21. Naas C.B.S. and its connections to Dunlavin

Chris Lawlor
Chris Lawlor

Today’s diversion was suggested by George Byrne. Those who know me will know that I spent most of my working life in Naas C.B.S. Those who know me even better will claim that I never worked… I suppose this is true, since people say that a job you enjoy is not work. I was lucky enough to love my job, so I’ll compromise and say that I was employed in the C.B.S. for a long time! Anyhow, here’s a piece on the school and its links to Dunlavin.

The year 1871 saw the arrival of the first Christian Brothers to take up residence in Naas.[1] Nineteenth-century Naas was a market town with a rich hinterland.[2] Farmers brought their produce to the town and the townspeople supplied the area with tradesmen, craftsmen, goods and services. The County of Kildare Canal joined Naas to the Grand Canal, but even in 1871 the canal was long past its heyday. The Tullow branch of the Great Southern and Western Railway, which eventually linked Naas to the main line at Sallins, was undreamt of in 1871. It would be 1885 before the railway reached Naas.[3] Thus, it was that the first brothers to arrive in Naas probably alighted from a Bianconi coach. Edmund Rice and Charles Bianconi knew each other – in fact Rice had given Bianconi financial help to establish his business – so brothers travelling on the coaches were never charged![4] The brothers arrived in Naas on 22 August 1871 and on that day they moved into their new monastery (now the Moat Theatre) behind Naas town hall, with its fine clock which had been installed in 1866.[5]

The Moat building, while available to the brothers from Fr Hughes, was far from perfect for the purposes of education though. It was described as ‘small and frail’. The basic plan of the building contained two long, narrow compartments – one upstairs and one downstairs. The upstairs portion was converted into a monastery while the downstairs area became the school. Both uses, monastic and scholastic, required that some form of partition walls be erected. Money was scarce and, to economise, the interior walls were constructed using sods of turf instead of bricks. Although not very strong, these walls were very dry and were ‘neatly papered’. Visitors had to be warned not to lean against the walls as they might collapse! The narrow building also meant that two people could not pass each other in the corridor and the brothers’ dining room could only seat people at one side of the table!

The education of boys in Naas was now firmly in the hands of the Christian Brothers, led by their Superior, Br Alphonsus Nolan. The 1870s saw the establishment and consolidation of the moat school. The number on the roll rose from 188 in 1871 to 215 in 1873. Following this initial increase however, there was a steady decline and the number enrolled dropped to 166 in 1885. Internationally these decades were part of the long depression and nationally they were characterised by continuing emigration against a background of land agitation and low agricultural yields.[6] Naas and its hinterland in the late nineteenth century was an economically depressed area and the numbers in the school were just one indication of a wider picture of misery, especially amid the poorer classes. The continuing Land War (the Land League was founded in 1879) and the struggle for Home Rule with the Irish Parliamentary Party now led by the enigmatic but dynamic Charles Stewart Parnell both galvanised Nationalist Ireland. These years witnessed the birth of Ireland’s Cultural Revival and the education provided by the Christian Brothers was undoubtedly one factor in the upsurge of Nationalist sentiment. Unlike the National schools, the brothers taught Irish language, history, legend, poetry and drama. The independent nature of the brothers’ schools allowed them to follow their own curriculum – and, often, their own Nationalist agenda.[7]

It is probable that the opening of the Christian Brothers’ school was welcomed in many of the villages around Naas also. The provision of Catholic education, especially at secondary level, was sorely lacking throughout the rural hinterland of Naas in both counties Kildare and Wicklow. There were national schools in West Wicklow villages such as Dunlavin, but no further educational opportunities presented themselves unless students embarked upon a clerical career or their parents had money to send them to boarding schools. The establishment of a day school within a viable radius opened up new possibilities. Middle-class boys could now attend secondary school within their own region. In the case of Dunlavin (and even Baltinglass), the arrival of the rail link to Naas in the 1880s meant that boys could travel by train to attend the new school.[8] However, even if the train was too expensive (as was often the case), boys could walk, travel by horse-power or cycle (following the introduction of pneumatic tyres in the late 1880s) to and from the school. Records of student names and addresses do not exist for this period – indeed, the earliest extant roll book dates from the mid-twentieth century – but it is probable that some Dunlavin boys attended the school from its earliest late nineteenth century decades onwards.

These decades saw the Christian Brothers become established as part of Naas life. By 1898 at least two brothers had died while serving in the town. They were Br Martin Dillon, who collapsed and died in the moat building in 1895 and Br Kieran Meehan who died of erysipelas in 1898. Both men were interred in Naas’s new cemetery. The brothers were now part of the town in death as well as in life. The Brother Superior at this time was Br Martin Austin Lynch. He was an uncle of Liam Lynch, who would later become chief of staff of the anti-treaty I.R.A. during the Irish Civil War and would die in action in the mountains of Tipperary in April 1923.[9] Br Martin Lynch’s Nationalist family background symbolized the second element of a Christian Brothers’ education in the late 1890s. Strongly Catholic in their outlook, the schools – including the one in Naas – were also strongly Nationalist and counter cultural toward the prevailing British establishment ethos. One significant development in the Naas school introduced in Br Lynch’s time was the school’s entrance into the Intermediate Examination system. Money was always scarce and Lynch was obviously not averse to obtaining government funds to supplement his Nationalist school! In 1896 the school achieved six passes and one prize, while the following year witnessed the school receiving nine passes and two prizes. The money received from these results was a welcome addition to the brothers’ often-meagre funds; the exam system had come to Naas!

The quarter century after 1900 saw the school come through the First World War, the Spanish Flu pandemic and the Irish Revolution. The outbreak of the First World War was greeted with much enthusiasm throughout Europe. Naas was no exception to the general rule. It had long been a garrison town and many of its populace had strong links to the army. On 6 August 1914 the local band of the Irish Volunteers escorted two hundred and eighty Royal Dublin Fusiliers to Naas railway station. The third battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers was the regular unit stationed at Naas barracks and it attracted many men from Naas and its hinterland into its ranks. By June 1917 the number of men who had enlisted at the Naas depot stood at 22,611 and many of these had come from the poorest areas of the town such as Back Lane and Rathasker Road as well as from the surrounding Kildare-West Wicklow region.[10] Given the vast numbers involved, John Redmond’s approval of military service and the socio-economic background of many of the Naas recruits it is certain that many ex-pupils of the Moat School were included in the masses who joined up to fight for ‘King and Country’ – or perhaps more accurately, in their case, for ‘Home Rule and Country’! Inevitably, there were heavy casualties. Five hundred and sixty-seven Kildare men never returned from the Great War; one hundred and ninety-three of them serving with the Royal Dublins and many more returned as shadows of their former selves; physical and mental wrecks – men forever altered.

They also returned to a society forever altered. The Easter Rising of 1916 and the execution of the rebel leaders in its aftermath had sparked a mood-swing throughout Nationalist Ireland. Again, Naas was no exception to the general rule. The editorials of the Leinster Leader (the local Nationalist newspaper) provide a good gauge to Nationalist feelings in Naas at this time. Directly after the rising the Leader stated:

Now that the rebellion has been crushed, we may in common express the hope that we may soon revert to that state of order which only peace, prosperity and mutual goodwill can give.[11]

However, the hard line taken by the authorities, the arrest of Leinster Leader editor Michael O’Kelly and two of his staff,[12] the R.I.C. raids on Naas houses such as O’Kelly’s, Grehan’s, Patterson’s and Whyte’s in the period following Easter week and, above all, the protracted executions of rebel leaders in Kilmainham jail and elsewhere caused the Leader’s editorial to change its tone:

They have paid the penalty for their acts and over their graves we are silent; it will be for some historian of the future, removed from the passions and the prejudices of our day, to enquire into the motives and estimate the culpability at its true worth of these men.[13]

As World War One drew to a close, the Spanish Flu pandemic began. An influenza epidemic had gripped County Kildare and it lasted for ‘several weeks’. The Annals of the Christian Brothers’ monastery in Naas refer to the epidemic as taking ‘plague form’ in 1918. Due to the huge level of absenteeism and the danger of spreading the flu in the crowded classrooms and cramped conditions of the moat school, the brothers decided to close the school altogether during the second week of the contagion. The outbreak lasted for more than two months and classes did not resume in the moat school until mid-November, just after the end of the Great War, which officially ceased on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of that year. After the Christmas break, there was obviously some serious ‘catching-up’ to be done by the students. Br O’Neill noted:

On the resumption of classes in January 1919, the pupils in all sections manifested a very active spirit of industry in their studies, which spirit was accompanied by a diligence and devotedness to school duty, worthy of high commendation.


January 1919 also saw the start of the Irish War of Independence, and the following snippet from the Naas monastery’s annals makes reference to it:

Located as Naas is midway between the Curragh and the capital the citizens had much to fear following the advent of the Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans in the years following the First World War and the acceptance of the treaty. The North Kildare Brigade as well as that of West Wicklow found little scope for manoeuvring their manpower in the national interests, as every call from headquarters was closely watched by the army of occupation, whose base may be said to be at their very doors. Harassed on all sides, they found themselves isolated and utterly unable to lend any substantial aid to their countrymen in Dublin, while the road to the sterner battle centres in the South was always vigilantly guarded. The daily movements of the Black and Tans on the main thoroughfare between Dublin and the South aroused a lively interest, if not a fair modicum of fear, among the inhabitants of the peaceful plains of North Kildare.

The Civil War followed closely afterwards, and the monastery annals observed:

The civil war had thrown its dark shadows over the landscape. Very many prominent citizens were to be found identifying themselves with the policies or principles of the contending sides. The friction engendered thereby was reflected among the pupils and so it was obviously felt that a prudent attitude had to be adopted, and a firm, if impartial, line of discipline to be pursued in the best interests of all concerned. The spirit of neutrality that characterized the attitude of the Community towards these delicate and dangerous political movements in these troublesome times won the admiration of the people as a whole. Soon all North Kildare had resumed its characteristic quiet. The good name of the school grew in the popular mind and the annual collection in aid of the community and school showed a progressively upward trend.

The Civil War ended shortly after the death of Liam Lynch, the nephew of former Superior of the Christian Brothers in Naas, Br Martin Lynch, in April 1923. The following month witnessed a truce between the parties and the ceasefire came into effect on 24 May of that year.[14] Thus, by the end of May 1923 the Christian Brothers and the pupils of the Moat School in Naas, County Kildare, found that they were now officially citizens of the Irish Free State.

Twenty years later, there was another war – World War Two – causing disruption to the school. Ireland was neutral, but by 1943 the number on the secondary school roll had fallen to ninety as the ‘wartime’ efforts of the Emergency years began to bite. Many boys were needed at home on farms, on bogs, in factories and in shops. Those that did remain in school found it more difficult to attend, as this extract from the monastery’s annals in 1943 indicates:

The usual number of secondary boys did not come in this year as it is very difficult to secure bicycles or parts thereof, and the buses refuse to give the boys reduced fares. In fact, the buses refused in many cases to take boys home in the evenings and some had to walk to Blackchurch and Rathcoole. The number on the roll – ninety – is however satisfactory.

Apart from the obvious wartime hardships, this extract also provides evidence regarding the wide catchment area of the school. Naas C.B.S. served a wide hinterland, and the boys living in Blackchurch and Rathcoole were lucky to be on the bus route. Trains were expensive, so many boys cycled in from outlying villages such as Clane, Blessington and Dunlavin, as the school served much of west Wicklow as well as its own surrounding area of County Kildare.

By the late 1940s, the urban-rural mix of students slightly favoured the rural ones. We know this because of a surviving roll book. The earlier roll books have been lost, but the book for the academic year 1949-1950 is extant. The names on the roll that year are listed at the end of this article. The bar chart shows the geographical breakdown of the student population of the school in that year. Naas addresses are separated into two distinct areas, ‘Naas Town’ and ‘Near Naas’ because this helps to classify the students as urban or rural. Townlands around Naas which were dependant on agriculture are shown in the latter column. Hence it is interesting to note that the place which provided the most students for the school was obviously Naas town (forty-two from ninety-three) but the majority of the students (fifty-one) actually came from a rural background, albeit from a widely dispersed catchment area. Many of the places included on the graph are not within a ten-mile radius of Naas and that meant very long days for the students involved in those pre-motor transport days.[15] The demographic decline and economic stagnation of the period contributed to the closure of the Tullow branch railway line. The last passenger train left Dunlavin on 27 January 1947, being replaced by a bus service to Tullow, which followed more or less the same circuitous route as the train journey.[16] Hence, boys attending the school from Dunlavin left the village at 7.40 a.m. and did not return until the Tullow bus returned at 7.40 p.m. On half-days, or if the money did not stretch to include the weekly bus fare, they cycled the twelve miles to and from Naas. However, education was highly-prized and the sacrifices involved in getting to and from school in all weathers were deemed well worth the effort by many boys and their parents.

The second half of the twentieth century saw many Dunlavin boys continue to attend the school in Naas, which moved to its present location in the 1950s. Boys from many Dunlavin families, including the Kirwan, Birchall, Laverty, Carey, O’Sullivan, Downes and Roche clans (to name but a few) passed through the portals of Naas C.B.S. I attended myself in the 1970s, entering as a first year in 1972 and sitting the leaving cert in 1977. On the other side of the desk, I taught my first class in the C.B.S. in September 1981 and I retired from there in August 2017. Throughout my tenure there, there were boys from Dunlavin among the student population. I remember that four started in 1983, and there was at least one there in 2017.[17] The introduction of free education in the 1960s was followed by the opening of St. Kevin’s vocational school in Dunlavin,[18] which reduced the numbers attending Naas, but the link between the village and the school remained.

Secondary School Roll Book 1949-1950:

First Year

  • Patrick Joseph Barry, Station House, Naas.
  • Denis Patrick Behan, Donadea.
  • Christopher Burke, St Patrick’s Buildings.
  • Joseph Carroll, Caragh Road.
  • James McCarthy Cronin, Harbour View.
  • Christopher Curran, Newlands.
  • James Gerard Dowling, Dublin Road.
  • William Edward Drewitt, New Row.
  • Andrew Kevin Dooley, St. David’s Terrace.
  • Michael John Farrington, Ballymore Eustace.
  • Leo Anthony Fox, Monread Road.
  • Christopher Thomas Glennon, New Row.
  • Patrick Joseph Glennon, New Row.
  • William Peter Glennon, New Row.
  • John Hayden, Eadestown.
  • William Joseph Herbert, St Patrick’s Buildings.
  • Michael Anthony Henan, Rathcoole.
  • George Edmund Herterich, South Main Street.
  • Edward Hogan, Rathasker Road.
  • Gerard Howard, Limerick Road.
  • Patrick Thomas Lawler, Halverstown.
  • Francis James Minogue, Blackchurch.
  • Nicholas Murphy, Newbridge Road.
  • Edward Joseph McGee, Dublin Road.
  • John Noel McHugh, Kilcullen.
  • Desmond Joseph Murray, Kill.
  • Charles Raymond O’Connor, Oughterard.
  • James Dominic O’Donnell, Clane.
  • Donal Kevin O’Neill, South Main Street.
  • Simeon John Purcell, Rathcoole.
  • John Kevin Ryan, Two Mile House.
  • Andrew Gerard Robinson, Caragh.
  • Anthony Michael Winters, Ballymore Eustace.
  • John Winters, Ballymore Eustace.
  • Liam Smyth, Clane.
  • John Tyndall, Rathcoole.
  • Bernard Mansfield, Rathcoole,

Second Year.

  • John Gabriel Behan, Donadea.
  • Michael Joseph Burke, St Patrick’s Buildings. *
  • Cathal Francis Breen, Decoy Farm, Naas.
  • Edward Sylvester Carey, Dunlavin.
  • Patrick Leo Carey, Dunlavin.
  • Joseph Donal Collins, Waterstown.
  • Desmond Noel Cronin, Harbour View.
  • Paschal Deering, Dunlavin.
  • John Joseph Hartigan, The Kennels, Naas.
  • Kieran Joseph Hickey, Greenmount Terrace.
  • Patrick Francis Higgins, Millbrook.
  • James Joseph Jordan, Main Street.
  • James Joseph Kavanagh, Dublin Road.
  • Michael McCoy, Kill.
  • William Gerard McCormack, Main Street.
  • Patrick David McDonnell, St Michael’s Terrace.
  • Edward McGeer, Kilcullen.
  • John Joseph McNamara, Dublin Road.
  • Mel William O’Sullivan, Ballymore Eustace.
  • Kevin Joseph Spring, Fairview House, Naas.
  • Christopher John Treacy, Halverstown.
  • Patrick Wilkinson, Glenville, Naas.

Third and Fourth Year.

  • Richard Joseph Burke, St Patrick’s Buildings. *
  • Joseph Blanchfield, Athgarvan.
  • Peter Cunningham, North Main Street.
  • Gerard Paschal Cronin, Harbour View.
  • Anthony John Crowley, Johnstown.
  • Patrick Joseph Gleeson, Straffan.
  • Gerald Hayden, Eadestown.
  • Nicholas Augustine Hickey, Greenmount Terrace. *
  • Charles Anthony Holmes, Athgarvan.
  • Peter James Kavanagh, Ballymore Eustace.
  • James Francis Laverty, Dunlavin.
  • Laurence Lee, Clane.
  • Seamus Brendan McCoy, Kill.
  • Desmond Vincent Marron, Clane.
  • Kevin O’Callaghan, St Corban’s Place.
  • John Conleth O’Connor, Caragh.
  • Donald Reid, Jubilee Terrace, Naas.
  • Noel Francis Bowman, Victoria Terrace, Naas.
  • Charles Edward Coonan, Ballymore Eustace.
  • Adrian Christopher Doyle, North Main Street.
  • Patrick Noel Duffy, Poulaphuca.
  • Noel Alphonsus Gilleece, Rathcoole. *
  • Colm Minogue, Blackchurch.
  • Michael Osborne, Tipper House, Naas.
  • Thomas Richard Walsh, Beaufort, Sallins Road.
  • Criostoir O Dalaigh, Poplar Square.

Fifth and Sixth Year.

  • Anthony Christopher Quinn, Harbour View.
  • Vincent Comer, Dublin Road *
  • Joseph Leech, Old Jail, Naas.
  • Patrick Maguire, Pairc an Aonaigh, Naas. *
  • William O’Donnell, Greenmount Terrace.
  • Daniel Joseph Higgins, Ballymore Eustace.
  • George Murphy, Jigginstown.
  • Finian Joseph O’Driscoll, Poplar Square.

*Scholarship Holder



[1] Author unknown, ‘Celebrated centenary of Order coming to Naas’, in Nucleus school magazine (Naas, 1972), p. 41.

[2] I. Slater’s National Commercial Directory of Ireland (Manchester, 1846), p. 76.

[3] Cora Crampton, ‘The Tullow Line’, Journal of the West Wicklow Historical Society, i (1983-1984), p. 8.

[4] Stan Hickey, Liam Kenny and Paddy Behan (eds), Nás na Ríogh: From Poorhouse Road to the Fairy Flax… an illustrated history of Naas (Naas, 2001), p. 104.

[5] Naas Monastery, Annals of the Naas Christian Brothers 1871-present. All other information given in this essay is taken from these annals unless otherwise stated. The Annals are unpaginated, but the year is indicated.

[6] Joseph Lee, The modernisation of Irish Society 1848-1914 (Dublin, 1973), pp 101-2.

[7] For an excellent treatment of the Christian Brothers and Nationalism, see Barry M. Coldrey, Faith and fatherland: the Christian brothers and the development of Irish Nationalism 1838-1921 (Dublin, 1988), especially pp 113-270 passim.

[8] Crampton, ‘The Tullow Line’, p. 8.

[9] Liam Lynch was killed in a skirmish in the Knockmealdown Mountains in April 1923. Macardle, The Irish Republic, pp 770-1.

[10] James Durney, Far from the short grass: the story of Kildare men in two world wars (Naas, 1999), p. 9.

[11] Leinster Leader, 6 May 1916.

[12]  James Durney and Liam Kenny (eds), A rebel’s desk: Séumas and Michael O’Kelly, Leinster Leader editors in a revolutionary time (Naas, 2016), p. 12

[13] Leinster Leader, 13 May 1916.

[14] Chris Lawlor, The little book of Kildare (Dublin, 2015), p. 113.

[15] Idem, From the Norman moat to the Spanish field: A history of Naas Christian Brothers’ school (Naas, 2002), pp 58 and 61.

[16] Joseph Whittle SDB, ‘Dunlavin’s railway’, Dunlavin Festival of Arts Brochure, xx (2002), p. 29. See also Liam Kenny, ‘The Tullow line’, Dunlavin Festival of Arts Brochure, viii (1990), p. 81.

[17] Personal recollection.

[18] Chris Lawlor, An Irish village: Dunlavin, County Wicklow (Naas, 2011), p. 333.

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