It was on the invitation of Most Rev. Dr. William Keane, Bishop of Cloyne from 1856 to 1874, that the Christian Brothers came to Fermoy. On May 21, 1863 two teaching Brothers and one lay Brother arrived in the town.

In preparation for their coming the Bishop arranged to have the National School, established by his predecessor Bishop Murphy, fitted and adapted to suit the Brothers’ requirements. Bishop Keane had continued to reside in Fermoy and in order to provide accommodation for the Brothers, he brought the parochial clergy to live with him in his own house and handed over the vacated house to the Brothers. The expense of these preparatory works was over £300 and it was defrayed by the Bishop.

The National School in which the Brothers commenced their labours is now the Parish Centre (CYMS Hall). On the opening day 200 pupils attended and this number soon rose to 230 with the result that further applications for admission had to be refused. The first Superior of the Fermoy Schools was Brother Jerome Murphy.

When the Intermediate Education Scheme was introduced in 1879, the Fermoy Christian Brothers Schools were among the first to avail of it. A pattern of consistent progress and success was established from the arrival of the Brothers as evidenced by the ever-increasing numbers of pupils. By 1890 the numbers had grown to the point where it was found necessary to replace the lay Brother with a teaching Brother. This was only a temporary relief and so it was readily agreed that the parish would pay an annual stipend to support a fourth teaching Brother.

From the foundation of the schools in 1863 to the end of the century, the need of a larger and generally more suitable accommodation proved a great hindrance to the Brothers in their work. Accordingly, it was decided to erect a new building and on August 28, 1904, the foundation stone was laid by Dr. Robert Browne, Bishop of Cloyne. A year later the school we have today was completed and formally opened.

Wednesday, November 26, 1913 was a memorable day in Fermoy. A general holiday had been proclaimed and all business in the town was suspended to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the advent of the Irish Christian Brothers in Fermoy. The Bishop, Dr. Browne, in the Parish Church, celebrated solemn High Mass and afterwards at a public meeting in the school grounds a variety of addresses were read. In the afternoon a sports meeting for past and present pupils was held and this was followed at 6pm by a grand display of fireworks in the school grounds. The school was brilliantly illuminated and the celebrations were brought to a close by a concert in the Assembly Rooms.

For the next fifty years the Brothers continued their labours in Fermoy and on April 28, 1963, the centenary of their arrival was celebrated. Two years previously a number of improvements to the school facilities had been started and with a new toilet block, new bicycle sheds and a newly concreted yard and shelter the school was resplendent for the celebrations. Among the chief guests was Dr. Paddy Hillery, Minister for Education and later President of Ireland. He attended the banquet held in the school where a telegram of best wishes was read from Pope John XXIII. A number of lectures and other social and sporting events were held over the following weeks culminating in a concert given by the Artane Boys Band in the Palace Hall now the Fermoy Youth Centre.

In the early 1970s the Department of Education attempted to enforce a policy of rationalization in the second level schools of Fermoy but this was rejected firmly by the local community. However as enrolments began to fall in the Secondary School with the expansion of the other second level schools in the town, the Brothers announced in May 1976 their intention to withdraw from Fermoy. Their was no first year intake the following September and the school wound down over the next number of years until the end of 1980 when the connection with Fermoy was finally severed.

Yet, one hundred and eighteen years of dedicated service to the people of Fermoy has not been forgotten, as still for many the Bishop Murphy Memorial School is fondly referred to as “The Brothers”!

“This account has been adapted from the Centenary Souvenir published in 1963 and from a series of articles on The Christian Brothers in Fermoy by Seán Ó Murchú published in The Avondhu newspaper in 1998.”

Bishop Murphy – A brief history

Schools and seminaries, chapels and churches, convents, colleges and cathedrals started into existence, and grew and flourished under his fostering care, so that one is at a loss which to admire most, the enlightened zeal or the undaunted energy of project or the boldness of his designs or his success in their execution.

Bishop Murphy Statue

So goes part of the epitaph of Timothy Murphy, Priest of Fermoy and Bishop of Cloyne and whose vision and commitment to education in particular is commemorated in the name of this school.

Timothy Murphy was born in Coachford in 1789 and studied in Maynooth for the priesthood where he was ordained in 1815. He stayed on in the College for a further four years studying and lecturing in French. His first appointment in the Cloyne diocese was a brief one of some months in Mallow followed by a move to Doneraile where he remained until 1826. He then came to Fermoy where he ministered as curate, parish priest and finally bishop.

From the beginning Fr. Murphy dedicated his mission to the care of his flock and supported them unstintingly in the agrarian, political, sectarian and religious challenges they faced at the time. He believed in the efficacy of an education based on religion and almost immediately embraced the National system of education. He was responsible for the building of Fermoy’s first National School at Cork Hill (now the Parish Centre/CYMS Hall at O Connell Place) in 1833 at a cost of £600 and designed to cater for 200 boys and 200 girls. He later had national schools built in Barrack Hill and Grange.

Conscious of the dangers and pitfalls of living in a busy garrison town and aware of the religious superstitions gripping the country at the time, Fr. Murphy was concerned with the need for counteracting these challenges to girls in particular and so he was instrumental in inviting the Presentation nuns to Fermoy. Three sisters arrived from Cork in 1838 to establish a presence which has flourished to this day.

Fr. Murphy became Parish Priest of Fermoy in 1841 following the death of Dr. Barry. He set about enlarging the parish church and improving its appearance, then described as being more like a large barn than a place of worship. The result was the general outline of the church we have to day and was achieved at a cost of £5000, an enormous expense at the time.

He was Parish Priest of Fermoy throughout the bleakest period of Irish history when famine blighted the country. With the onset of the Famine he and the Sisters of the Presentation Convent worked tirelessly to aid the poor and starving, especially the children. For the latter purpose Fr. Murphy sacrificed all he possessed, even his only carriage was sold to buy food.

He was appointed Bishop of Cloyne and Ross in 1849. He decided to preside in Fermoy and soon moved to have the diocese divided. Ross was separated on foot of his petition in 1851. In 1853 he invited the Loreto order to Fermoy to provide secondary education for girls and in the following year he attended the Papal Consistory in Rome on the Definition of the Immaculate Conception. On his return a decline in his health took hold.

Construction of the Obelisk

In 1856 he put in motion a long cherished plan for a diocesan seminary when he acquired a plot of ground and laid the foundation stone for St. Colman’s College. Unfortunately he did not live to see its completion as he suffered a stroke and died on 4th December. He was buried at his own wish in the convent chapel of the Presentation Sisters having served the people of Fermoy for thirty years.

A large obelisk-type monument was erected to the memory of Bishop Murphy in what is now the school playground – at the time of erection it was a green area between the church and the town’s main thoroughfare. This prominent memorial was dismantled and removed during Easter 1960 in the course of renovations to the school though its existence is still remembered in the name of the adjacent side-street: Monument Hill.

Michael Kennedy – A brief history

Michael Kennedy was born in the townland of Corrogurm, Mitchelstown, in 1850 the son of a tenant farmer whose holding of 14 acres was part of the Kingston estate.

Fr Michael Kennedy

He attended Gortroe National School and continued his education at Mount Melleray, Waterford College and finally St. Colman’s College, Fermoy. His attendance at these various colleges was made possible by the financial support of Michael’s first cousin, James Kennedy of Snug Lodge, Rockmills.

He studied for the priesthood in the Irish College in Paris and was ordained in Waterford in 1875. His first six years as a priest were spent in Liverpool in the parish of Old Swan where he was extremely popular – when leaving he was presented with a purse of gold sovereigns and an illuminated address. He returned to Ireland in 1881 to take up a chaplaincy in Youghal. His return coincided with what is known as the Land War period in Irish history. High rents and poor returns had forced the tenant farmers to organise and this led to the foundation of the Land League under the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell.

Locally, farmers often looked to their priests for leadership and in Youghal they found a faithful champion in Fr. Kennedy. His leaving to take up the position of curate in Meelin was again marked with the presentation of an illuminated address which celebrated his “earnestness and perseverance in battling against exacting landlordism”.

In Meelin Fr. Kennedy continued his work on behalf of the tenant farmers, attending Land League meetings around the county and supporting the Plan of Campaign whereby farmers offered what they considered a fair rent to the landlord and if this was refused the money went into a fund used to defend those under threat of eviction. When attending meetings Fr. Kennedy was invariably accompanied by a group of horsemen who became known as the Meelin Cavalry. In 1888 he was brought to court for his activities and served a two-month sentence in Cork Jail. Shortly after his release he was again jailed for a further three months. He was by now a national hero among the people of Ireland attracting huge crowds wherever he went on his political activities.

In 1891 Fr. Kennedy was transferred to Dungourney, in 1895 to Blarney and finally to Fermoy in 1901 where his concern for the poor and underprivileged endeared him to all during his time there. In October 1911 he took ill and was taken to hospital in Dublin. Later, sensing that his end was near, he asked to be brought back to Fermoy to die. His wish was granted and he spent his final days under the care of the Blue Nuns at Monument Hill. He died on the 8th March 1912 and is buried in the grounds of St. Patrick’s Church in the town. As a mark of honour his coffin was carried through the town from the church and back again to the grounds for burial.

The erection of a suitable memorial to this beloved priest was delayed because of the political events in the years following his death. In the mid 1920s a committee agreed to erect a full-sized likeness in bronze on a pedestal. The commission was given to Mr. Doyle-Jones who had also executed similar statues in honour of John Mandeville in Mitchelstown and Canon Sheehan in Doneraile.

It was originally planned to put up the statue in the Square but eventually the present site in the north-eastern corner of our school grounds was chosen and the unveiling took place on 17th October 1926. Many tributes were paid to Fr. Kennedy on the occasion, all summed up in the inscription carved on the limestone pedestal:

“Reverend Michael B. Kennedy C.C.
Born 1850 – Died 1912.
Priest, patriot & fearless advocate of the oppressed.
“He served his country and he loved his kind.”
Sagart Arúin.
A tribute from a grateful people.