21 August 2021

Is Youghal College
evidence of Ireland’s
earliest university?

The college buildings in Youghal … founded in 1464 and rebuilt in 1641-2 and in 1782 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Is Youghal the first and the oldest university town in Ireland?

The college buildings and gardens beside Saint Mary’s Collegiate Church are reminders of the claim that Youghal was once home to Ireland’s earliest university. I visited the church, the college and the college gardens earlier this week as part of this summer’s extended ‘road trip.’

The first college in Youghal was founded in 1464 by Thomas Fitzgerald, 7th Earl of Desmond, as ‘Our Lady’s College of Youghal.’ It consisted of ‘a warden, eight ordained Fellows and eight lay brothers.’ It is said that ‘in addition to teaching, the Fellows served Saint Mary’s Church and seven other churches in the Barony of Imokilly.’

However, collegiate churches are found throughout Ireland and England. In a collegiate church, the daily office of worship is maintained collectively by a college of canons. They consist of a number of non-monastic or secular clergy forming a self-governing corporate body or chapter, presided over by a dean, warden or provost. In their governance and religious observance, collegiate churches are similar to cathedrals, but a collegiate church is not the seat of a bishop and has no diocesan responsibilities.

Other examples of collegiate churches in Ireland include: Saint Nicholas Collegiate Church, Galway, founded in 1320 and granted collegiate status in 1484; the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Kilmallock, Co Limerick, founded in 1241, and with collegiate status in 1410. In England, Westminster Abbey is both a royal peculiar and a collegiate church with canons but without cathedral status, and collegiate churches include Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, Saint Mary’s Church, Stafford, and Saint Peter’s Church, Wolverhampton.

Despite this, a letter from Pope Innocent VIII in 1492 refers to the College in Youghal as the ‘University of the City of Youghal,’ undergirding local claims that persist that Youghal once had a university that long predated Trinity College Dublin or the short-lived university in Kilkenny.

During the Desmond rebellion, the college in Youghal, which stood separately from Saint Mary’s Collegiate Church, was ‘spoiled and well-nigh demolished’ in 1579.

The college buildings later came into the possession of Sir Walter Raleigh, who acquired them after the death of the previous owner, Sir Thomas Norris. They were bought by Richard Boyle, the 1st and ‘Great’ Earl of Cork, in 1602 for £1,500, and he rebuilt the college as his private residence ca 1605.

Richard Boyle (1612-1698), 1st Earl of Burlington and 2nd Earl of Cork, was born in the College in Youghal in 1612, while his younger brother, the chemist Robert Boyle (1627-1691), was born in Lismore Castle.

In 1641-1642, the ‘Great Earl’ added two large flanking towers to the house, built five circular turrets around the park, and cast up a platform of earth, on which he placed ordnance to command the town and harbour. He died at the College in 1643.

Boyle’s house was largely rebuilt in 1782, incorporating the two flanking towers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Boyle’s house had fallen into ruins by the mid-18th century, but it was largely rebuilt ca 1782. It incorporates the two flanking towers and retains interesting features from Boyle’s house, such as the rhythm of the windows and an elaborate mediaeval chimneypiece of the same character though not of such decorative workmanship as a similar chimneypiece in Myrtle Grove nearby.

These end-bay towers add interest to the façade, while the ornate, carved limestone doorcase adds artistic interest to the rear of the house.

This is a nine-bay, three-storey house. Apart from the earlier round-towers, the other features include a square-headed, tiled niche at the centre-bay with a Doric-style, shouldered surround an a dentillated entablature.

The round-headed opening at the back of the house has hood moulding and a carved limestone surround, with a pediment, Doric-style pilasters, entablature and spoked fanlight over the timber panelled door.

The Gothic revival north wing or extension was built in 1862 by DL Lewis and is an example of 19th century Gothic architecture, with finely carved details such as the gargoyle, lancets, trefoil motifs and the limestone heraldic plaque on the gable.

The architectural features here include sandstone chimneystacks, limestone cross finials and copings at the gable, snecked sandstone masonry walls with buttresses at the entrance and end-bays, carved hood mouldings and pointed arch openings.

The site in bounded to the west by the mediaeval town walls, while the Youghal College Gardens in front of the house embrace almost five acres and are protected as a national monument. The gardens can be clearly identified on the earliest maps of Youghal. The Pacata Hibernia map of Youghal (ca 1590) shows the lower garden as a series of geometric beds surrounded by paths.

Over 100 apple trees, prunes and quinces were imported from Bristol in 1616 for planting in the college gardens. This was the beginning of the walled orchard found in the gardens today.

As part of Boyle’s effort to strengthen the defences of Youghal during the 1641 Rebellion, five towers were built around the grounds, and two platforms of earth were constructed in the upper parts of the gardens to mount cannons on. They are part of Burke’s painting of Youghal, the earliest known landscape by an Irish artist.

In recent years, the college buildings served as a retirement home, and the college remained in private ownership until it was bought by the former Youghal Town Council in 2001.

Today, the buildings are part of an innovative enterprise centre, offering much-needed opportunities and space for start-up businesses in an attractive building in the historic Raleigh Quarter of the old town. The gardens are open to the public throughout the day.

The Gothic revival north wing was added in 1862 by DL Lewis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
84, Stained Glass in Carmelite Churches

Saint John of the Cross by Phyllis Burke in Saint Teresa’s Church, Clarendon Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme this week has been churches in the Carmelite tradition, and my photographs this morning (21 August 2021) are of eight stained-glass windows in two of the churches and chapels I have been describing this week.

The Carmelites as Educationalists (top) and the the Carmelites as Missionaries (below), two windows by Phyllis Burke in the chapel of Terenure College (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The eight stained-glass windows I have selected this morning are from the Chapel in Terenure College and Saint Teresa’s Church in Clarendon Street, Dublin.

Phyllis Burke was born in Newbridge, Co Kildare, and was one of the early students of Johnny Murphy, later of Murphy-Devitt Studios, and her work has been compared with Patrick Pye and Patrick Pollen. She was married to the architect Arthur Gibney.

Phyllis Burke developed a particular interest in Carmelite spirituality. She created windows in the Carmelite churches in Clarendon Street and Loughrea, and when Frances Briggs died in 2006, she completed the final two windows in Terenure College Chapel.

Among her 12 windows in Saint Teresa’s Church, Clarendon Street, this morning’s posting include the windows depicting the Prophet Elijah or Elias (1991), Saint John of the Cross (1993) and Edith Stein or Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (2006), a German Jewish philosopher who converted to Catholicism and became a Carmelite nun.

Her window in Clarendon Street depicting Edith Stein (1891-1942), who was murdered in Auschwitz, sets her within the context of the Holocaust. The images in this window include the ‘Old Testament’ sacrifice; Christ presenting the Cross to Sister Edith, both in the line of Nazi fire; a train going ‘east’ to Auschwitz; the sacrificial Lamb; and a luminous Star of David. Martyr palms and German cornflowers complete her design.

Her windows in Terenure College depict the Carmelites as Missionaries (2007-2008) and the Carmelites as Educationalists (2007-2008), an appropriate theme for a college chapel.

Frances Biggs created a series of windows in the side chapels in Terenure College between 1986 and 2001. This morning’s selection from her windows depict Elijah Prophet of Mount Carmel, Saint John of the Cross and Saint Titus Brandsma (1986).

Frances Biggs was born in Salthill, Galway, and has been described as a ‘musician in glass.’ For 40 years she was a member of the RTÉ Orchestra. Her husband was the sculptor Michael Biggs, and together they created some of the most impressive ecclesiastic art of recent decades – he in stone and she in stained glass or tapestries – in churches such as Saint Macartan’s Cathedral, Monaghan, Gonzaga College Chapel, Ranelagh, and the chapel in Terenure College.

Her window of Saint John of the Cross took me aback when I first saw it last week. This window was presented by the Stafford family in memory of their mother Sadie Stafford, who died on 19 June 1987. I was last in the chapel in this chapel for her funeral, and her son, the late John Stafford, who died last year, had been one of my closest childhood friends.

This window depicts Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591), who ranks among the greatest Spanish poets, and the first of his great poems, ‘Dark Night.’ It shows the lover, in Carmelite garb, leaving his house in darkness, throwing all his cares among the lilies, setting out on the mystical journey. The poem comes to life among vivid colours that describe the light burned in his heart amid the night more lovely than the dawn.

The window of Saint Titus Brandsma (1881-1942) is in the Chapel of the Martyrs, which commemorates Titus Brandsma, Edith Stein, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Maximilian Kolbe, Maria Skobtsova, Martin Luther King, Janani Luwum, Oscar Romero, and Jerzy Popieluszko: ‘Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his holy ones.’

Saint Titus Brandsma, a Carmelite friar, was martyred in Dachau on 26 July 1942. In this window he is shown as a crucified figure, hanging from the bars of his cell window, holding the Eucharistic bread, which he concealed during a severe flogging. Around him is the mantle of Mary and the roses of Carmel. The rectangles at the end of the window suggest newspapers. As chaplain to the Catholic journalists in the Netherlands, he came into conflict with the Nazis when he refused to publish Nazi advertisements. An expert in the Carmelite mystics, he visited Terenure College in the summer of 1935 on his way to lecture in the US.

Saint John of the Cross (top) and the Prophet Elijah (below), two windows by Frances Biggs in the Chapel of Terenure College (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Matthew 23: 1-12 (NRSVA):

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father – the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Saint Titus Brandsma by Frances Biggs in the Chapel of Terenure College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (21 August 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, comprising 29 dioceses across South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland and the island of St Helena.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Saint Edith Stein by Phyllis Burke in Saint Teresa’s Church, Clarendon Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Prophet Elijah or Elias by Phyllis Burke in Clarendon Street church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)