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St. Leo's College, Dublin
St. Leo's is an all girls secondary
school which was founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1839. It is
situated on the Dublin Road in Carlow. At present there are 900
students attending St. Leo's.
- In this photo of St. Leo's schoolgirls in the 1930s
are (back, left to right): Maura Prendergast, Maureen
Breen, Mary McDonald, Mai McWey, Mary Connolly, Marie
Ho??"-, Joan Hearns (R.I.P.). Front: Maura McCann, Mary
Burke and Colette Dempsey.
Source: The Nationalist April 15th 1983
- My aunt, Mary Agnes Nolan, received this
piano certificate in 1916, when she was 10 years old. She was an
avid musician and occasionally accompanied her father when he
performed as Shaun O'Farrell, the Irish Troubadour, when he
performed around Ireland with the Walter McNally Opera Company.
In 1920, she was awarded a scholarship to study music in Dublin,
but she had to decline it because she was needed at home and the
family was preparing to leave Ireland for America in 1921.
- Image sent in by Maribeth E. Nolan
History of St. Leo's
Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Mercy congregation recognised
the lack of educational opportunities for the Catholic youth of her
day. She herself travelled to France to study their system. It is not
surprising then that on the arrival of the first sisters to Carlow a
school was high on the agenda. That school opened its doors to the
first students on the 1st May 1839. The school building was
part of the convent and the sense of urgency was so great that the
school section was completed before the sisters' accommodation was
ready for them. The present community/living room was the first
school. It was one large room and the pupils were organised in little
groups or clusters. The age of the pupils varied; some were just
beginners and others were in their teens. The group work met the needs
of each individual. The school was referred to as the "Pension School"
as a small fee had to be paid by those who could afford it. The name
no doubt came from the French.
The numbers grew initially but the famine years brought a decline.
When Parliament established the National Examining Board the pupils
sat for its examinations, the first recorded in 1879.
Some interesting facts.
1843 Sister Frances Warde left for America to establish the first
Mercy convent in the U.S., in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
1880 Records show the school income was £130:8:6 and in 1881 it was
£135:10:6. This included £15:15: 0 from the Intermediate Board.
1891 Two rooms were built on the site of the present buildings.
Today those two rooms are combined and give us a very fine large Music
Room. Mathew Fay who had a relative in the community donated the money
for this building. A plaque still remains on the wall to his memory
1901 The "Technical System" was begun and an addition for it made
to the Pension School. This provided facilities for the teaching of
Science, Domestic Science (now called Home Economics) and Music. This
building is the present Cookery Kitchen on the ground floor. The room
overhead was the Science area and the Music area.
1909 The Inspectorate was set up and St. Leo's was one of the very
first schools to be visited. This report is available. In summary it
gives an account of the state of the building, method of heating,
ventilation, an assessment of the teachers (by name) and their work.
The subjects referred to were French, German, Mathematics, English
literature and composition.
1916 The boarding school came into existence almost unknown to
anybody. The nuns in convents in Graiguenamanagh, Leighlinbridge and
Monasterevan requested St. Leo's, to accommodate some pupils who would
benefit from second level education but who had no opportunity of
receiving it. They were accepted. The late Sr. Michael O'Leary was one
of the earliest boarders.
1923 A one-storey building was erected which contained five rooms
including a gallery and a stage. The rooms were separated by wood and
glass partitions that rolled back. These classrooms served as a study
hall and concert hall when required. The top room was on a higher
level and formed a stage. Many school musicals were staged there. The
last was "Iolanthe" in 1955.
1926 The first Gymnasium was built (now the Grotto Rooms). The top
floor provided sleeping accommodation for the boarders.
1935 Three rooms were built over the original two of 1891. These
rooms are the ones ending with the "seven windows" room.
1962 The five rooms built on the ground floor in 1923 were
replaced. The outer wall was extended into the adjoining garden and
the main corridor was made wider. At this time, also a new refectory
was built for the boarders and a parlour was also added. The parlour
is today the prayer room. Over the refectory the Assembly hall was
built. The old refectory was attached to the convent. In the early
stages the boarders slept in part of the convent.
1965 Three dormitories, three class rooms, a Science Laboratory and
a preparation area were built. A new P.E. Hall was erected on the land
stretching to the Station Road. The sisters bought this land from the
local Veterinary Surgeon Mr. Larry Murphy. The field was turned into
an outdoor basketball court, two Tennis courts and a P.E. Hall. The
stables were converted to a changing room with toilet and shower
1969 In the late 1960's there was an upsurge in pupil numbers due
to the introduction of free education and transport. In August 1969
four lay members were appointed to the permanent teaching staff. This
was a "first" as no full time lay teacher had been previously
employed. The school had some part time lay teachers over the years in
particular in the P.E. department.
1980 A department grant was sought for the first time. The sisters
bought a piece of land from St. Patrick's College that was to be used
for further extension. In 1982 that extension was opened. A
three-story block was opened and blessed by Bishop Patrick Lennon on
24th September. It consisted of 11 class rooms, Geography room,
Library, Art room, Craft room, two Cookery Kitchens, two Science
Laboratories, Staff room, Guidance Suite and Assembly Area with an
adjoining kitchenette. At this time the field bought from the College
in the 60's was laid out as a Hockey Pitch with a six-lane running
track surrounding it. The grant referred to the school building only
and no support was given towards the development of the field.
1985 Day pupil numbers kept increasing; Vocational Schools could
now sit the Department exams (in the early days this was not so). As
the need for boarding schools was not as urgent, it was decided to
phase out the boarding school. The last boarders sat their Leaving
Certificate in 1985.
1989 The school celebrated 150 years of Continuous Education. To
mark the occasion a very fine modern Gymnasium/Sport Hall was erected
at a cost of £500,000. The complete cost was borne by the school. The
Sisters of Mercy gave half the cost and a finance committee collected
1990 This decade has given the greatest opportunities for school
- A Transition Year Programme was introduced in the late 70's.
- Technology became a subject in the late 80's and the P.E. hall
erected in the 60's was converted into a Technology Laboratory.
- The Maynooth Initiative began in 1994. This put a strong focus
on curriculum. The programme is to finish this school year.
- An alternative programme for Leaving Cert students was
introduced and St. Leo's joined in 1996. The L.C.A.P. has proved to
be very successful.
- The new updated L.C.V.P. introduced a new range of subjects and
so we were able to participate.
- The school has two very well equipped Computer rooms. Our
library is well set up with computers.
- In 1999 we were given permission for a Home-School-Community
liaison person. The original "stable" has been converted to a very
fine "Parent's Room".
- The Minister for Education, MicheŠl Martin, visited the school
in October 1999 as we celebrated 170 years of education. He opened
the parents' room and the computer rooms.
- In 1999 we were invited to participate in the project on the
Whole School Evaluation. It is interesting to note St. Leo's was
selected in 1910 as one of the first schools for evaluation and 90
years on again we were among the 18 pilot schools. Each time French
and German were among the evaluated subjects.
- In September 2000 Religion was introduced as an exam subject.
- In 2000 we opened our new Resource Room.
- In 2001 we set up a "Breakfast Club" for students who travel
long distances to school or those who leave home without breakfast.
- Once again St. Leo's is involved in another pilot project for
the Department. This time it is "School Development Planning".
SISTERS OF MERCY
St Leo's Website
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