An attractive study celebrating 150 years of the Jes

Review: Harry McGee on Tom Kenny’s handsome record of a Galway institution

The Jes 150 Years of the Jesuits in Galway
Author: Tom Kenny
ISBN-13: 9780906312605
Publisher: Coláiste Iognáid
Guideline Price: €30

Coláiste Iognáid, or the Jes, has been an institution in Galway City for 150 years, since when the Jesuits opened a school on Sea Road near the city centre, which remains the location of the school until today.

To mark that significant anniversary, an attractive new book has been published, edited by past pupil and noted historian of Galway City Tom Kenny.

It's not a linear chronology of the school and (deliberately) eschews crowing about the most famous and infamous (the notorious William Joyce, Lord Haw Haw went there) of the thousands of students who went to the Jes. Instead, as Kenny notes in the introduction, "the book is like a family album of an extended family brought together by the Jesuit Fathers".

That is spot-on-the-money when describing this coffee-table book. It selects an essay on each decade, themes (such as sport, theatre, music, debating, literature), personalities and reminiscences from past pupils.

There is a very good historical synopsis, written by former principal Paddy Lydon, tracing the first presence of the Jesuits in Galway to 1642. They were then persecuted and driven from the city and finally returned to open the school in 1864. It did really well – within a year, notes Lydon, the number of pupils had risen to 90.

And there are hundreds of amazing photographs chronicling life in an Irish school and small city over 150 years, including exploits on the hurling or rugby pitches, or on boats on the Corrib, or class trips to Inis Mór, school plays, as well as more formal occasions. Unlike most other Jesuit schools, the one in Galway is not fee-paying and also has a tradition of Irish-language education. Over the past 30 years it has become fully co-educational and its staff nowadays is comprised wholly of lay teachers.

What’s nice about the book is where it focuses on personality it is on some of the most extraordinary teachers including Danny Griffin, Fr Butler (Buttsy), the extraordinary rowing coach and Irish teacher Fr Eddie Diffley and Brother Michael Crowe. Bro Crowe was the popular and gentle librarian in the school and died while coming out of the water during his daily swim off the “prom” in Salthill. It was Fr Diffley who delivered the eulogy and its beautiful line about Crowe. “He stepped out of his beloved Galway Bay and stepped into eternity.”

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times