A Brief History

The Carmelites in Terenure

Terenure House

Templeogue Road was constructed in 1801 as a turnpike or toll road. This new road separated the adjoining lands of Terenure House and Bushy Park House, both of which were owned by Robert Shaw, later 1st Baronet.  It was around this time, also, that the name of Terenure village changed to Roundtown, but the original name was restored in 1868.

By 1817 Robert Shaw had sold Terenure House to Frederick Bourne, proprietor of a successful stage-coach business. Frederick Bourne and his wife made the grounds of their residence one of the show pieces of County Dublin, and they opened them to the public. People came in large numbers on Sunday afternoons to view and enjoy the gardens with their exotic plants. John Dalton in his History of County Dublin, written in 1838, refers to Terenure House with “its magnificent gardens, hothouses and shrubberies of evergreens, its grottoes, urns and rustic seats…its fine sheet of water, insulated banqueting house, fishing temple, winding walks and picturesque bridges”.


Coming to Terenure

It would appear that the Carmelites first came to the Terenure area in 1858 when they purchased two properties on Terenure Terrace, off Templeogue Road, almost opposite the present day Terenure Public Library.  It is thought that one of the houses was intended for the care of a member of the Order who had tuberculosis while the second was to serve as a novitiate. At that particular time, the Carmelites had only one Community residence in Dublin, namely, Whitefriar Street. As it recovered from the deprivations of the previous centuries the Order needed more space for the formation of new members.

When Terenure House came on the market around 1859, Fr Albert Bennett, the Prior Provincial of the Order in Ireland, judged it to be an ideal location in which to establish a secondary school for the education of young men for religious life/priesthood as well as for business and the professions. The Carmelites already had a highly regarded Academy in the city, at Lower Dominick Street, where members of the Whitefriar Street community were teachers.

In late 1859 the Carmelites became the occupying owners of this fine house and its gardens, and ‘The College of Our Lady of Mount Carmel’ was formally opened there on January 10th, 1860. Fr Bennett was actively supported in this new venture by fellow Carmelites, Frs Michael Gilligan, John Carr and Eugene Cullen. In fact, all four could be described as ‘founding fathers”, although the distinction is usually reserved for Fr Bennett.

Fr Michael Gilligan was appointed first Prior of the Carmelite Community, which over time would include novices and simply professed students transferred from Whitefriar Street, and President of the new school. The Carmelites connected with the wider pastoral area from the start. For example, “Very Rev. Michael Gilligan, O.Carm., President, Terenure College, was Deacon and Rev. Philip Hanly, C.C., Rathfarnham, Subdeacon” at the High Mass for the dedication of the Chapel-of-ease in Roundtown/Terenure village on September 23rd, 1866. The Terenure area was then part of Rathfarnham parish and would remain so until 1894. This Chapel-of-ease remained as the main centre of Catholic worship in the area until the present church of St Joseph was dedicated in 1904.

Pupil numbers increased gradually at the new school, and by 1871 there were 70 on the roll, 52 boarders and 18 day pupils.  Also in 1871, the Provincial Chapter of the Carmelite Order in Ireland was held at Terenure. It was presided over by the Prior General, Fr Angelo Savini, who had travelled from Rome for the occasion. His presence was an expression of brotherly affection and encouragement for a developing Irish Province. Accompanied by his secretary, Fr Ludovico Galli, he was met at Kingstown, having crossed from Holyhead, on the morning of August 11th by Frs Carr, Hall and McGee. He visited the different Carmelite communities in Ireland before the Chapter opened on Monday, August 28th.  The Acts of the Chapter (official record) begin with the memorable words that “after about four hundred years the Province was honoured with the first visit of a Father General since the time of Blessed John Soreth (+1471)”.  Fr John Carr was elected Provincial. The official photograph of the event puts faces on the names of friars who worked for the growth of the Order in Ireland, Australia and New York during the second half of the nineteenth century.


Fr Andrew Farrington was appointed Prior and President of the College in succession to Fr Gilligan. Originally from West Wicklow, Farrington was  described as ‘indefatigable and learned’.  Fr Gilligan became Master of Novices in the Community.  Besides novices and simply professed, there would appear to have been six friars in the Community at the end of 1871.

As the number of pupils continued to increase, the spacious rooms of Terenure House were no longer adequate for the Carmelite community and the school. An extension, the first of many over the years, was overseen by Fr Farrington and completed before the Provincial Chapter of 1878. It was a three-storey block running from the original house in the direction of Templeogue Road. Another addition was added in 1894 which consisted of the fine red brick building facing Templeogue Road. This extension  contained on the ground floor the oratory or ‘old chapel’.

In 1880 Bishop Augustine Reynolds of Adelaide, a native of Dublin and a boyhood friend of Fr Michael Gilligan, invited the Carmelites to establish a mission in his diocese. He received a positive response from the Provincial, Fr Aloysius Michael Moore. In early 1881 five friars, John Vincent Butler, Michael Ignatius Carr, Patrick Shaffrey, John Brocard Leybourne and Hilarion Byrne, travelled to Adelaide and took responsibility for the parish of Gawler, 25 miles north-west of Adelaide. John Butler, a fine preacher, had been a teacher in Terenure while Byrne, Shaffrey and Leybourne were received into the Order there. On the eve of their departure presentations were made to these pioneers.

Financial and Personnel Challenges

The Australian ‘mission’ stretched personnel resources in Ireland. Fr Paul McDonnell was Prior and President at Terenure in 1882-3. The passing of the Intermediate Education Act in 1878 had helped the shaky finances of the school. In 1881 Fr McDonnell, accompanied by Fr Patrick Southwell, had travelled to Argentina to conduct missions among the Irish settlers there and raise funds to help clear the debts of the Irish Province.

The school at Terenure acquired a good academic record over the years. A number of its pupils had joined the Order too. The Prior/Presidents between 1883 and 1909 were: Frs Patrick Southwell, Thomas S. Bartley, Michael A. O’Reilly, Richard J. Colfer, Thomas P. Kelly, and Louis Nolan.

In the early nineteen hundreds, the number of Carmelite novices and students increased and the Prior Provincial, Richard J. Colfer, came under pressure to move the novices from Terenure. In 1908 he purchased ‘Ardavon’ (the old house and grounds of Mount Carmel Care Centre today) in Rathgar as a possible novitiate.

When the Provincial Chapter opened on May 10th, 1909, Terenure College had accumulated debts of around £9,000. This was a huge sum at the time. The future of the whole property was much in the balance, as some members of the Chapter were suggesting that it be sold. They felt that the recently purchased ‘Ardavon’ would cater adequately for the number of young men in initial formation, and attending UCD or Milltown Park.  

The Prior General, Fr Pius Meyer, who was present at the Chapter, directed that the school should be closed with immediate effect. This was a blow to those Carmelites who had worked so hard in developing the school, but also to pupils happily enrolled there. One such student was Gerard Clery from Limerick. He now had to complete his secondary education at the Jesuit Crescent College in his native city. However, the years in Terenure had planted the seed of a Carmelite vocation. Gerard (Paul) joined the Order in 1914. He would become Commissary General of the Australian Carmelites from 1934-44 and Prior Provincial from 1961-67.

As the newly appointed Prior of Terenure, Fr John Cogan oversaw the immediate closure of the school. The future of the place was really very uncertain. The wider Province in Ireland and abroad had to help defray the debt, with levies being placed on the different communities. The Provincial, Fr Patrick Southwell, in a report to the Prior General stated that Terenure, with Fr Cogan as Prior, was now a house of ‘genuine observance’ and he was doing his best ‘to keep the big ship above water’.  In early 1910 there were twenty-two in formation there: twelve professed, three novices and seven pre-novices.  Fr Cogan worked hard in creating a caring and observant spirit within the Community. It was decided to use some of the accommodation as lodgings for University students, a source of some income.

‘Carmel’ Bazaar

It would seem that the most exciting event to happen at Terenure between 1909 and 1917 was a weeklong Bazaar which took place in May 1917.   ‘Carmel’ Bazaar was a huge fund-raising event, devised by the Prior of Whitefriar Street, Fr Joseph McCabe, to help defray the costs of major building works which had been carried out there.  These works included the upgrading of the church and the building of a new priory. Opened by the Lord Mayor on May 19th, and under the patronage of Queen Amelie of Portugal and other personages, it ran until May 28th. Over seventy stalls lined each side of the main driveway, with a grand archway and bandstand. Each evening there was ballroom-dancing in the main hall and concerts in a Café Chantant pavilion. Other features included half hour-whist drives, boating on the lake, show-jumping, miniature golf, and tea gardens.  It drew large crowds to the extensive grounds, and the debts of Whitefriar Street were much reduced.

Re-opening and growth

Fr John Cogan became Prior Provincial in 1913.  It was not surprising that he would receive many requests to consider re-opening the school at Terenure. Also, the lack of contact with young people through education seemed to have affected the numbers seeking to join the Order in Ireland. In fact, in 1917, the year pinpointed for moving the novitiate from Terenure to Kinsale, there were no novices. The Order had gone from having two highly regarded secondary schools in 1900, the Academy in Dominick Street and Terenure, to having no presence in second level education by 1910.

The Prior of Terenure in 1917 was a young Australian, Fr Louis Gerhard. He was the first Australian-born Carmelite friar. Young and enthusiastic, he was the ideal person to implement the decision of Fr Cogan to re-open the school in September 1917.  It was not a particularly opportune time for a re-opening but its subsequent history and status, as the oldest extant Carmelite second-level school in the world, reflect well on the courage of Fr Cogan coupled with the youthful enthusiasm of Fr Gerhard.

The Great War ended in November 1918 but the struggle for Irish Independence ramped up until the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty on December 6th 1921. There is evidence that the extensive facilities at Terenure provided safe hiding  for some of those involved in that struggle, including Michael Collins, William T Cosgrave and Dan Breen. On December 21st 1920 a battalion of the Welch Regiment raided Terenure College with instructions to ‘search and arrest Mulcahy and Bruga’ (sic). The raiding party found Fr Gerhard, two other priests and a lady housekeeper, but not the wanted men.

By 1918 the novices and those in initial formation were re-located to Kinsale and ‘Ardavon’ or Rome. The central focus of the Carmelites at Terenure was very much focused on the development of the College with its junior and secondary schools. The number of pupils on the roll increased gradually through the forties and fifties and more dramatically between 1950 and 1970. Further building extensions were added in 1947, 1958, 1981, 2002.  In 2010 the College celebrated 150 Years.  Professor Fergus D’Arcy researched and wrote a fine comprehensive history for the occasion, ‘Terenure College 1860-2010: A History’.

The Chapel

The Chapel and Community residence were the components of the 1955-58 extension. The Chapel enabled the Carmelites to provide sacramental and pastoral ministry to families associated with the College and, also, to people in the wider area. It was solemnly dedicated and opened by the Archbishop of Dublin on October 27th 1957.

A re-ordering of the Chapel was carried out in the early nineteen seventies. It included a complete re-orientation of the sanctuary in order to facilitate a more intimate participation by the congregation in light of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The furnishings in the sanctuary – altar, ambo, celebrant’s chair – are of white African timber.

A Chapel dedicated to Christian Martyrs of the Twentieth Century is centred on the Carmelite Blessed Titus Brandsma, who was martyred at Dachau Concentration Camp in July 1942, with the window by stained-glass artist Frances Biggs.  A plaque lists eight martyrs including four from other Christian traditions: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Lutheran), Martin Luther King Jr (Baptist), Janani Luwum (Anglican), Maria Skobtsova (Orthodox). The chapel was dedicated on November 3rd 1985. The prayer of dedication was read by Fr Eltin Griffin, O.Carm., Rev. Alan Wilson, Rector, Rathfarnham Church of Ireland and Rev. Robin McDermott, Rathgar Presbyterian Church.

The stained-glass windows throughout the chapel, mainly the work of Frances Biggs, tell much of the Carmelite story and are greatly admired. Their vibrant colours are greatly admired. There is also an example of the work of Evie Hone in the Chapel.

By 2017 further renovation of the chapel was needed, involving external damp proofing of walls and brickwork, electrical refurbishment including lighting and alarm system, repainting, renewal of doors and seating. A new organ was installed. This organ was donated by the Carmelite nuns of Firhouse Monastery. The friars from Terenure had been chaplains to that monastery for over a hundred years. To mark the 2017 renovation, an exquisite piece in coloured glass “Water of Life” by Irish artist an sculptor, Michelle O’Donnell, was unveiled at the entrance.

 The Chapel continues to be an important place of worship, prayer and ministry in the Carmelite tradition. It serves the school community, as well as the wider community, past pupils and their families.


The College Chapel has received some very beautiful stained glass windows in a series which was  commissioned from and completed by Frances Biggs, a well-known Irish artist. The windows are  shown below with a brief description of each. The College Chapel also contains four other stained  glass windows by other artists.

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