholas Danby of Farm St. Jesuit Church, London.

In 1978, Kenneth Jones described the College Chapel Organ as: “a monumental and majestic organ of fullness and power…one which has a classical quality and particular clarity”. However, by the beginning of the 21st century time had once again taken its toll and a major re-building was required. The current restoration, re-building and enhancement of the organ builds on the legacy of Stahlhuth, Willis and Jones, while employing a richer and more subtly varied tonal concept and a more striking visual impression. The organ now consists of over 3,200 pipes, 50 stops and a set of 12 bells. This project will greatly enhance the musical, spiritual and liturgical formation of many future generations of students on these campuses, and most importantly, give glory and honour to God. The blessing and dedication of the organ took place on 8th December 2013.

Organ Dedication and Blessing – Msgr. Hugh Connolly, President (Síolta 2014) The great organ of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth has been completely restored. The original organ of the College Chapel was built by the Stahlhuth firm of Aix-la-Chapelle, Belgium around 1890. After 120 years of great service, it needed a total rebuild, as many of the 3,000 pipes were no longer playable. The organ has had two major rebuilds in its life, in the 1920′s and again in the 1970′s. In addition, it has been regularly maintained, with several modifications. The firm of Fratelli Ruffatti of Padua, Italy was selected to do the work which took two years. The organ was dismantled in September 2011 and transported to Italy. The rebuilt instrument returned in September2013 and after extensive ‘voicing’ and ‘fine tuning’ is now fully ready for service.

The organ’s magnificent music features at all the great liturgical events during the college year including the Easter ceremonies, ordination to the diaconate, opening of the academic year mass, Pontifical graduation ceremonies and annual carol services and choral concerts. The organ is also used by some of the seminarians and students of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth and their colleagues in National University of Ireland, Maynooth who are pursuing

studies in Music. The considerable restoration costs were, for the most part, independently fundraised by Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth. The project was capably supervised by Professor Emeritus Gerard Gillen and Dr John O’Keefe, Director of Sacred Music.

At a special Sunday Evening Vespers at which the new instrument was blessed and dedicated the President of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth Msgr. Hugh Connolly said:

‘Above all this organ will be a servant of the liturgy, the Eucharist that gives our Campus Community the weekly rhythm for our lives here upon our pilgrim path. Its music will help us to bring the whole spectrum of human experience to our daily prayer. Its pure notes and perfect pitch will soar heavenward as students, staff and passers-by pause to reflect here on their daily lives bringing their prayers of loss and fulfilment, doubt and trust, confusion and conviction, happiness and grief, gratitude and praise to God’.

(The President also thanked the extraordinary generosity of those whose donations helped make this extraordinary dream become a reality.)

St. Mary’s Oratory

Saint Mary’s Oratory is at the heart of the prayer life of seminarians. Adjacent to their living quarters, it is where the seminarians and the College community attend the daily celebration of the Eucharist and gather for morning and evening prayer.

Saint Mary’s Oratory was restored for the new Millennium of 2,000 to celebrate the great jubilee of the Lord’s birth. The new design involved the alignment of all major liturgical points (tabernacle, celebrant’s chair, altar, ambo and organ) along the spine of the east-west axis. This allows the liturgy to occupy the central worship space, with the private devotional area and tabernacle located on the western wall.

We are indebted to Saint Joseph’s Young Priests Society for their help with this project.

Above the tabernacle (by Benedict Tutty), a tapestry of the Transfiguration (by Patrick Pye) occupies the wall between the two stained glass windows (by Earley Studios), and an abstract painting on canvas (by Kim En Joong) surrounds the Tabernacle. This ensemble, designed by the late Richard Hurley, creates an explosion of colour on the western wall, and presents a strong and prayerful focus, outside of the Eucharistic area.

Features of Saint Mary’s Oratory:

Transfiguration Tapestry – Patrick Pye – 1999

Stained Glass by Earley & Co Studios of Camden Street – 1939

Tabernacle & Cross – Benedict Tutty OSB – 1967

Our Lady of the Mantle, reaching out to a child of the world; – Imogen Stuart – 1999

All other wood – Ken Thompson

Architect – Richard Hurley (1932 – 2011)

“I have known Richard Hurley for a very long time. He was a truly an inspirational man, a man of deep faith and integrity. He was a man who has left a great legacy of fine work in the design of churches and other buildings of note. Among his writings is the beautifully illustrated Irish Church Architecture. We have good reason to be grateful that part of his legacy will enrich us”.

+ Colm O’Reilly Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois Trustee of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth 21 December 2011

Saint Mary’s Oratory is in the quadrangle designed by A W Pugin in the middle of the 1800’s. At that time, this space was used as a study hall. However, a disastrous fire in 1879 destroyed this portion of the College and when rebuilt it was turned into Saint Mary’s Oratory for the increasing number of students. This accounts for the plaster vaulting and panelled ceiling – quite different from what Pugin would have built thirty years before. Following Vatican II in the 1960’s, a poor modification was made, moving the altar to the centre of the long north wall. This had the effect of dividing the community in two, and was not satisfactory for the celebrant or the members of the congregation.

Saint Mary’s Oratory before the 1960’s modifications.

College Cemetery

Beyond an elegant glade of Yew Trees in the park, lies the College Cemetery, first opened in 1817, with the entrance designed by William Haughton Beardwood.

The Yew is the ancient symbol of eternal life, so yew trees appropriately adorn the entrance to the cemetery. Some of those buried under magnificent Celtic Crosses made lasting contributions in Ireland and internationally.

Dr Nicholas Callan from County Louth, (1799 – 1864), invented the Induction Coil. The coil is still used in our cars, and enables a 12 volt battery to give us the large voltage required for the spark plugs each time we start.

Professors François Anglade (1758 – 1834) and Louis Delahogue (1739 – 1827) taught in the Sorbonne before the French Revolution, but refused ‘The Oath’ and had to leave France.

Dr Charles Russell from County Down (1812 – 1880) is very topical now following the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who wrote in his Apologia pro Vita Sua in 1864, that Dr Russell ‘had, perhaps, more to do with my conversion than anyone else’.

The youthful remains of Eoghan O’Growney from County Meath (1863 – 1899) are housed in the mausoleum designed by W A Scott in the style of the small chapel in Glendalough. O’Growney was professor of Irish, and was to found the Gaelic League with Douglas Hyde and Eoin MacNeill before he died of TB at the age of 36.

There are a number of students, Sisters and staff resting there too. Many of the students died of consumption, as tuberculosis was called at the time, and are remembered in the Classpieces of the time. The Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul provided the healthcare for students and staff. The most recent burial was that of Maurice Dunne from Tralee (1939 – 2009). He had worked in the College since 1961 and died on his 70th birthday.S

While the College was founded in 1795, the first to be buried in the new College Cemetery was Rev Francis Power from Cork (1737 – 1817), who was the first Bursar and Vice President, was appointed Professor of French in 1802, and died in 1817. Four members of the College staff, who died before 1817, were buried in Laraghbryan Cemetery on the Kilcock Road, west of the Campus.

  • Rev Maurice Ahern from Kerry, (1735 – 1801), Professor of Dogmatic Theology
  • Rev Clotworthy McCormick from Antrim, (d.1807), first Sacristan, who before coming to Maynooth was the last Abbot of Bangor Abbey, associated with St Comgall and St Malachy
  • Rev Edwards Ferris from Kerry, (1738 – 1809), Dean & Professor of Moral Theology
  • Rev Charles Lovelock from Galway (d.1814), Professor of Greek & Latin, Humanity & Rhetoric.

Irish Bishops' Conference

National Centre for Liturgy

National Board for Safeguarding



We're always fundraising to improve Saint Patrick’s College so why not donate and help make us better!