colaiste chonnacht

A century ago something new in the revival of Irish started with the setting up of Coláiste Chonnacht in Tourmakeady. The Gaelic League, under the direction of Dr Douglas Hyde and with the assistance of clergy, teachers, businesses and professional people from the west of Ireland, had been looking for a suitable location to set up an Irish Summer college.

The then Archbishop of Tuam, Dr John Healy gave permission to the parish priest Father James Corbett to lease the old presbytery at Mount Partry (Tourmakeady), the parish priest having changed his residence to Partry. The Gaelic League wished to buy the premises, but the bishop, wishing to maintain control, would not sell so the site and buildings were given rent free on the condition that a poor student would be taken rent free each year.

Micheál Breathnach from Cois Fharraige was the first Ard Ollamh. He was a distinguished scholar and a leader with new ideas, ideas that were shared by many others. He saw the preservation of our language and culture as being essential to our emergence as a nation. His opinions were shared by Patrick Pearse, who was very much involved in setting up teaching standards and was in charge of examinations. In an address to the earlier students he said, "Is féidir leis an tíoránach sglábhaidhe a dhéanadh d'ár gcuirp, ach ní féidir leis sclábhaidhe a dhéanamh d'ár dtoil. Sin é, muna nghéillimíd ár dtoil a thabhaiort do. Agus más é toil mhuinntir na hÉireann a bheadh saor gaedhealach, ní féidir le náimhde ar bith gcoinneál gallda nó í ngéibhinn." (A tyrant can enslave our bodies but he cannot enslave our minds unless we allow him to do so. If the people of Ireland have a will to be Gaelic and free, they can never be enslaved. )

Coláiste Chonnacht was recognised by the British board of education as a training College for teachers and others to qualify to teach Irish in the certificate course and to teach through the medium of Irish in the bilingual course. As far as teaching methods and standards were concerned Tourmakeady college were way beyond their time and brought language teachers and scholars from England, Europe and America. Coláiste Chonnacht was a working holiday camp. Conditions were somewhat primitive, but morale was high. Much of the teaching was out of doors, on the shores of Lough Mask and the slopes of the Partry Mountains. The Seilig became a new word; it meant a working picnic at the waterfall.

Most of the local people in Tourmakeady were delighted at the new arrivals. Heretofore any employment or source of income was mostly reserved for people brought in by the landlords and their successors. Now there was a demand for Irish speaking households to keep the students. As one student in an article in The Catholic Bulletin wrote "All the farmers in the neighbourhood open their hospitable doors to the students. The whole district becomes a kind of residential university." The directors of the college had great praise for the Mná Tíghe, all fluent in Irish, who took part in céiles, concerts and dances in their houses. It was obvious that the Irish language was all round them and according to Archbishop Healy's biographer, "The industrious peasantry are wells of Irish Undefiled." Everyone was a teacher and the students taught each other. That was how things were in Tourmakeady at the start of the twentieth century.

Christened "Clíabhán Chonnradh na Gaéilge" by Dr Douglas Hyde, later to be first President of Ireland. Coláiste Chonnacht was disowned by the Gaelic League after a dispute arose with Archbishop Healy over the appointment of a successor to Micheál Breathnach who died during the 1908 course. Padhraig Ó Domhnallain the then assistant principal carried on for the remainder of the year. Mícheál and Pádhraig had been lifelong friends and it was Mícheál's wish that Padhraig would succeed him. However, the Gaelic League in Dublin appointed Dr Mc Enri to the position. Archbishop Healy would not accept this and insisted that Padhraig Ó Domhnallain be appointed and so the schism began. In 1909 Coláiste Chonnacht was opened in Spiddal, with Dr Mc Enri as director. Tourmakeady, as far as the Connradh was concerned, had ceased to exist.

Tourmakeady College flourished however and perhaps, because of the dispute, the British board of education gave more status to Tourmakeady graduates and until l921 the numbers of students continued to grow. Gradually however the pattern of student changed from that of qualified teachers to younger pupils. Coláiste Chonnacht was administered first by Mayo Co. Council and later by Vocational Committees.

The student's enthusiasm to learn Irish was more than matched by the eagerness of the younger local people to learn English and it became noticeable that the houses who kept students were the best English speakers. What in 1905 was a vibrant Irish speaking community had gradually changed. Many of the people who fought the landlords and were evicted to the mountains would have been the cultural leaders, they had already gone, there was nothing to keep them here. With very little local employment and holdings too small to support families emigration became widespread. The young people went off to England and America. Whole families followed and many houses were closed up. As might be expected Irish speaking families were the first to go. In the opinion of the authorities, the level of Irish in Tourmakeady did not merit an Irish college. Eventually it was decided to close down the college and establish a knitwear factory in its place.

In commemorating the centenary of Coláiste Chonnacht we are asking families and friends of those people who attended Coláiste Chonnacht to contact Oidhreacht Thuar Mhic Éadaigh to join in remembering and celebrating those golden years in our history. A website will be opened shortly on to make available all the information that we have acquired up to now, and we invite people who have letters, writings and other memorabilia to contact us at