by Pat Brosnan


Memories of a Castle

Recently some of our own girls visited Rathfarnham Castle in South Dublin which is now under the control of the Office of Public Works. Looking out from the main entrance to the grounds and the Castle there is a fine view of some of the Dublin mountains and particularly the ruins of the famous or maybe rather infamous Hellfire Club which is situated on the side of the mountain that overlooks Rathfarnham, Ballyboden and other outskirts of the City. The most reason that our family members were interested in visiting the Castle was because of hearing from me of my experience of having worked there back in the nineteen forties when the huge structure was owned and run by the Jesuit Order and where we were members of the staff at the time.

The building was divided into two main sections at the time, there was the Juniorite where the trainee priests were accommodated and where they studied, they also cycled on weekdays to attend University College. Of course there were many other subsections in the main building, the Brothers and Priests rooms, the large Refectory where all the community had their meals together, the staff quarters and the dining room which was known as the staff hall. Some of the farm workers as well as some of the indoor staff and members of the maintenance staff were also accommodated in separate outside buildings and there was a gate lodge where the dairyman and his family lived.

The 20th century had brought many changes to the Castle after it was purchased together with part of the estate in 1913 by the Society of Jesus who are better known as the Jesuits. While they maintained the structure and the main rooms of the Castle in good condition they added two large wings during the 1920 period to accommodate a hall of residence for the seminary and a Retreat House and Chapel. There was also a lovely Chapel in the older building. Fr. John Sullivan whom we heard a lot about when we worked there was a candidate for canonization and he was also Rector for a short period during the 1930’s.

It is my belief however that those of us who were working on the staff of the Castle had not much real interest in the previous history of the place as we were more pre-occupied with some of our own day to day problems, small wages and long working hours. The advertisement for indoor staff members which appeared in “The Kerryman” which got me the job mentioned good wages, turned out to be 15shillings a week with a deduction of one shilling and three pence for insurance contribution. Perhaps if we worked in the Retreat House over a weekend we might get four or five more shillings from tips left by those who came on retreat there. Those who came on retreat there were mostly Dublin working class people from various occupations bus drivers and conductors one week, the next week gasworks employees and so forth. The rules for those on retreat were very strict, no talking among themselves or with the staff, complete silence over the entire weekend until the breakfast on Monday mornings when they were allowed to converse freely. Those of us in the indoor staff got one half day off each week in the afternoon, no fixed working hours, no minimum wage and of course no trade union membership. Those on the outdoor and farm staff however were in a different category altogether, fixed working hours and much higher wages. We in the indoor staff were to required to attend early Mass seven days a week and we were also more or less compelled to be back in our rooms by 10.30pm at night which gave us little opportunity to attend dances in the city or even go to see a film. But however it was a job and we were glad to have it. Many of the community were nice people, but like in every other walk of life the religious community in Rathfarnham had its quota of snobs, who more or less considered working people to be a lesser breed, but on the other hand some members of the community there were wonderful people who treated us with dignity and respect. After leaving there some of the community wrote to me, particularly late Fr. Hugh Mulhall and Brother Paddy Brady, both now deceased. When brother Brady was stationed at the Jesuit House in O’Connell Stree, Limerick which was since sold it was great to meet up with him again on one occasion after all the years. During our time working at the Castle the staff used to play a lot of handball, there were two fine ball alleys there so we became useful at the game a least it was not in this context anyway all work and no play. We used to run handball competitions for the staff as well.

The original castle at Rathfarnham dates back to the Elizabethan period and was built for Archbishop Adam Loftus, a Yorkshire clergyman who came to Ireland as a chaplain to the Lord deputy and who quickly rose to become Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor of Ireland and who was closely involved with the establishment of Trinity College. In our own time working at the Castle, one of the brothers in the community was by coincidence named John Loftus who was a native of Mayo. It would be extremely doubtful if he was a relation of the original Bishop Loftus for whom the castle was built. There were many stories about the castle that we never heard about while working there. For instance we were not aware that the place was supposed to be haunted until reading an article in Ireland’s Own many years later with the title “Ghosts of Rathfarnham”. Some of the Kerry lads who worked with me at the castle have now gone to their reward, but some years ago Joe Cronin from Beaufort found out by chance where we lived and visited us a couple of times and we also met him on another occasion at Scartaglin Féile Cheoil. Joe was one of my best friends when we were in Rathfarnham but sadly he has died in recent years. Who would have thought back in the late forties that the Jesuits would sell the property and leave  before the end of the 20th century, as the order seemed to be so well established there. But then again they have also left Mungret College and sold the Church and house in O’Connell Street, Limerick. The Office of Public Works is now in full charge of what has been termed “A fortified house” and this historic building is now a visitor’s centre where there are guided tours and talks on the history of the place. It seems strange indeed that members of my own family are now visitors to a place where we were once staff members working from early morning until late at night very often for the weekly wage of 15 shillings less 1 and 3 pence insurance contributions and of course our meals and accommodation in this ancient castle. It was nevertheless an experience that played a role in the shaping of our lives.

After leaving Rathfarnham to take up a job in Kildare and later coming home to work in Kerry for a couple of years before my lodestar led me back again to Dublin this time to work with the Carmelite Order in Terenure College. But that of course is another story.


Late Patrick (Barney) Sheehy

The death of Patrick (Barney) Sheehy of Templeathea occurred last week. He had been in failing health for some time past but bore his illness bravely during all these months. He was pre-deceased by his wife Winnie (nee Mangan) only last year. Before coming to Templeathea, Barney and his family had previously lived in Keale.

The removal from Lyons’ Funeral Home to St. Bartholomew’s Church, Athea was attended by a large number of people who called to offer their sympathy to the family. The Requiem Mass and the funeral afterwards to Templeathea cemetery were also well attended. Sympathy is extended to his family members and other relatives. May his soul rest in peace.


Hard Luck Limerick

Once again the Limerick footballers were robbed of victory on Saturday afternoon in a close encounter against Kildare. But how often has it happened in the past when some fine Limerick sides have been deprived with a last kick of the ball. This year again they have done the County proud but this is little consolation for matches that could have and should have been won.

Kerry’s convincing win over Tyrone after barely surviving the Westmeath challenge makes them look good for an All-Ireland bet. But as we all know from experience putting our money on Kerry is a very risky business. Take the extraordinary let down of last year’s All-Ireland final for instance. How many wee regretting having put their money on a “Kingdom” win. As for me no bets on my native county, it is much too risky.


Late Michael Healy

The death occurred recently of Michael (Mick) Healy in London and formerly of Ballyloughane, Carrigkerry and Bishop Street, Newcastle West. Sympathy is extended to his family members and other relatives. May his soul rest in peace.