Local History with Monica McGill – Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, donated funds to the monastery
Image of Mount St Joseph Monastery, Monastery Road, Clondalkin, from The Catholic Directory, 1834 (The Joe Williams Archive).

Local History with Monica McGill – Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, donated funds to the monastery

Today, the buildings which once formed Mount St Joseph Monastery are long gone.

To the dismay of many locals who remember the monastery well, gone are the elements of the Carmelite Brothers’ visionary enterprise, their monastery, seminary, chapel, two exceptional schools for boys and the working farm reaching almost down to the River Camac at the bottom of the valley.

Only part of the monastery’s cemetery remains, located at what is now the entrance to a modern housing estate and tucked in behind railings.

Many Carmelite Brothers who worked at the monastery, and relatives of many local families are buried in this cemetery, carefully tended by Clondalkin Tidy Towns volunteers in collaboration with the County Council who are legally responsible for this Recorded and Protected Structure.

The monastery started in 1813 when Prior John Kelly of the Brothers of the Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (known as the Carmelite Brothers) leased 72 acres and 38 perches at the top of Monastery Road from Laurence Rourke of Nangor.

Prior John erected the earlier buildings himself, assisted by a novice.

He was a bricklayer by trade. He was Prior for 15 years until poor health overtook him and he died in 1822 aged 46.

His was the first burial in Mount St Joseph’s cemetery.

The Carmelite Brothers were unordained religious who followed a semi-monastic life. During the working day, each earned a living from his profession or trade. After work, they assembled as a religious community at Mount St Joseph.

The proceeds of the Brothers’ “day jobs” supported the monastery and schools, helped greatly by patrons and friends including Daniel O’Connell, “The Liberator”. O’Connell donated funds to the monastery and praised its schools, thereby underpinning their reputation for educational excellence in the years after Catholic Emancipation.

An early report about the school states “upwards of 200 poor children, without religious or parochial distinction, are taught reading, writing, arithmetic etc.

A great number of them are clothed annually and all are provided with books and stationery.” Later, the curriculum included Religion, English, Irish, Latin, Greek, poetry, oratory.

Music and dancing lessons were extra.

Other subjects depended on the professional training of the Brothers themselves and included navigation, engineering, surveying, harness-making, boot-making, coach-building, and baking.

Pupils in the boarding school came from all areas of Ireland and further afield – Britain, Europe and South America.

Depending on the boy’s age, the annual school fee was either £25 or £30.

Daniel O’Connell, one of the patrons of the schools at Mount St Joseph Monastery

As the pupils attending the schools grew in number, more Brothers became full-time teachers. Bro. Elias (Luke Cullen) was one of them. Born in 1793, he had been a seaman for many years before joining the Order in his 40s. Perhaps his long seafaring knowledge was the basis for the school’s navigation lessons.

Cullen was also an historian. He wrote his outstanding accounts of the 1798 Rebellion while teaching 140 boys.

With insufficient paper to write on, Cullen used any he could find, including pupils’ copybooks and the backs of letters.

His precious accounts of 1798 are the results of his interviews with the survivors of the Rebellions in Wexford and Wicklow.

Cullen’s papers are in our national archives, and form the basis of much of what we know about 1798 today.

Luke Cullen was also a friend of Anne Devlin who had been Robert Emmet’s house-keeper.

She ardently supported Emmet’s 1803 Rebellion and paid dearly for it until her death in extreme poverty in Dublin years later.

Despite Cullen’s attempts to raise money for Anne in her later life, she died 8 years before he did.

The monastery schools were renowned for the high educational standard the boys received from the Brothers and, later, the lay teachers. Many past pupils became leaders of communities (both religious and secular) at home and abroad.

This educational standard continues today in St Joseph’s Boys’ National School on Boot Road, Clondalkin.

The statue of St Joseph outside the school came from Mount St Joseph, thanks to the foresight of Mr Finbar Brady who taught at the monastery and became the new school’s first Principal.

Increasing financial difficulties forced the Brothers to close the monastery and schools in 1939.

They put the property up for sale in 1940, but before auction it was commandeered for the next 5 years by the Department of Defence for the duration of The Emergency (World War II).

The monastery became “home” to the Central Control of Air and Marine Intelligence. For instance, all the reports from the 90 Coast Watching Service vantage points came first to Mount St Joseph at this time.

They contained information about maritime military activity in Irish waters and along our coastline.

After the war, the Brothers accepted an offer from the Little Sisters of the Assumption in 1945 and the monastery became the nuns’ novitiate until they moved finally to Rowlagh (another part of Clondalkin) in 1981.

By then, the nuns had decided that their calling was to live amongst the wider community and they had leased Mount St Joseph to the Rutland Centre and the Eastern Health Board.

A fire in 1985, combined with ongoing vandalism, vacancy and disrepair made Mount St Joseph uninsurable. Various parts of the chapel had already been returned to the Carmelite Order in 1981 (the stained-glass windows, church fittings, the American organ and church bell) and these were disseminated to Carmelite foundations and other churches from Kill, Co Kildare to Zimbabwe.

In 1988, the demolition started with the careful removal of the cast-iron fireplaces, the granite sills and steps and the “Bangor Blue” roof slates.

Finally, the property was sold to developers.

On June 19, 2022 people gathered in the cemetery to mark the 200th anniversary of Prior John Kelly’s burial.

The then Mayor Cllr Peter Kavanagh, and then Chairman of the SDCC Local Area Committee, Cllr Francis Timmons, were accompanied by other local County Councillors.

Rev. Fr. Shán Ó Cuív blessed the graves and a lone piper from St Joseph’s Pipe Band played airs.

Clondalkin Tidy Towns welcomes new members.

Contact via Facebook page.

(Sources: Joe Williams: The Monastery of Mount St Joseph Clondalkin, South Dublin Libraries, 2010.)

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