Early Years Memories of Celbridge Sisters of the Holy Faith St. Brigid's Primary School St. Patrick's Convent

Sisters of the Holy Faith Celbridge: 1878 – 1978


Sisters of the Holy Faith Celbridge 1878 – 1978
St. Patrick’s Convent
St. Brigid’S Primary School







The following is transcribed from the Sisters of the Holy Faith centenary booklet published in 1978. Courtesy of the Sisters of the Holy Faith.



The centenary of the coming of the Sisters of the Holy Faith to Celbridge is an occasion for joy in the parish in which they have served with such dedication for the past one hundred years.  Coming at the invitation of Cardinal Cullen in 1878, their arrival heralded the beginning of a new era – an era of spiritual and educational development in Celbridge.


Due praise and appreciation must go to the role played by the many sisters who served in our community down the years.  The spirit of co-operation which has always existed between the Sisters of the Holy Faith and the people has assisted them in their endeavours to provide for the generation of boys and girls who passed through their hands.


For one hundred years they have lived among us – they are part of Celbridge life. By their work and example they have shown that what is essential for life in not knowledge alone but character, integrity, wisdom and courage.  They will help us in the future, as in the past, to meet the challenge of Christian living.


On behalf of all whom they serve and have served with such generosity, I am privileged to offer the Sisters of the Holy Faith in Celbridge or congratulations on their centenary, and our best wishes for the future years,

Mairead Byrne,

Chairman, Centenary Committee


Centenary Committee

Chairman: Miss Mairead Byrne

Hon. Secretary: Ms Bridie Maughan

Asst. Hon. Secretary: Miss Angela Tansey

Joint Hon. Treasurers: Mr. Gay Boylan, Mr. John McCormack

Committee: Father E. Kennedy, Mrs. E. Stanley, Mrs. U. Heffernan, Mrs. K. Walsh, Mrs, M. Coyle, Miss K. Boylan, Messrs. T. Molloy, M. Dunphy, P. Abbott, J. McGarry, D. O’Duffy, J. Murphy


Editor: Louise Darlington

Asst. Editor: Mairead Byrne



The Centenary Committee is indebted to all those who helped in the production of this magazine.  We are especially grateful to those who sent articles for publications; to our photographers; to those who lent photographs; and to our team of distributors.  A special word of thanks is extended to our advertisers who by their support have made this magazine possible.


The Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Faith – In the Beginning

By Sister M. Ailbe

The establishment of the religious congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Faith took place in the oratory of Glasnevin Convent.  The centenary of its canonical erection was celebrated in 1967, and this convent remains the mother house to the present day.

Sister Margaret Alyward, Foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Faith, 1810 – 1889.

Let the mind of Christ be in you

By your faith His will Discern,

Let His love inspire your actions

And His poor be your concern.

Margaret’s message in His name,

Spoken once remains the same.

However, today’s affluence is far removed from the poverty of that time – the second half of the nineteenth century – when the Irish people were poor, uneducated, and in danger of loosing the Catholic faith.  The need for such a congregation was very evident and a Waterford woman named Margaret Alyward, and a Vicentian priest – Father John Gowan – were the instruments God chose for the task.  Margaret’s heart was stirred to pity when she saw that the streets of Dublin were cluttered with orphans of the famine, with hapless widows, with the evicted and the destitute.


In 1851 she introduced the Ladies of Charity Association into Dublin, they helped to counteract “souperism” and proselytism.  Then in 1856 she formed St. Brigid’s Orphan Association to combat the sinister activities of other societies and this led to the foundation of St. Brigid’s Orphanage, which is still exclusively administered by the Sisters.  It was Margaret’s conviction that an orphan should grow up in the love of a family circle, so consequently they were not housed in a huge building but were placed, under inspection, in approved Catholic families. She was the pioneer of the boarded–out system which was later adopted, not only in Ireland, but also in England and elsewhere.


Meetings at the orphanage were used as a platform to plead for social reforms, and at that time it was quite astonishing to find a woman addressing a public meeting. Margaret’s sound knowledge of social principles, and her fearless application of them to the problems of poverty and unemployment, set a pattern for our modern welfare departments.  She opened a pawn-shop for the poor and a factory in Dublin, and her group of ladies helped her to supervise the work.  “We must help them to help themselves” was her slogan.


Ecumenism and the religious tolerance of today were non-existent in Margaret’s time, and it was through personal sufferings that she reached her goal.  An example of her concern and tenacity can be seen in just one case history:  A Catholic tradesman named Matthews went to London seeking employment, taking his wife and three children with him.  There his wife reverted to Protestantism and left her husband, taking with her the youngest child.  As he was in ill-health, Matthews brought the two eldest, Henry and Mary, back to Ireland, placing Henry in a boy’s home and Mary in St. Brigid’s Orphanage.  Mary was sent to the care of a nurse in the country.  Mrs. Matthews returned, kept watch and succeeded in snatching the boy, placing him in a Protestant orphanage.  A Catholic friend of the father, fearing for Mary’s safety, moved her with haste without consulting Miss Aylward.  Eventually, she was placed in a convent in Belgium, where she grew up and later became a sister.


Unfortunately, there was not such a happy ending to the case for Margaret Ayward.  Over the next two years she was summoned again and again to the Queen’s Bench (1858-1860) and ordered to produce the child, which she could not do, she was condemned to six months in a criminal prison, where her health suffered from the inhuman conditions and ill-treatment.  On St. Bridgid’s Day 1861, the Primate of Armagh, Dr. Dixon, called to see her I prison.  He presented her with a gift from his Holiness Pope Pius 1X who also sent his blessing on her efforts to help the poor and protect Catholic orphans.


The foundress realized that a priest must be commissioned to take over the work of shaping and training her religious community.  At the request of Cardinal Cullen and Archbishop Dixon, Father Gowan was appointed to the task.  Born in Skerries and ordained in Maynooth in 1840, his first curacy was in Glendalough where he witnessed the distress of his starving parishioners during the famine.  From Glendalough he entered the Congregation of the Missions – the Vincentians.  He travelled most of Ireland as a missionary, and had many opportunities of seeing children lost to the faith in the disorganisation that follow the failure of the potato crop.


In 1856 he met Mary Aylward and discovered in her “a lady of deep spirituality, a strong will, great prudence and an extraordinary power of doing good among the poor”.  He was her spiritual advisor and guide and later looked after her new congregation which was expanding rapidly, until his death in 1897.


The first St. Brigid’s School was opened in 1861 at No. 10 Crowe Street, off Dame Street, Dublin, and was followed by more school – primary, private, secondary and boarding.  It should be noted that no pecuniary aid was received until 1917for “national” (primary) schools.  In October 1878 the community at Celbridge was founded.  The Sisters of the Holy Faith maintain the apostolic spirit of their founders and carry on their work.


Margaret Aylward   adapted her methods to the circumstances of her age, first as a lay pioneer and then as a concentrated religious.  Her spiritual daughters adapt themselves to the requirements of the present day, both in their care of orphans and in accommodating themselves to the demands of modern education.  The congregation also has houses outside Ireland, in Trinidad, California, New Orleans, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia.

Sister M. Sennan with St. Patrick’s Church Choir, 1958.
“A place unsuitable for any good purpose”                                                                                                      

By Lena Boylan  

The following is a brief history of the properties and lands involved in the foundation of the Holy Faith Convent, Celbridge, from its earliest days to the present structures.


Elinor Sadleir or Elinor the Sadler of Celbridge dies in 1718, and for 150 years after her death the house ad garden which she occupied beside the old Mass House in the town of Celbridge was described in deed of sale or letting as Elinor Sadleir’s tenement and garden.  Her name, together with that of Robert Costelloe and Martin Lacy, was eventually lost in the general substitution of “The Brewery Yard” which included part of the holding called Costelloes, the dwelling house offices, forge and garden of Martin Lacy and Elinor Sadleir’s tenement and garden.


Elinor Sadleir’s garden was estimated to contain one acre. It adjoined the grounds of the R.C. church on one side and Martin Lacy’s holding on the other.  Robert Costelloe’s was south of and adjoining Martin Lacy’s and contained two acres Irish Plantation Measure, with certain buildings erected thereon.  The Holy Faith Convent grounds include the greater part of Robert Costelloe’s.   


The entrance to the combined areas which formed The Brewery Yard was through an archway under Elinor Sadleir’s house.  Early maps of Celbridge show the archway to have been under the house now occupied by Mr. Edward Coyle.  The gateway and avenue to the convent was not erected until after 1876, when premises then occupied by James McDermott, a brewer, were demolished.


The brewery in Celbridge was set up in 1794 by George Coyle (his family were old Celbridge residents), who had taken a lease of Elinor Sadleir’s and Martin Lacy’s holdings and erected on “the several lands and premises, a dwelling house, malt house, malt stores, malt kilns, stables, cow houses and bullock houses, sheds, coach houses and distillery”.  A garden at the rere of the premises and an adjoining field were also held by George Coyle, who subsequently sold to Edward Dunne.


Mr. Howard R. Guinness, who visited Celbridge in 1898, has recorded that an old lady named Simpson, who was born in 1823, informed him that when he was a child “a man named Dunne lived in Finey’s house (the house opposite the R.C. church, which was occupied by Richard Guinness in the 1750’s) and worked the brewery yard, making not porter but table beer.”


Mr. Dunne worked the brewery form 1813 until 1825, which establishes that the brewery yard, as set up by George Coyle in 1794, was in some state of production for thirty-one years.  In 1808, when a Michael McDermott was brewer his goods and chattels included 3 troughs, a turning pump, a fan float, 40 hogs and 30 half barrels.


In 1825 Edward Dunne sold out to Jeremiah Haughton of Celbridge Woolens Mills for £1,200 “The Field at the back of the town formerly owned by Widow Duff, together with that piece of ground next the street containing two acres (Costelloe’s),  Elinor Sadleir’s tenement and garden, Martin Lacy’s house, afterwards in the possession of George Coyle, together with the forge, offices, house and garden, then in the actual occupation of said Edward Dunne, and then meared and bounded on the north by Matt Dignam’s land (recently Kings’s Geraghty’s) ad on the east by Laughlin Dignam’s and Lumley’s land (Cotters) and the Rev. Mr. Cllanan’s land 9church grounds) and on the south west by Matt Dignam’s and John Broe’s lands and William Kenny’s holding (Martins and McKenna’s).”


From 1825 onwards the stables, cowhouses, sheds and coach houses were converted into offices and dwellings for Mr. Haughton’s mill workers, which a Valuation Officer described in 1840, as “A Place Unsuitable for Any Good Purpose.”


Into this place in 1878 came the Sisters of The Holy Faith Convent, Glasnevin.  This convent was built on Robert Costelloe’s two acres, which was purchased by John Rourke of Beatty Park in 1860 from Anastatia Kenny.  On the land towards the street were two dwelling houses, then occupied by Laurence Mullen and Patrick Walsh, Mullen’s house was described in 1840 as “A dwelling house with a room over a gateway, a stable not lofted, a cowhouse in ruins, a good front, but bad rere, good yard, with liberty of passage thro’ gateway) Martin’s).” Patrick Walsh’s house also had a room over the gateway, a coach house, not lofted, also a good yard and garden, (McKenna’s).  Those two houses were later to be used by the Sisters of The Holy Faith at school rooms.  The house now occupied by Mr. Terr Boylan was also purchased by John Rourke at this period.  Perhaps it was considered as a temporary convent.


In 1868 all tis property was granted in Fee Farm to John Rourke and his heirs for ever. Obviously, John Rourke was acting for the Rev. Robert Wheeler, who conveyed Robert Costelloe’s and the house built by Arthur Baillie (T. Boylan’s) to His Eminence Cardinal Cullen, the Very Rev. Myles Canon McManus and James Rourke and their heirs for ever in 1873.


In 1872 the Rev, Wheller purchased part of the Elinor Sadleir’s tenement and garden containing 2 roods, 28 perches and measuring 25 feet to the street of Celbridge, also part of the garden at the rere of Martin’s Lacy’s former dwelling house containing 19 perches for £400.  The seller was Charles Wolfe Shaw of Belfast, who had inherited the property of Mr. Giles Shaw, Mr. John Haughton’s co-partner in the Celbridge Mills.


In 1878 these latter premises were granted to Alice Keenan of the Sisters of Mercy, Baggot Street Convent, Dublin, by the Rev. Michael Gibney and Mr. James Rourke.  But the Valuation Books recorded that a convent recently completed by not yet occupied.   Later in 1878, Margaret Aylward and Ada Allingham of the Holy Faith Convent, Glasnevin, accepted a transfer of all the various properties.  Further acres were subsequently granted to the Holy Faith Sisters.  Mary Frances Kenny, widow of William Kenny, the butcher who was tenant of Robert Costelloe’s holding in 1825, transferred her interest to Michael Rourke, who granted same to the convent.  One acre previously held by Mr. James Broe was also added to Michael Rourke.


Today, the three tenement areas which comprised the Brewery Yard can be easily identified by the different height of the buildings fronting the street.  The lower houses next to the convent gates represent Elinor Sadleir’s, south of these on a different level the houses stand on Martin Lacey’s and further south Martin’s and McKenna’s mark the street frontage or Robert Costelloe’s holding.


Who’s Who? 1968
The Foundation – Arrival in Celbridge

by Sister M. Ailbe

 On 30 June 1873, the Sisters of the Holy Faith opened a house in Kilcullen, Co Kildare.  They did splendid work for he poor of the district for the next five years and then disaster struck …… they were forced to leave as the landlord refused to renew their lease, With permission from Cardinal Cullen, Margaret Aylward purchases houses in Celbridge belonging to Elinor Sadleir, for the purpose of providing schools for the Catholic children of the district.  The sisters taught for some time in the small house in Main street.


The present convent was originally built by the Sisters of Mercy, but they never came to reside there.  Cardinal Cullen gladly offered it to the Sisters of the Holy Faith, as he was very appreciative of the work they had done in Kilcullen and elsewhere, and he wanted them to stay in Co. Kildare. The convent was opened in 23 October 1878.


In 1882 some houses on Main Street together with an area to the rear of those houses, which was once a brewery and had later been converted into stables and dwellings, were acquired by the sisters.   Later those premises were re-conditioned and became St. Brigid’s School. For some years the sisters taught French, English, Music as well as the other subjects.  Painting, crochet and embroidery were also part of the curriculum.  It was only in 1917 that aid from the Stare were receive and so the school adopted the then current curriculum.

Main Street Celbridge today

Many past pupils are living in the district, while others have travelled father afield.  Some have dedicated their lives to God, at and abroad.   All are continuing by the Christian lives, to bear witness to the excellent teachings of the Holy Faith.  On this happy occasion of our centenary, the past pupils have a big share in our prayers and good wishes.

Celbridge before the motorcar.
70 Years Ago – Return to Yesterday

By Martin J. Kelly

The children who presently attend St. Brigid’s Convent School, with its spacious classrooms, grounds and modern amenities, would find it hard to believe that there are some ex-pupils in the district who attended there seventy years ago in vastly different circumstances. One, still blessed with good health, has a clear mental picture of Celbridge village around 1910 when poverty was a fact of life.  “Industry was almost non-existent and while there was considerable employment around the great house of Castletown, Oakley Park, Killadoon and Lyons, wages for men amounted to only nine shillings per week, with working hours far longer than at present.  Those who drew such wages were considered lucky, however, as there was no relief or dole for those out of work. “


In such circumstances the standard of living was low for the vast majority of the people.  Meat was a rare dish in many of the houses.  People made their own clothes and did without many of the things we now consider necessities of life.


The town itself presented a dilapidated appearance – the street was a bed of broken stones leveled by a steam roller, while traffic consisted of horses and carts and occasionally one of the few motor cars in the district.


Prior to the first World War the classrooms were situate in the old buildings acquired by the Sisters when they first came to Celbridge in 1878.  The largest block was at right angles to the street.  One storey high, it was divided into classrooms heated by open fires which often seemed very far away from those at the back room.  Most of the general school work was done on slates while copy book, which then could be bought for a halfpenny each, were available for writing.  A feature of the Convent School in the early part of the century was a kitchen where a cook prepared soup which was served with bread to the pupils on payment of a penny a day.  There was a separate High School where the daughters of the more affluent people of he locality were admitted and taught on payment of a fee. This High School was situated in a small building on the Convent side of the ordinary School.


Pupils of the pre 1914 period were not subject to visits from Inspectors of the Department of Education.  However, Cathecism examinations were conducted by Fr. Dunne, the local Parish Priest.


Soon after the uprising of 1916 and the setting up of a native Irish government, the High School in the Convent was abolished, and great emphasis was placed on the teaching of the Irish language as a separate subject.  There was little change until the 1950’s when an improved economy and the availability of second level education brought about conditions with which we are now familiar.  Those factors also led to the demolition of the Old Convent School buildings in the early 1970’s and their replacement by the present impressive structures.

At Work and Play – St. Brigid’s Today

By Elizabeth Stanley

The first eight classrooms in our modern 16-room complex came into being in 1970, followed seven years later by a further eight.  This Extension was officially opened on 12th May 1978, by the Minister for Education, Mr. J. Wilson, and blessed by his Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, Most Rev. Dr. D. Ryan.


Spiritual Needs Catered For

Solid education standards and the spiritual formation of the children is the aim of the school.  Father E. Kennedy, C.C., is chaplain to the school and in liaison with the teachers he organizes class Masses each term.  Three confessors are in attendance on a monthly basis and this affords the children an opportunity of making their Confession to a priest of their choice.  For the past three years the School has facilitated the Maynooth deacons who also take classes once a week and help generally with parochial work.


Each school day begins and ends with a prayer and the children are encouraged to pray for their own special intentions. Preparation for the reception of the Sacraments is also part of their spiritual upbringing; and the school choir sings at the 10A.M. Mass each Sunday.  The Children participate in the Offertory procession in rotation.


More Educational Involvement

Throughout the past decade, since the introduction of the new curriculum, children now play a much more active role in their own education.  The basic skills are still taught, not so much through class-teaching as through individual and group activity.  Thus, each student progresses at his own or her own rate.  The child is given full scope to express his personality and experience the joy of discovery.  They measure objects and estimate areas both in the classroom and outside. They record their findings which are then discussed and later displayed in pictorial or chart form.  Emphasis is laid on the visual as well as the written form of presentation.

In the Infant School the toddlers act out their personal experiences as well as the much-lover nursery rhymes and fairy tales. The infant classroom may appear to be “at play” but in theory they are discovering through “practical play”.  This new thinking in education has resulted in a broader, more flexible programme and the teacher is free to choose topics or situations best suited to the pupils of today.


Civic Pride

During their years in St. Brigid’s the students are encouraged to play a responsible role in society. They are taught to respect property; to observe standards of tidiness in their appearance, in their belongings and in the classrooms and school grounds where they work and play; to appreciate the beauties of nature and to take price in the locality.


The children are encouraged at all times to help the less fortunate.  They participate in the scheme for the distribution of comfort to the aged and infirm at Christmas and Easter, and support the Hold Childhood Missions, while the older children take part in the Post Office Savings Scheme for which they won an award in 1977.


Contented Staff

The school has an excellent head in Sister M. Ailbe, principle since 1973.  She works tirelessly for the benefit of all and is able supported by the other members of the community – Sisters M. Stephanie, Mechtilde, Frances Therese and Gerarda.  Lay staff number seven – Mrs. Elizaveth Stanley, Mrs.  Mary Sheerin, Mrs. Una Heffernan, Miss Angela Tansey, Mrs. Anne Corry, Miss Mairead Gilligan and Mrs, Moya O’ Donoghue.  In addition, two visiting teachers attend each week – Miss Joan Cuthbert who specializes in speech and drama training, and Mrs. Maire Crean who teaches Irish and folk dances. Every pupil takes part in the annual display at the end of the summer term – an event not to be missed!

Presently the school caters for approximately 340 pupils, almost 50%of whom are in the Infant Department.  Consequently, the many facilities – attractive classrooms, library, general purpose room, fully equipped cookery room and spacious playground – are fully utilized and contribute to make teaching in St. Brigid’s Convent School a very pleasant task.




The Future – Whither Celbridge

By Father E. Kennedy, C.C.

Reading the history of Celbridge and looking at some of the older photographs available, it is quite clear that the village has changed radically.  However, the changes which will take place during the coming decades will be even more profound, I have been asked to play the prophet and predict the development of Celbridge in the years to come, particularly in the areas of school and parochial expansion.


House Numbers

There are today 600 “older” houses in Celbridge.  By 1981 an additional 1,000 “new “ houses (300 already sold and occupied) will have been completed and occupied. That implies that Celbridge (without any further development of potential building land in the area) may have 1,550 – 1,650 houses by 1980-1981.  Add to that Straffan, a Chapel of Ease, with 160 – 180 houses in the same period (160 today) and then Celbridge/Straffan parish will have a total of 1,700 – 1,750 houses by 1980 – 1981.