We were recently given a photograph of the Bishop Kelly Memorial Technical School at North Street, Skibbereen that got us thinking. That school, known to generations of Skibbereen boys and girls as ‘The Tech’ was the first Vocational School opened in county Cork and is dedicated to the memory of the Most Rev Denis Kelly DD.
The school at No 1 North Street first opened for classes in February 1927, but we can go back some 77 years, to 1850, for the beginning of technical education in Skibbereen.
In 1850 an industrial school was operating in Skibbereen, run by a local group in co-operation with Dublin manufacturers. It produced crochet work and embroidered muslin. One of the early pioneers of that movement in Skibbereen was Fr Richard Beausang, curate in the early 1850s and later administrator.
About 1852 Fr Beausang, with the help of a public subscription, brought some houses in Cork Road, adjoining the house now owned by Michael and Kathleen Dwyer.
One house was used for an embroidery school and three houses, supervised by suitable matrons, were used as lodging houses for the girls. Some 300 girls were relieved directly by this industry, 500 were indirectly relieved.
A little later, Fr Beausang acquired a store near the town as a weaving school for boys. One loom was installed at first, later on five more were added. There were twenty-six weavers and winders, mainly boys. There were also 127 women spinning hemp and cotton and in making shirts and nets.
We don’t know how long that school lasted, but we do know that linen weaving was re-introduced to Skibbereen by Mother M. De Sales Dooner in 1889 at the Convent of Mercy.
When Bishop Denis Kelly was appointed Bishop of Ross in 1897 he very quickly began work to re-introduce technical education in Skibbereen.
Denis Kelly was born on January 12th 1852, in Templederry, Killaneave, Co. Tipperary. He was ordained a priest in 1877. He was appointed Bishop of Ross on March 29 1897, and ordained on May 9.
Dr Kelly was considered one of the most gifted members of the Irish Hierarchy of his day. He was unashamedly linked with the Irish Parliamentary Party and actually gave the impression of working as a party organiser. He denounced the 1916 Rising as “unlawful war” and declared that “the killing of men was murder, pure and simple.”
Dr Kelly served on the Agricultural Board for Ireland, a royal commission on Poor Law and Relief of Distress, the Cabinet Committee on Irish Finance and the national Education Committee of Enquiry.
He was a recognised authority on education and straight after his appointment as Bishop, Dr Kelly was promoting the need for Technical Education in Skibbereen. He met with the Urban Council July 1902 to encourage them to adopt the Technical Education Act in the town. By 1906 he had arranged that classes in woodwork, building, drawing and metalwork be held in the Dan Duggan’s School. That school later became St Fachtna’s De La Salle High School.
Dr Denis Kelly died on April 18 1924, before his vision of providing a Technical School in Skibbereen was realised.
However, a site at No 1 North Street was donated by the Burke family in 1925 and the derelict buildings were cleared immediately and work began on a new school.
The architect of the building was a Mr Tierney and the building contractors were O’Sheas of Bantry. The school opened for classes in early 1927. Mr Donncadha Ó Ceilleachair, who taught woodwork classes, was appointed first principal of the new school. Motor Engineering classes were taught by Mr. John O’Driscoll, and Irish classes were conducted by Mr Peadar Ó hAnnracháin. Commercial and domestic economy classes followed later.
Under the guidance of four successive principals, Donncadha Ó Ceilleachair, Denis Kelleher, Peadar Hayes and Finbarr Williams, the school prospered and grew until the vocational school moved to a new location in 1983 and became Rossa College.
In September 2016 Rossa College amalgamated with Mercy Heights and St Fachtna’s High School in a magnificent new Community School, which should cater adequately for the educational needs of Skibbereen boys and girls for many years to come.
When the Bishop Kelly Memorial Technical School opened first in early 1927 it was just as important an advance in the educational needs of Skibbereen as the new Community School was in 2016, and was certainly a fitting memorial to the late prelate who had done so much to promote education in the town.
Another fine memorial to Bishop Kelly can be found inside St Patrick’s Cathedral. Bishop Kelly is one of three bishops buried in the nave on the south side of the cathedral and a memorial tablet marks his final resting place there.
There was also a fine memorial to Dr Kelly in that once beautiful chapel attached to the Convent of Mercy. That memorial was placed there by the Sisters of Mercy in October 1926. It comprised a portrait of Dr Kelly in relief with the legend ‘In grateful remembrance of our deeply revered Bishop, whose counsel and unceasing kindness can never be forgotten.’