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The World into which Edmund was Born

The years 1762 to 1844 were a period of tremendous importance as vast changes were taking place in the political, economic and social structures of many lands.

In the year 1762 the world had a lot to occupy its attention. Foremost was the Seven Years War in which nearly all European nations were embroiled until 1763. Among the chief causes was the fight between Britain and France for supremacy on the seas, and in North America, the West Indies and India. As a result of her success, Britain would stand foremost among the European powers in the extent of her overseas colonies, which would be extended to include New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Hong Kong. A supply of raw materials for industry as well as precious stones and metals was assured. The age of intensive missionary activity, the search for souls, was also being launched on a vast scale.

Monsieur Jean Jacques Rousseau had created quite a stir with his new book Le Contrat Social, which opened with the words “man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains”, and his new theory of the sovereignty of the people was eagerly discussed throughout France. So too was the recent decision of the Parlement of Paris to abolish the Jesuits, confiscate their property and secularize the members. The French Revolution would become the result of a long and careful attack on existing institutions by clever writers and thinkers who influenced an intelligent public. Eventually the revolutionary ideas of liberalism and nationalism spread throughout Europe by war. Karl Marx moved to Paris in 1844 and there he met Friedrich Engels. Together they produced The Communist Manifesto in 1847.

In Manchester there was talk of “muck and money”, for the new canals had cut the price of coal by 50%. The Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions were underway. Robert Peel had just invented a new carding machine that was transforming the cotton trade, Josiah Wedgewood had started to produce his famous chinaware and would soon be in mass-production allowing the wooden platters and earthenware bowls to be replaced in people’s homes. Farming methods and the time-honoured communal system of small holdings were being replaced by intensive and partly-mechanised processes on the fenced-off lands of the of the capitalist farmer. The handiwork of the cottages was being overtaken by power-driven machines in urban factories, and people left the countryside in search of jobs there. The demand was such that women and children were employed in the factory and the mine. While the conditions were deadly – long hours for low pay, costly food, filthy hovels, streets rotten with sewage, and towns disease-ridden - human life was too cheap to worry about.

In Ireland the Whiteboys and other secret societies – papists and anarchists, protesting high rents, wretched living conditions, recurring famines and high tithes paid to an alien church – were upsetting the country with their attacks on tithe collectors and animals. The Parliament was in session and had just generously voted £112,000 to educate young Catholics caught begging on the streets, to bring them up as Protestants.

People began to emigrate to the large cities of Britain, hoping to find employment in the factories. Priests and religious went with them, including the Brothers who went to Preston in 1825.

What was perceived as toleration in not enforcing some of the Penal Laws was considered by others as a sign of contempt – Ireland had been defeated and the whip was no longer needed. The Catholic Relief Act of 1792 conceded permission for a Catholic to open a school without first acquiring a licence from the Protestant Bishop. Since 1791 the United Irishmen, under Wolfe Tone, was open to Catholic members in an attempt to show that Catholics and Protestants could live and work in harmony. Edmund witnessed the futile rebellion of 1798 and saw how the Act of Union of 1800 failed to grant Catholic Emancipation. He saw the growth of the Catholic Association under the leadership of O’Connell, eventually leading to Emancipation in 1829.

Across the Atlantic the colonists were developing their country, striking out on their own, now that the French menace in Canada had been removed. In 1776, when Edmund was 14, the American colonies declared their independence.


Edmund Rice’s Early Life in Callan

Edmund Rice garden Mgt TierneyThe Rices of Munster are almost entirely of Welsh origin, where the commonest forms were Reece, Ruys and Rhys. This family had entered England with William the Conqueror in 1066. Several of these families came to Ireland and settled on the southern coast particularly in Waterford, Kerry and to a less extent in Cork. There are indications that the Waterford Rices moved north towards Kilkenny. The Red Book of Ormond, giving the extent of the Manor of Knocktopher on 23 July 1312, records the names of Philip, William, John and Matthew Rys. The Calendar of Ormond Deeds mentions that near Knocktopher there “is a townland of Riceslands called from the family of Rys or Rice.” Moreover a James Rice was a Burgher of Kilkenny in 1383 and a Gilbert Rice was a member of Kilkenny Council in 1434. It is thus clear that the name Rice was well established in Kilkenny and district from the fourteenth century.

According to Houlihan, Robert Rice, Edmund’s father, was a tenant farmer who rented about 175 acres of land from a friendly Protestant landlord, Lord Desart. In due course, as they matured, some of Robert's seven sons replaced the hired hands who helped him work the farm. Mrs. Rice, the former Margaret Tierney, was held in highest regard by the local people as being from one of Kilkenny's most loyal Catholic families. Robert and Margaret Rice owned a comfortable home, not luxurious, but far nicer than the huts or shacks of most Catholic families. The Rices’ Protestant landlord appreciated their industry and their reliability to pay the high rent for such a large property. Thus he did not interfere with the practice of their Catholic faith.

The home Edmund knew as a youngster was one that rang with the banter of his six brothers and two step-sisters. The six-roomed thatched cottage was a very happy home with plenty of good food, much of it fresh from his father’s farm and lovingly prepared by his mother and sisters. Margaret Rice, the mother, was the heart of the family, and she delighted in each of her children and later on, in her grandchildren.

Icon Edmund Rice 16Their mother was the first teacher of the Rice boys. She taught them their prayers and she and her husband were excellent role models for the boys to imitate. Priests were always welcome visitors to the home but anyone who came to the door looking for a meal was brought into the kitchen and fed, so thanks to Mrs. Rice and the family hospitality, when it was time to leave, they were no longer hungry! Like many Irish families, the rosary was recited around the fireplace each evening and although the local chapel (parish church) was very simple, even crude, it was there that the Rice family worshipped and received the sacraments. The Catholic faith, loyalty to the Pope and to the church, and all the Christian values were both lived and taught in the home of Robert and Margaret Rice. It is no wonder that one of the younger boys, John, entered the Augustinian Monastery in New Ross, County Wexford and eventually became a priest or that Edmund would become the Founder of two Congregations of Religious Brothers.

The happy thoughts of his youthful days in Westcourt were some of the pleasant memories that Edmund evoked in his grieving after his wife’s death. He was inclined to ask the question: "Why did this tragedy have to happen to me?” Being a man of great common sense and deep faith, he realized that there were many more blessings than sorrows in his life. He liked to reflect on the prayer of Job and to make it his own: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord”.

Edmund loved his home at Westcourt and his hometown of Callan. In Edmund’s day there were about 2,000 people who made their home in Callan. It was a town of narrow streets and thatched houses. It had known better days as in olden times it was a walled town of some importance. The majority of the inhabitants were quite poor and their hovels were comfortless. Most of the families were underfed and the children poorly clothed. The census reveals that about 200 of its people in the time of Edmund’s youth belonged to the Church of Ireland, the established Church, but for the most part Protestant and Catholics got along fairly well with each other. This was rather unusual in Ireland at the time, but much had to do with the local Lord Desart who was quite tolerant and generous to his tenants, as compared to landlords in other parts of the country. There were two main streets in the town, one going from north to south, the other which intersected it, went from east to west. There was a town cross erected in the middle of the village. It stood on a square base, with a lantern at the top of the cross which was the only street light in the town. On market days the women gathered at this junction with their baskets of Callan lace, fruits, vegetables and other articles that were for sale.

Callan had the reputation of being a rough and tumble town. There was an old Irish saying about it that translated into English says: "Walk, Ireland, but run through Callan.” The inference here is that the Callan natives liked a good fight and were quick to start one at the least provocation. No wonder it was known around Ireland as “Callan of the trouble”.

Callan 2Westcourt, the family home and farmstead of the Rice family, was a peaceful place when compared to most of the houses in the town of Callan. The family home was quite large, although with nine children, Robert and Margaret Rice needed every bit of space to accommodate all of them. It contained four bedrooms, a parlour, a kitchen and a hallway. There were other farm buildings on the property and a number of small houses for the hired men and their families.

Both of Edmund’s parents had combined their holdings of land at the time of their marriage in 1757. Their seven sons and two step-daughters would enjoy a comfortable and care-free life on this fairly large farm. Although the children did their share of chores as they advanced in age, there was also time for games and sports. Edmund's brothers and their friends were hurlers, the favourite Irish game of the period, and they often played this sport on one of the fields on their parents’ property. “Here too he [Edmund] tested himself with boys of the locality in running, jumping, weight-throwing and in other virile exercises. He was a graceful horseman, and in the saddle he enjoyed a gallop on his favourite horse." (Quoted in W.B. Cullen). Edmund liked to fish in the King's River nearby, to swim in the pond on his father’s property, to row a boat on the river or just to sit on the banks of the Kings River to dream and to relax.

Often enough there were games for the lads to enjoy as spectators - thrilling hurling matches - played on the Callan Green especially when Tipperary, Kilkenny or Waterford competed and local players were featured in a contest. The widower Edmund could also recall memories of when he was ten or eleven when he taught the Catechism “to the poorer children of his immediate vicinity,"... [as he gathered them around him in an empty shed at the farmhouse or in a corner of the yard.] Margaret Tierney provided these poor children with some welcome food, at the conclusion of the class”. (ref. Cullen)

According to Garvan, Edmund Rice was born into such a locality in Callan, County Kilkenny, on 1 June, 1762. His mother, Margaret, had two daughters, Joan and Jane Murphy, by a previous marriage but her husband died. Later she married Robert Rice and they had seven sons of whom Edmund was the fourth. They farmed a large farm of almost 200 acres called “Westcourt.” Actually the Rices, especially as Catholics, were relatively well-off. To this day the house in which Edmund was born, and lived the early part of his life, is standing and is a place of pilgrimage.

Edmund lived a happy childhood although he could not help but see the great contrast between the wealth of the rich and the utter destitution of the poor. There was plenty of food to eat in his home; he learnt many skills working on the farm, and he was able to play sports especially the game of hurling. The beautiful surrounding countryside afforded a wonderful environment in which to grow up. Margaret Rice, his mother, was ever kind and generous to the poor, and she would encourage young Edmund to invite poor boys home to play, and to learn from him something of their religion, for she instructed Edmund well. It has been said of Margaret Rice that she was a woman “of refined manners, of great strength of mind, and of unostentatious piety.” Her influence on Edmund was enormous as the unfolding story of his life will show.

According to Blake (A Man for Our Time, 2006), Edmund Rice’s youth was unexceptional for the better-off Catholics of his time. Irish was the language of the home, with sufficient English to deal with legal and financial affairs. His parents were greatly respected in the community for their generosity, fair-mindedness and humanity. The children were fortunate in having parents whose personalities balanced so well - the father’s shrewdness, sturdy common sense and practicality complemented the mother's warmth, sensitivity and compassion. Like any boy growing up in the Kilkenny countryside, Edmund fished, swam and played hurling.


Edmund's Education as a boy

Icon Edmund Rice 8According to McLoughlin, (The Price of Freedom, 2007), after initial basic education of literacy and numeracy from his mother from whom Rice “owed not a little of his later prominence” (ref. O’Toole) the Rices employed itinerant schoolmasters for their children, one of whom was Patrick Grace, known as “An Bráithrín Liath”, the Grey Brother, on account of his premature greyness. Patrick had earned a reputation as a good school master before his entry into the Augustinan order.

After leaving his Westcourt 'school', Rice “received his education in Callan and subsequently in Kilkenny”. (Grace in Normoyle) At Callan, he either attended a school attached to the newly re-opened Augustinian novitiate, conducted by the same friar, Patrick Grace, or a “hedge school” in Moate Lane that fellow Callan man Br Francis Grace attended. Around the age of 15, young Edmund was sent for two years to an advanced academy at Kilkenny, sixteen kilometres north of Westcourt.

The academy that Rice Went to was probably the predecessor of the reputable Catholic school, Burrell Hall. The fee for commercial subjects was £20 per annum, a relatively large sum, which implied the quality of the school and the financial position of the Rice family. It also indicated the promise Edmund must have exhibited for this sum to be invested in him. The previous three brothers appeared not to have had such an education. (see McLoughlin pp12-16)

Patrick Grace was a native of Cappahayden, near Callan. As a young man he was a dominie or travelling schoolmaster. Aged 27 he entered the Augustinian Order. Following his novitiate in Lisbon he became ill and he returned to his native air to recuperate. He was attached to the Callan community from 1775 to 1781, the years of Edmund childhood and adolescence. Patrick Grace exercised a most benign influence for good on Edmund.

The Augustinian annalist informs us: "One home where the little grey friar had a special welcome was that of the Rice family in Westcourt. His gentle influence and fatherly advice was not lost on John, who grew up under his spell."

Once, while celebrating Mass in the Callan friary church, two adjoining thatched houses converted into one building, the roof began to fall in. Several strong men in the congregation literally held the roof up until Mass was concluded. All had vacated the building when the structure collapsed. No one was injured. Fr John Rice then (1812) set about building the new church, which is still in use today.

We read in the Callan OSA annals: "Today (July 1830) Father Patrick Grace of the Order of St Augustine was buried in the friars' monastery. He was 90 years of age which he passed in great holiness. He was a dominie, that is a schoolmaster, in his youth before he took upon himself Holy Orders as a friar."

Brother J.S. O'Flanagan, writing in the Mount Sion Annals, informs us: "Having been intended for trade, his parents, to qualify him better, resolved on sending him to the city of Kilkenny there to complete the education he had received in Callan. In his new sphere he had the good fortune to be placed under the care of a teacher no less learned than pious. This worthy man, deeply impressed with the truths of our holy religion communicated the same both by word and example to his youthful charges. In after life Mr Rice, when speaking of this good man, always did so with respect, affection and gratitude. It cannot be doubted but the early lessons of virtue had the effect of producing abundant fruit in due season."



1779 Edmund enters business with his uncle in Waterford

bridgeEdmund Rice arrived in Waterford in 1779. As there was no bridge across the river Suir, he would have taken the ferry from the Kilkenny side into the city.

By the mid eighteenth century, Waterford was a city with a thriving port and centre for the processing of the tillage and dairying produce of its hinterland. It manufactured and shipped goods to Newfoundland, England and mainland Europe. By the time Edmund Rice moved to Waterford the port traded in a wide range of goods such as butter, flour, sugar, salted beef and bacon, tea, coffee, beer, whiskey, tallow, hemp, dried fish, cod oil, spices, soap, timber, pitch and tar.

The quay impressed visitors to Waterford. In 1746 it was described as: "about half a mile in length and of considerable breadth, not inferior to but rather exceeds the most celebrated in Europe. To it the largest trading vessels may conveniently come up, both to load and unload... The Exchange, Custom House and other public buildings, ranged along the quay are no small addition to its beauty" (C. Smith).

Ballybricken-Fair-4-May-1910-Poole-CollectionEdmund was to become an apprentice to his uncle Michael Rice, 'a victualler and ship chandler', ran a business in Barronstrand Street exporting goods to Bristol and supplying some of the 1,000 ships that sailed into waterford each year with everything needed for long trips at sea - including cured meats, sail-cloth, cords, ropes, oil, biscuits and salt. The French Wars, after 1793, brought a great boom in supplying beef and pork. Quickly Edmund learnt the tricks of this trade and took to the business side of things. He had an eye for detail and a wonderful way with people.

Waterford was the second largest port in all Europe at this time, but this attracted many poor people from the countryside, driven from their land, and hoping to gain some kind of livelihood even if it was from begging in the city.

Living with his uncle at Arundel Place, just off the quays, Edmund had to adjust to his new life in Waterford now that he was earning money and having a good deal or freedom. It seems he was not always exemplary, for it was reported of him on a visit back to his home in Callan, that an old poet, James Phelan of Coolagh, met young Rice after Mass in the parish church and chided him for some misconduct in the church. Edmund was told in no uncertain terms that his attitude in the House of God was unbecoming of a Catholic. To his credit Edmund took this admonition to heart, and the remarks had a very steadying effect on him. (ref. John Shelly in Memories)

Rather enigmatically Maurice Lenihan, editor of The Tipperary Vindicator, wrote of Edmund at the time of his death, and after he had very generously praised him: “We believe that Mr. Rice’s early life had not given promise of that religious earnestness which he (later) began to display”. It would certainly not be an exaggeration to say that Edmund went through some kind of “conversion” at this stage of his life.

According to Houlihan, young Edmund Rice was to become one of waterford's most successful and respected citizens. It did not take him long to set his roots down in the city that would be his home for the next 65 years. Fresh from his training at the academy in Kilkenny, Edmund was welcomed by his uncle Michael Rice who had two sons of his own and who treated his nephew as if he were a third son. Edmund threw himself into the work at his uncle’s provisioning company and Michael Rice was quite happy to have his help in managing his prosperous concern, especially since neither of his sons was interested in this type of work. Edmund’s organizing skills and his ability to work well with others resulted in expanding and making many improvements so that profits continued to mount. “Soon Edmund became a familiar figure in his uncle’s stores in Baronstrand Street, the warehouses on the quay, on board ship, or as he rode on horseback to buy cattle and farm produce to stock the ships in Waterford Harbour. He quickly won his uncle’s confidence, and a deep affection grew up between them. The business thrived.” (ref. Blake)

At Westcourt, his mother and father were proud of their son the young merchant. They knew that his uncle was very satisfied with him and that recommendation was good enough for them. In September, 1787, Mr. Robert Rice, Edmund’s father, drew up his will and to the amazement of no one in the family, he appointed Edmund executor. This made Edmund the legal head of the family. Robert Rice knew all of his sons very well and considered Edmund to be the one to take charge of things when he had passed away. The will provided for his ‘dearly beloved wife Margaret’, that she would have the home at Westcourt. There were provisions for each family member. Land records show that Edmund purchased his brothers’ shares of the land in due course. “It was a measure of the trust his father placed in Edmund, that he was made executor of the will. This was a delicate matter and demanded efficiency and integrity.” (ref. Normoyle) A few years later Edmund would also administer the last will of his youngest brother, Michael, who died in Waterford. With good reason, his parents and his siblings had confidence in their son and brother.

St Patricks chapelBut there was much more to Edmund Rice than business acumen. He was a devout Catholic layman who made no secret about his love for the Church and all it stood for. His daily routine began with attendance at Mass in St. Patrick's chapel near his home, and even though it was quite uncommon among Catholics of the day, he frequently received communion. He belonged to a group of Catholic young men, most of them fellow-merchants, who were devoted to developing their spiritual lives and to performing good works. They met on a regular basis and committed themselves to works of charity, especially among the abjectly poor of the area. Edmund soon found himself involved with several other local agencies that provided social services to people in need. He used all of his business skills to see to it that the poor would receive whatever kind of aid they needed. He had a special interest in the homeless, in orphans, in widows, in anyone who needed assistance of any kind. He took on the role of advocate in upholding the legal rights of those who were not able to fend for themselves in a society that looked down on Catholics, especially the poor.

Although in the early 1800's Waterford city was experiencing a wave of prosperity it had never known before, it also had a slum area which was home to many of its people and where living conditions were the lowest of the low. Jobs were scarce for Catholic men. What little income that did come their way was often spent in the pubs and grog shops. A professional traveller to Waterford at this time commented: “Whiskey drinking prevails to a dreadful extent in Waterford. There are between two and three hundred licensed houses; and it certainly does seem to me that among the remedial measures necessary for the tranquillity and happiness of Ireland, an alteration in the licensing system is one of the most important.” (ref. Inglis)

At this period of his life, Edmund Rice seemed to be living two lives. By day he was in his working place pouring all of his energy into managing his uncle’s firm. After hours, he was equally occupied, this time being the agent of the homeless, the rejected, the widows, orphans, street urchins, debtors or any person who sought his help. He obtained and delivered food, bedding, fuel and medicine to the needy and tried to find lodgings for those who had no homes. He became a member of several other charitable committees in order to obtain funds from various sources to support families or individuals who had no other means at their disposal. Once he joined these committees, he usually became an officer so that he could use his influence to urge the societies to increase their efforts. At times he would challenge the banks and trusts that were not prompt in paying interest to the beneficiaries of wills — usually homes for orphans, for senior citizens or other impoverished people. He became an expert in the legal procedures needed to expedite payments to such causes.

20200618 123635Edmund was fast becoming one of the leading citizens of Waterford. His business associates respected him for his brilliant management, for his new ideas and for his integrity in all of his affairs. He was regarded as an exemplary Catholic layman. The bishop and priests relied on him to advise them in financial matters, especially in regard to real estate. The poor looked to him as a friend and benefactor who worked tirelessly for them and their needs. He was befriended by many of the best families in Waterford and he was able to convince some of them to join him on the several committees to which he belonged as they were always in need of donations and volunteers. One of his closest associates, Brother Austin Dunphy, tells us that “Edmund Rice was one of the very few persons who was allowed to pass unchallenged at all the military posts in Waterford, Carrick-on-Suir, Clonmel, Tipperary and Limerick.” (ref. Fitzpatrick) The obvious inference from this statement is that Edmund Rice was so well known, trusted and respected at the military posts, because of his business contacts with them supplying meat, butter, cattle, sheep, oats, hay, straw, etc. that he was most reliable and consequently one of the most trusted of civilians who had access to the military authorities.

For entertainment Edmund enjoyed Irish dancing, songs and music that were traditionally a part of the culture. It is recorded of him that on occasional Sunday afternoons, Edmund took a stroll from the city out to the suburbs to a place known as “the Yellow House Inn." He enjoyed meeting his friends there and was especially happy to hear his favourite music and to join in the choruses or to participate in one of the dances or reels. A Thomas Moore song that he liked to sing “Oh! Had We Some Bright Little Isle of Our Own” was one of the popular songs of the day. Years later as a Christian Brother “Edmund had a great fund of stories that enlivened community recreation and a droll sense of humour that brought many a laugh. Sometimes, especially on festive occasions, the brothers had a concert when Edmund would join with them in singing his favourite songs from Moore's Irish Melodies?” (ref. Normoyle)

Arundel-Square-Waterford-1900Edmund was constantly travelling to fairs and markets on horseback, negotiating the sale of pigs and cattle from farmers to fulfil his contractual obligations for the British military. He walked through all the counties on Munster and beyond it, covering as many as possible of the four and a half thousand fairs that were held annually at the time. It is not surprising that later in 1818, during Rice’s conflict with Bishop Walsh, Rice’s clerical enemies described him as “this man sometimes was a dealer in cattle and a common butcher in the streets of Waterford."

It is accurate to conclude that the intermittent hostilities England pursued with republican France and its need to provide for garrisoned troops throughout Ireland meant prosperity for the young victualler. Indeed, there were over 20,000 soldiers in over 100 barracks in the country during this time. (see McLoughlin pp19-26)


1785 Edmund marries Mary Elliot

Edmund Rice garden Mary ElliotAccording to Garvan, after some years in Waterford Edmund met Mary Elliott whom he came to love deeply. She came from a well-to-do family. Shortly after the death of his uncle, when he had taken over the family business, Edmund asked Mary to marry him and in 1785 they were united in matrimony. He was 23 years old. They lived in the part of Waterford called Ballybricken. All this time Edmund’s business experience was growing and he was outstandingly successful because of his intelligence, acumen, integrity, qualities of leadership, and especially his ability to get on with people. Mary shared in Edmund’s happiness, the more so because she could also rejoice in his continuing compassion for the poor. But their happiness was not without its sadness because Edmund’s father died in November 1787. Interestingly, Robert Rice made Edmund an executor of his will even though he was the fourth son.

Little is known of the girl he married and everything suggests that Edmund did not speak much about this delicate matter. Of the 250 memoirs colleced by Normoyle, only Martin O'Flynn mentions her, and he was unsure of her name. She could be "Elliot", linked with Edmund's first school in Elliot's Yard in New Street, or "Ellis", related to Patrick Ellis, one of hte first men who joined Edmund's brotherhood.

His wife was “a Miss Elliott, a young lady from a well-to-do family. Their married life was short... According to family tradition Edmund’s wife died late in her pregnancy. Their daughter, Mary, was born prematurely and never developed normally.” (ref. Positio)

1789 Tragedy strikes Edmund when his wife dies

Ed with wife-Mary ElliotThe reference to Mrs. Rice's death appeared in newspapers for January 17, 1789 and the place of her burial is unknown. Edmund was 26 years old and the widowed father of an infant girl.

A tradition grew from what Sr. Jospehine Rice recalled in 1929, that, as both she and Edmund were keen horse-riders, during her pregnancy Mary suffered some kind of fall from a horse. In January, 1789, she gave birth to a daughter but died as a result of complications. They had been married for almost four years. Edmund called his little daughter Mary after her mother, but his heart, broken over the death of his wife, was further broken because little Mary was in some way disabled.

While the exact circumstances of these happenings are still not known to us, we do know that Edmund’s grief was bitterly distressing. Years later he revealed this when, in writing about Mary Kirwan, recently widowed, he was able to identify with her, saying he knew she was in “the dregs of misery and misfortune”.

Edmund decided it was better for him to move from Ballybricken back to Arundel Place to help him forget the circumstances of his life with his wife, to place him nearer his business, and to enable his step-sister, Joan Murphy, to come to live with him to care for young Mary who was described later as "weak-headed" and "delicate".

Edmund’s love of his daughter was one of the most significant factors which brought about an entire change in the orientation of his life. He became even more sensitive to the plight of the poor whom he increasingly loved; he joined a spiritual association of men in Waterford; and he grew increasingly uneasy with the wealth he was acquiring through his business.


Edmund's experience of fatherhood - rearing his daughter Mary

Icon Edmund Rice 9According to McLoughlin, Mary Rice was born in January 1789, when Rice was 26 years of age. Unfortunately, “Mrs. Rice was delicate, and she died of a fever after the birth of the infant”... It was obvious that Rice, as a businessman, could not care for his infant daughter alone. The first and most likely choice was for her to be handed over to her maternal grandparents, since in Ireland at the time grandparents were expected to take a special interest in female grand-children. The same is true for males and paternal grandparents. Not only did this not occur, but also there is a complete absence of any information about Rice’s in-laws.

The second choice would have been to send young Mary to be raised with Rice’s relatives in Westcourt. Rice’s mother was there with her eldest son Thomas. Similarly, Rice’s second older brother Patrick, whose family was childless, seems to have been particularly close to him and in the light of future events would have been willing to incorporate Mary into his family at this time. Indeed, Patrick eventually did, much later, have Mary Rice as a family member.

The last option, and the least likely for a widower without older children, was to choose to raise the child himself. This is what Edmund did. Consequently, soon after his wife’s death, Rice left his Ballybricken residence and returned to 3 Arundel Lane, adjacent to his business in Baronstrand Street, near the quay. Unable to care adequately for his baby daughter as a sole parent, Rice’s spinster half-sister Joan (Murphy) also moved into the Arundel Lane residence as housekeeper and became mother to Mary for at least the next ten years…

Edmund with daughter MaryNo doubt, the single father shared with Joan the feeding, bathing and toilet training of young Mary, guided her first tenuous steps at walking and encouraged her experimenting with talking. Did he especially treasure that day when Mary attempted to call him ‘Dada’?...

Since the family residence was adjacent to the business, Rice probably shared most meals with his daughter. No doubt, as a toddler, she cheekily reconnoitred and negotiated her dad’s shop and soon became the darling of many of his clients. At night. like all children, she would have loved to listen to her dads lullabies and no doubt became enraptured by his embellished storytelling, for he was fond of jokes and had a great sense of humour. Indeed. Rice was later to earn himself a reputation among his confreres as a raconteur of note, and with a fine singing voice he liked to use.

Like so many educated fathers, Rice would have introduced Mary to reading in Irish and English and basic counting and arithmetic and of course, her prayers. Would not have Edmund told her about her own precious mum, who was now with God and the Blessed Virgin and the angels, and did not both of them, before young Mary closed her eyes at night, pray to her mum to intercede for them both?

Likewise, living in the middle of the docks, Mary was exposed to an exciting and contrasting world of ships and characters from every nationality that enriched her beyond book learning. No doubt, the young dad regularly had her perched on his shoulders explaining to her the many and various dynamics and oddities characteristic of bustling, commercial Waterford…

Is it entirely coincidental that during the early 1790s, while Rice was depthing the spiritual side of his life and simultaneously engaging in other charitable initiatives, the compassionate Father, Edmund Rice, continued the tradition he had established with his young wife of inviting into the home ‘the grown and wild youths on the streets’? But this time ‘he took boys into his own house [Arundel Lane] and began to teach and instruct them’. ‘Our family tradition has it that Edmund Rice, even when in business, took a big interest in the poor boys. He met them, advised and encouraged them, and instructed them in religion and citizenship’ (John Power in Normoyle). No doubt all this was done with the wide-eyed Mary sitting on Joan’s lap watching her dad becoming ‘a father and mother to other children?

It is likely that the incomparable experience of being a loving father to his ‘little girl’ was for Rice a contributing catalyst for a brotherhood, which would likewise aspire to provide a wholesome, liberating, life-giving education. This was the type of education, he had been providing for his own “delicate daughter” who was thriving on it. Moreover, Rice himself was thriving on being a dad. (see McLoughlin pp182-186)


Providential stay one night at a Country Inn

Icon Edmund Rice 12According to Garvan, Edmund may have been attracted towards marrying again, as his mother did, but God was calling him in another direction. Years later, he told the Presentation Sisters in Waterford something of the circumstances which led him to devote his life to the service of God.

One night, on one of his business trips, Edmund stayed at an inn and shared a room with a Friar. O'Toole suggests that this was Lawrence Callanan, the Franciscan who guided Nano Nagle and wrote her Rule in 1791.

Edmund was awakened during the night by the friar who spent practically the whole night praying. The experience made a profound impression on him. In this incident Edmund saw the finger of God and asked himself seriously whether he should live like this friar and give up his business. He had experienced how fragile can be the best joys of this World. So he resolved to give himself more to prayer and to lead a Monks life of retirement and contemplation.

The Rescue of the Slave Boy - John Thomas

During this period of Edmund’s life it was said of him that “the poor were the chief object of his attention - in fact this wonderful sympathy for Gods poor was one of his most distinctive characteristics."

Around the wharves of Waterford he saw many a sad plight among the poor. One particularly sorry sight was “Black Johnny”, a black slave boy, whom Edmund saw on a ship moored at the quay. He purchased the youth's freedom from the captain and sent him to the Presentation Sisters to be baptised and educated, subsequently providing him with a small house and the resources to set up a small business. The abolition of slavery in Britain would not occur for several more decades.

John Thomas embarked on a successful pig-rearing project, and lived in the Grace Dieu area on the outskirts of Waterford. He became a noted personality in the city and was widely known for his goodness. He left his two properties in his will to the Presentation Sisters and the Christian Brothers.


Edmund – Trustee of Various Charities

WaterfordThe first of many legal bequests for which Edmund became responsible was in connection with the Will of his father. Though a young man at the time of his father's death, he was the one, rather than any of his three older brothers, selected by Robert Rice to be the Executor of his Will. Soon afterwards he became involved in buying a plot of land for three Waterford women who had gone to Cork to join the Presentation Sisters, in anticipation of their return to establish a school for poor girls in 1800. Upon their return Edmund also became the Trustee of their dowries. In Thurles he became involved, with Archbishop Bray, in securing the bequest of the former Bishop, Dr. Butler, for the Presentation Sisters there.

Thus Edmund, early in his career, acquired a reputation for integrity and skill in commercial dealings. He was, therefore, asked to become a trustee for many charities and these came to form part of his life apostolate, right up to the end of his life.

The Anne Butler Charity owned two houses which accommodated 18 poor widows after the death of Mrs. Butler in 1770. The charity also distributed food and coal. Edmund was requested to become a trustee by Bishop John Power and he took on the role in 1818, insigating legal proceedings to attempt to recover the funds of the Charity which had almost been exhausted.

The Mary Power Charity administered the legacy of £14,000 left for the benefit of the poor people of Waterford in the Will of Mary Power in 1804. When her nephew challenged the Will, and a legal judgement sided with the family, deciding that bequests to Catholic Charities was illegal, Edmund ensured that the case was placed before the Attorney General, the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and the Court of Chancery. That case was won in June 1815 and Edmund became the administrator of the Fund providing for the "Asylum" and the support of the "distressed women" who resided there.

The Captain Foran Charity was administered by Edmund to provide accommodation for ten homeless persons.

The Catherine Muldowney Trust was also administered by Edmund after the death of Miss Muldowney.

In 1794 Edmund was one of the co-founders of the Distressed Roomkeepers’ Association. Its members were aware of the frightening poverty existing in the crowded slums of Waterford. They also knew there were a lot of elderly people living alone, uncared for and forgotten. Edmund and his associates began to search the city for these people and it was at this time that the wretched conditions of neglected boys became fully apparent to him.

Possibly as a result of visiting the homes of poor families, in 1798 Edmund was instrumental, with Dean Hearn, in founding the Trinitarian Orphan Society. They established a refuge in the large Congreve mansion near New Street. The refuge would provide home and education for fifty boys and fifty girls, all orphans. Later Bishop Power left him £50 in his will for the Society, showing that he continued to be personally involved in the work.

The Waterford Mendicity Asylum was established in 1821 to alleviate the suffering of people coming to the city looking for relief from the suffering caused by famine and crop failures. It was sponsored mainly by the wealthy non-Catholic elements of the community - its Patron was the Protestant Bishop and its President was the Protestant Mayor. Edmund Rice became a member of the Management Committee. The establishment was maintained by subscriptions paid by its members, along with donations and collections, bringing in an annual income of about £1,000. Edmund, until his death, was an annual subscriber of two guineas, and records show his ongoing donations of clothing, vegetables and meat.

A large three-storey building, situated beside St. John’s bridge, was rented to be the headquarters of the non-resident “Mendicant Asylum” and it was there that street beggars gathered each morning. On the upper floor two school-rooms were fitted out, for girls and boys, under the tuition of a paid master and assistant. The middle floor had workshops for spinning wool, weaving flax and knitting where women were employed most of the day, producing woollen and linen fabrics as well as canvas, sacks and mops for the local markets. The men and boys were employed cleaning the city streets in the mornings and later were engaged in grinding oyster shells and limestone, useful for improving soil in farming districts. Local doctors attended in rotation each week. Breakfast consisted of porridge and buttermilk, dinner was mainly potatoes. Milk and bread were reserved for nursing children and the sick. The Mayor sometimes sent meat and fish confiscated at the city markets to supplement the diet.

The happy first assembly of Members in 1822 recorded that 575 beggars had been supported during the first year and Edmund Rice seconded a resolution at the meeting thanking “the clergymen of the different religious persuasions in this city for their zealous co-operation”. At the AGM in 1831 two Protestant clergymen, Lawson and Ryland, proposed a resolution “That to the gentlemen of Mr. Rice's establishment we return our most cordial thanks for their prompt attendance on all Sundays and holidays at the Mendicant Asylum, to impart religious instruction to the male part of the inmates of the institution”.


Edmund's Friendship with Tadhg Gaelach Ó Súilleabháin

Tadhg Gaelach Ó Súilleabháin (1715-1795) was a wandering poet of irregular habits but a regular visitor to Edmund’s home in Arundel Place at this time. It is said that Edmund first met Tadhg at the Yellow House Inn, a centre for music and poetry a few kilometres from Waterford, and they sometimes had a Sunday-afternoon stroll together. Through Edmund’s influence his life was transformed. Before Tadhg died on the steps of the Cathedral in 1795 he had published, with Edmund’s help, a volume of deeply expressive poems. Indeed, with Edmund practical kindness and spirituality went hand in hand.

TGOSAccording to O'Dwyer Towards a History of Irish Spirituality (1995), Tadhg Gaelach was the most influential religious poet of the 18th century in Ireland. His contribution to the piety of the faithful in his own and succeeding generations cannot be stressed too strongly. The fact that his poems have seen at least 40 editions puts him poles apart from any other writer. He seems to have undergone a deep spiritual conversion around 1767. Most of his religious poetry was composed around Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. His poem "A Mhór-Mhic Chailce na soillse aoibhinn" is considered to be one of the best religious poems in Gaelic literature. Some of his poems were hymns sung to well-known Irish airs, such as "Duan Chroí Íosa" (available on YouTube). His hymns were a consolation, joy, source of counsel and spiritual direction for the ordinary people. It is believed that he died in the doorway of the cathedral in Waterford while saying his prayers, and a plaque has been erected there to remember him.


Years of spiritual growth and discernment

PortAccording to Houlihan, Edmund, being a young man without a wife and with an infant who needed extraordinary attention and care, was forced in his desolation to re-think his options for the years that lay ahead. He did not panic, nor did he lose confidence in a provident God.

Upon his return to Arundel Place, Edmund became more closely associated with the Jesuits who ran the parish of St. Patrick’s in Jenkin's Lane nearby. Frequently he was to be found in their Church in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. The new cathedral in the city had been opened in 1796. From his youthful days in Callan, Edmund had a great love for the Eucharist and for making visits to the Blessed Sacrament. The Waterford priests at St. Patrick's and Father John Power at St. John’s, became close friends of his. Father Nicholas Foran was another good friend. Bishop Lanigan and later on, Bishop Marum of his home diocese of Ossory and Bishop Hussey of Waterford were not only advisors of Edmund but close friends as well. From time to time he would discuss with them his desire to know what God’s will was for him and they encouraged him to continue praying and doing his works of charity. They assured him that the Lord would help him to find the answer to his questions about his future.

With the deepening of his faith, Edmund joined a small group of men (Rice, O’Brien, Carroll, St Leger, Quan) who, like himself, felt attracted to a more profound Christian commitment than that practised by the devout middle class. Later in life he would recall with gratitude the inspiration received from the support of this little group, drawn together by the common aim of spiritual growth. As well as their commitment to private prayer, spiritual reading and attendance at Mass, it was quite usual for Edmund to gather with this group of men to recite the Rosary in the evening and to organise charitable outreach to help poor people.

Edmund was careful to record all his personal expenses. In 1791 numerous purchases were made. However, £2 was spent on one item. In today's money this sum seems trivial, at that time it represented an enormous outlay. These few pounds were spent on possibly the most significant purchase Edmund ever made. He bought a Bible, a fifth edition of Dr. Troy's new bible, published the previous year, modernised by Fr. McMahon from the archaic English of Dr. Challoner's version of the Douay–Rheims bible. His name appears on the list of 1040 subscribers that paid for a special edition which was published in 1791. For the next fifty-three years of his life that Bible was read daily; quotations are used frequently in Mr Rice's writings; by Rule his Brothers read the Bible every day; the children in school were familiar with stories in both Old and New Testaments. It is not an exaggeration to state that the 1791 Bible changed Edmund's life. It is equally true that the Word of God sustained him all through life.

He drew up a list of passages from the bible that had a special application to his life as a merchant and he recorded them on the fly leaf of the sacred book. The texts he noted on the frontispiece reveal how the care of the poor, especially in bringing them some justice in their wretched state, was uppermost in his mind:

  • “Give to the one Who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who Wants to borrow.” Mt. 5: 42.
  • “But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the Wicked.” Lk. 6: 35.
  • “He who oppresses the poor to enrich himself will yield up his gains to the rich as sheer loss.” Prov. Z2: 16.
  • “You shall not demand interest from your countrymen on a loan of money or of food or of anything else on which interest is usually demanded.” Deut. Z3: Z0.
  • “If you lend money to one of your poor neighbours among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him.” Exod. 22: Z4.
  • “Who lends not his money at usury and accepts no bribe against the innocent.” Ps. 15: 5.

According to Garvan, from a close study of these short passages, one can get some insights into the soul of Edmund. One of them in particular seems to point to his present situation as a Christian merchant: “Lend without any hope of return.” (Luke 6:35). This quotation also must have had some implications on his final decision to sell his thriving firm in order to give his life to the poor.

(In 1818 Edmund bought a second bible, a copy of the recently published "McNamara's Bible")

St Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life was one of the principal spiritual books that nourished Edmund's spiritual growth, both as a lay man and as a religious. The Introduction has been described as "a masterpiece of psychology, practical morality and common sense". The reader's attention is immediately focussed on Christ in the book's dedicatory prayer: 'Live Jesus. Live Jesus. Yes, Lord Jesus, live and reign in our hearts forever and ever. Amen.' Later Edmund, remembering De Sales, eagerly adopted the De La Salle aspiration to be used in communities, ‘Live Jesus in our hearts, Forever.’

In 1793 Edmund Rice bought a book which he kept and used for the rest of his life. In the 1832 Rule it is one of the five spiritual books to be kept 'in common' for the Brothers. This was The Spiritual Combat by Lorenzo Scrupoli. The fifty chapters, described as a 'course of spiritual strategy' urged people living in the world, 'to meditate, to lead better lives and, as far as possible, to extend Christ's kingdom on earth.' The book' subtitle appealed to and made the tome relevant to the Founder: 'To all those who seek piety themselves and contribute to promote it in others'. Meanwhile he was also buying other spiritual books such as The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A'Kempis.

Origin reminds us that in 1783 Edmund "formed the design of erecting an Establishment for the gratuitous education of poor boys". Keogh (2008, p. 76) suggests that "perhaps at this early stage, then, the educational initiative may simply have been just another philanthropic project which Rice aspired to add to his care for the poor, the sick and the orphans of Waterford".

The influence of Nano Nagle and the Presentation Sisters

Edmund Rice garden NanoThe Presentation Sisters had been founded in Cove Lane, Cork, in 1775 by Nano Nagle to educate girls.

According to Austin Dunphy in Origin (the first written history of the Brothers, written in the 1820s) "About this time he (Edmund) had an opportunity of seeing the good effects of the Moral and Religious Education of the poor, in the conduct of the female children, who were instructed by the Presentation Nuns, who established themselves in this city in the year 1798. Mr. Rice now resolved on procuring a convenient site for the intended building. He decided on taking the piece of ground, which, at present, forms the Enclosure. Having the Leases perfected as may be seen by a reference to them, he commenced the building on the first day of June, 1802. About this time he was joined by two other young men, who intended to devote their lives to the gratuitous Education of poor boys".

It was said that Fr. John Power met a student of the sisters in the confessional in Waterford and was so impressed by her that he wanted to know more about the sisters who had educated her. While Nano had no sisters to send to Waterford, he arranged that three Waterford women would go to Cork to be trained and would return to Waterford to establish a convent and school. His own sister, Ellen, his widowed sister-in-law and a friend returned to Waterford in 1798.

While they were in Cork, Edmund Rice had leased a site for them to build their convent and school at Hennessy's Road. He later helped them to invest their dowries and put their enterprise on a solid footing.

Together with his own spiritual growth and his friendships with priest and bishops, this was one more influence in the shaping of Edmund's dream. When he did begin to build in 1802, he did so just across the road from the Hennessy's Road site.


A woman challenges Edmund regarding his proposed venture?

According to Garvan, the idea of joining a religious order had been maturing in Edmund, especially since his experience with the prayerful friar in the country inn. But the added desire in Edmund to found an order which would uplift poor youth through education took longer to mature. A number of traditions have been passed down to us around a significant incident of Edmund with a woman in Waterford. This encounter prompted him to move into education.

20200618 123545One account narrates that to his step-sister, Joan Murphy, he expressed the intention of going to Europe for this purpose (of entering a monastery). She said: “It would be better for you to stay at home and devote yourself and your money to educating and instructing Irish boys”.

According to The Biographical Register (1845), anonymous yet written by the hand of Br John Austin Grace, "one day as he was walking our from Waterford with his mind full of his pilgrimage to Rome, his attention was attracted to a number of poor boys who were playing on the roadside. Having questioned them on the causes of their not being in school, and having also ascertained their ignorance of the saving truths of out holy religion, and knowing, moreover, that in most instances irreligion and the vice proceeded from this ignorance, he was forcibly struck with the necessity of an institution which would afford a religious and gratuitous education to the poor of the city".

The tradition of the Brothers at Mount Sion regarding this incident is given to us by Brother Regis Hughes who wrote in 1911: “He was determined to give up everything for the love of God and become a lay-brother among the Augustinians in Rome of which Order his brother John was then a member.” To this end Edmund “made known his intention to a woman in Waterford whose advice he used to take on all important matters. She, evidently inspired by the Holy Spirit, asked him if it would not be better to do something for Waterford similar to what Nano Nagle had first done for the poor girls of the city of Cork. The suggestion sank deep into the heart of Mr. Rice”.

Hill (1920) and McCarthy (1926), following the tradition of the Presentation Sisters, attributes the advice to "Miss Power", presumed to be the sister of his friend Fr. John Power. It was said that while waiting for fr. Power at his home in Manor Street, his sister poited out a commotion in hte street outside where a group of youths were fighting and shouting. "It would be a strange and inconsistent thing for you to travel leagues of land and sea, and shut yourself up in a monastery in some distant place, while the sons of your poor countrymen at home are utterly unacquainted with the rudiments of divine or human knowledge, and running wild through the town, without a school or a teacher... Would it not be far more meritorious work, and far more exalted, to devote your life and your wealth to the instruction of these poor neglected children than to bury yourself in some Continental religious House?". Hill goes on to add "but by the way the Founder moved among the poor of Waterford, he had more opportunities of knowing the educational wants of the poor of the city than Miss Power had."

The good advice of this lady (whoever she was), uttered at a favourable opportunity, caused Edmund to make up his mind to devote himself and all he possessed to the project of educating poor youth.

According to McLoughlin, a brief diversion is warranted concerning the assertion that Joan Murphy, Rice’s half-sister, was the woman whose opinion was supposedly influential in his decision to found a teaching brotherhood… Rice himself relayed to the Waterford Presentation Nuns the influence of a “Waterford lady” on his initial decision making. In fact, an analysis of interview transcripts indicates that in addition to the Presentation Nuns’ version, there are at least eight separate sources commenting upon Rice consulting a woman or friends…

It is simplistic to think that Rice’s religious vocation was cavalierly dependent upon the urgings of the Waterford lady, as some of the above quotations imply. They suggest that he was blind to the ravages of the poor around him and it was the Waterford lady’s provocations which sensitised him to that reality. While no doubt Rice did seek counsel from the Waterford lady, it seems reasonable to conclude, that the content of this counsel would have concerned the prudence of his incipient ideas and the implications that these would have on his immediate family. Rice was noted for his exceptional reserve and privacy and it would have been contrary to his nature to share outside the family circle how the personal tragedy of his wife and his own compassion for poor children were driving him to action. Consequently, it seems probable that the Waterford lady was Joan Murphy, his step-sister, the woman with whom he shared home for near on thirty years.

Rice’s mother had given birth to seven boys in close succession and clearly the two older half-sisters held responsibilities with the mother in caring for their younger brothers. Joan Murphy had considerable experience in child-raising before she came to live in Arundel Lane as home-maker to her brother. As a result, there was a long-established intimacy between brother and sister. Living in Arundel Lane, Joan witnessed and shared in Rice’s personal traumas. At this time she probably was his closest friend. It is unlikely that the very private Rice would have gone beyond the family for intimate consultation. Likewise, he would have gone to someone whose judgement he valued and who would have been influenced by the implementation of his tentative plans. In addition to her family position and her wisdom of years and experience, it is to be remembered that she had invested £500 in Rice’s business.

Edmund Rice garden Mary PowerFor these reasons, Joan seems to be the most likely Waterford lady who would have acted as his personal confidante in his decision making. This matter is inconclusive and clearly open to debate. Nevertheless, it should be recalled that this consultation occurred sometime in 1793 or 1794, for, supposedly having gained Joan’s positive counsel, Rice sought ecclesial advice from Bishop James Lanigan in 1794.

According to Austin Dunphy, in the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety three, Mr. Edmund Rice of the City of Waterford formed the design of erecting an Establishment for the gratuitous Education of poor hoys. In the following year he communicated his intention on this subjects to some friends, and particularly to the Right Reverend Doctor James Lanigan, Roman Catholic Bishop of Ossory, who strongly recommended to him to carry this intention into effect; and assured him that in his opinion it proceeded from God. From this time forward Mr. Rice did not lose sight of the object he had III view; though from various causes, he did not commence the building till the year 1802.

According to James Foley (1949, Memories) "I recollect it being said that Edmund Rice was in deep doubt as to his future life after the death of his wife and that a Quaker friend of his in Waterford advised him to begin his work of charity amongst the poor of Waterford".

According to Mary Whittle (1949): Long ago great piles of timber used be stacked on the Quays, Waterford. Around these timber piles groups of wild, uncared for youths used collect. Mr. Rice became interested in the boys. He used talk to them and advise them; some of them used laugh and jeer at him. Others were interested in what he had to say. These he gradually began to teach in the evenings. After some time he collected them for instruction in New Street where he began his first school. He carried on this work for a time during the evenings while he devoted his attention to business affairs during the day. Whilst engaged in this charity there was generated in him the seed from which developed his vocation. He was very devoted to his wife and he felt her death most keenly. He was contemplating going to some religious house on the Continent when he was confirmed by the advice of a Nun to devote his energy and wealth to the education of the poor. After providing for his child he embarked on his great work.


More steps along the way

Icon Edmund Rice 10In 1795, on the death of his uncle Michael, Edmund inherited the business which was in a thriving condition mainly due to Edmund’s leadership. Edmund was made an executor of his uncle’s will, and he left money for Edmund to distribute in charity at his own discretion. Edmund continued to care for the poor.

In 1796 Thomas Hussey became Bishop of Waterford after a prestigious international career. He was to be the first Bishop to reside in the city since 1652, reflecting a new confidence among Catholics. In 1797 he wrote a pastoral letter which, among other things, condemned in no uncertain terms the way poor Catholics were lured from their faith by the promise of financial and educational rewards for their children if they became Protestants.He urged the Catholic priests to "stand firm against all attempts which may be made under various pretexts to withdraw any of your flocks from the belief and practice of the Catholic religion". The reaction of the authorities was to cause the bishops expulsion from Waterford, but in Edmund it further deepened his resolve to do something significant and effective to help right the wrongs of poor Catholic boys, to offer an alternative to the endowed schools through free Catholic education. He had previously discussed similar ideas with Bishop Langan of Kilkenny.

These were years of discernment for Edmund as he tried to sift just where the Spirit was leading him. To re-marry, to carry on in his business while still helping the poor, to found an order to help overcome, through education, the injustice meted out to the poor, especially through the programmed ignorance being enforced, all of these good possibilities were tested in his prayer and in his energy for life. And over all of these was his desire to care properly for his daughter, Mary. No wonder his spiritual life deepened as prayer, sharing in the daily Eucharist, reading of the Bible and spiritual books, increased help to the poor in many ways, all intensified over this period of his life, and brought him to an ever deepening relationship with his God.

According to Keogh (2008, p. 91) "Inspired by Nano Nagle's example, and galvanised by Bishop Hussey's advocacy of Catholic education, Rice put ideas of a contemplative life behind him and embarked on a mission to do for hte neglected poor Catholic boys of Waterford what Nano Nagle had done for the girls of Cork".

He sold his buisness to his friend Thomas Quan and with the proceeds bought a 3-acre site at Ballybricken where he would build a school.


Philosophies of Education at the Time of Edmund Rice

According to McLoughlin, The Price of Freedom:
The conservative social control view
Around Rice’s time, there still lingered the belief that education for the lower classes was a waste of effort and, moreover, a decidedly dangerous activity to promote. Indeed, some construed it to be an assault on the divine will and the stability of the kingdom: “The Almighty has willed that each man should be content in his station, because it is necessary that some should be above others in this world”

In France in 1763, King Louis XV’s Attorney, Louis-Rene de Caradeuc, criticised the education provided by the Jesuits and particularly the De La Salle Brothers because they encouraged middle class pretensions among the lower classes:
“They teach reading and writing to people who should never have learned more than a little drawing or how to handle tools. The good of society requires that the lower classes’ knowledge should go no further than their occupations. No man who can see beyond his depressing trade will ply it with patience and courage.”

Consequently, this educational philosophy suppressed within the poor any aspiration towards upward social mobility, convincing them to be content with their station in life. Failing to honour such a clearly evident, God-given axiom was often thought by the proponents of this conservative philosophy to be the ultimate reasons for the horrors of the French Revolution and certainly in their view was the mid-wife for the tyrant Napoleon Bonaparte…

Consequently, it is not surprising that the view that educating the poor was a futile endeavour was hurled at Edmund Rice by a friend and colleague, at the very beginning of his education endeavour. One prominent Protestant who resided in the then No.1 New Street, a Mr. Compton, a friend and admirer of Mr. Rice, thought he would reason with him on What he considered a most foolish project. He told Mr. Rice that he was but wasting his time on such a hopeless task and that he could see no chance of success for him besides a man of his business ability should not be squandering his energies on such work; that if the boys carried out the behests of their clergy in religious matters what more did they want? Why education for such
as these? This was no callous question from Mr Compton, for, from a late eighteenth century perspective, poor children were scarcely recognised as human beings. They had few rights and legally were seen primarily as their parents’ chattels, which they could use (or abuse) at
whim.

Moreover, even innovators thought of education of the lower classes as a distinct attack on social progress. Isanibard Brunel, the civil engineer responsible for the construction of much of the nineteenth century British railway system, offered the following view on the education of the poor.

“I am not one to sneer at education, but I would not give 6d. in hiring an engineman because of his knowing how to read or write. I believe that of the two, the non-reading man is best. If you are going five or six miles without anything to attract your attention, depend upon it you will begin thinking of something else. It is impossible that a man who indulges in reading should make a good engine driver; it requires a species of machine, an intelligent man, a sober man, but I would much rather not have a thinking man.”

The Liberal social control view
While the conservative social control philosophy was shared by a minority of educated persons, the liberal social control view was far more popular among politicians, clergy and the educated classes. Such a philosophy advocated education for the lower classes in order to make them satisfied and contented with their lowly position in society, thereby generating national stability…

Ironically, liberals, like conservatives perceived the French Revolution as providing a rationale to buttress the legitimacy of their perspective… Clearly, something had to be done to abort the gestation of such a calamity in the British Isles. For the English politician, Britain’s Achilles’ heel in the pursuit of national political stability was Ireland: “At the end of the eighteenth century poverty [in Ireland] was widespread. It is estimated that over two million people were at near starvation level, and it is on record that that destitution was widespread in the country for about thirty out of the fifty-two weeks of the year. There was no legal provision for the poor, the aged and infirm; they could only rely on charity” (O’Connor cited in McLoughlin)

Ireland was a tinder box inviting a careless spark. Consequently, it was not surprising that Chief Secretary for Ireland, Thomas Orde, in 1787 publicly advocated in parliament that the government apply education as a social control. For him, educating the lower classes was strategic, because as “rude as these materials may be, they are still the foundation of the superstructure of the state”. As a result, it was believed that education should focus on teaching the poor their duties and responsibilities towards society, their respect and obedience to lawful authority, as well as to provide the incentive to those who are frugal, diligent and God-fearing to attain a rank “superior to that which fortune has allotted them” (Orde, cited in McLoughlin)

It was not surprising that in 1792, fearing a French invasion, the Association for Discountenancing Vice and Promoting Religion was authorised “to draw on Government funds to subsidise the schools where Protestant clergymen and teachers were striving to make the Irish more law abiding, industrious and temperate."’

Both these philosophies of education are premised on social manipulation and control. In crude terms, the education of the poor was seen as essentially about ensuring the social elites maintained and enhanced their power. The so-called rudimentary education given to the lower classes became embedded with a curriculum that reinforced conservative values and legitimised exploitatory practices. The politicians were not alone in playing the education card for their own political gains. Some churchmen came to view education as an enticing strategy for religious sheep stealing or repelling such initiatives.

… Waterford in 1802 was relatively well provided with schools for the rich and middle classes and for some poor children, beyond catechism, but for the vast majority of poor children there were few educational facilities available. This problem was considered minor, because being poor and being children, positioned this class on the lowest rung of society. Moreover, government, society or church did not believe in providing a substantial education to such as these to be an appropriate measure. Those who held alternative perspectives viewed the provision of education as a means to control and manipulate the poor. With few exceptions, the churches considered education as an agency to proselytise or to combat proselytism.

Rice rejected all of these views concerning the provision of education to the poor. Education for Rice was a means for the poor to have the possibility of reaching the potential for a fuller humanity. He believed that children who had been schooled would become more effective adults, while the lot of the uneducated would be further marginalisation as industrialisation, newspapers, and later “railways and the telegraph brought the World to Hibernia”. (Jordan cited in McLoughlin) (see McLoughlin pp126-134)


1802 Edmund decides to act - he begins a night-school at New Street

Thirteen years after the death of his wife, Edmund made his first definitive move towards making a reality of his dream to right the injustices of the poor. His wife had inherited some livery stables and a hay store in 'Elliots Yard' in New Street, where visitors to the city stabled their horses and coaches. Edmund, in 1802, had them renovated, and began a night school for 'street kids', while still carrying on his business by day. Six boys attended his first class, but soon Edmund was overwhelmed with boys seeking learning. His two volunteer assistants, one of whom was Thomas Quann, could not endure the labours involved in teaching such unruly boys.

He took on two assistants, paid for out of his own pocket. But they too gave up and told him that not for all the money in the world could they stay any longer with those uncontrollable boys. Edmund was now alone not only unable to cope but also facing the criticism of his business associates for his foolhardy venture. However, not all of them were so critical, for some put pressure on the Protestant Bishop to give Edmund permission to start a school when first he had refused. But God was not to be thwarted. Unexpectedly two men from Edmund’s native Callan, Thomas Grosvenor and Patrick Finn, came not only to help him in the school but also to join him in his enterprise of founding a religious congregation.

According to McLoughlin, Rice’s education ministry in New Street in 1802 seemed unplanned. Accommodation and furniture had to be rapidly acquired and the schooling process developed in a very ad hoc way, with problems concerning both masters and children. The “seating accommodation in Br Rice’s school was very limited apparently, because he used send some of his boys out to the neighbours in search of forms, the number depending on the number of pupils. Each evening they returned the forms to their owners”. (Prince in Normoyle)

This apparent disorder, upsetting to New Street neighbours such as Mr. Compton, was uncharacteristic of Rice, and starkly contrasts the meticulous preparation expended with the development of the Mount Sion school and monastery. Indeed, it is very probable that his business acumen had led Rice to identify the land where he would build his future school and monastery years before 1802, a position Keane supports: “I am convinced that during the years between 1796 and 1798 when his friend Fr. Power was trying to fix up the Nuns at Hennessy’s Road, he had formed the idea of getting for his own work the premises, Mount Sion, across Hennessy’s Road from the Nun’s Convent” (Keane in O’Toole) In 1802, Rice, “who was not yet forty years old, and in full maturity of his physical and mental powers” (O’Toole), opened his school in New Street, and also lived over the school in New Street for a short time… Oral tradition universally concludes that he did not intend to establish a permanent school in New Street’. So the questions to ponder are: Why 1802? And why New Street?

The answers would seem to be focused on the most precious person in his life, his daughter Mary. It is clear that from 1793 Rice planned a teaching brotherhood, but that he embarked on it in 1802. His love and responsibilities to his only child claimed indisputable priority. That would seem the obvious reason that curtailed any prior substantial engagement in his proposed education initiative. What may have happened quite unexpectedly was that his younger brother Richard urgently needed assistance with his growing family (to number eventually nine) and requested that the teenage Mary help his own young wife with the children. It was an unforeseen plea, but both Edmund and his daughter seemed to believe that Mary’s relocation to her Uncle Richard’s farm was an unwritten obligation to be honoured in the extended Rice family. It was around this time, or just before, that Joan, Edmund’s almost 50-year-old half-sister, left Arundel Lane to marry.

Not having to be directly responsible for Mary meant Rice was free to commence immediately his education project. The evidence implies that Rice did not anticipate the start would be 1802 or in a venue not Ballybricken. This is a possible explanation concerning Rice’s initiating his venture at New Street, a venue that had never been planned to be permanent. (see McLoughlin pp134, 135)


Edmund provides for his daughter as she grows up

According to McLoughlin, Mrs. Rice gave birth to a daughter Mary, born in mid-January 1789, when Edmund Rice was 26 years of age. Unlike Rice’s religious Brothers, “most of the old [Callan] people here knew that Edmund Rice was married; both of my parents saw his daughter. It was thought that shew as delicate. As a young girl she is believed to have spent some time in Westcourt with her father’s relatives. I recall the old people referring to her and wondering what had happened to her, as some of them remembered seeing her as a grown girl, she was often alluded to in conversations. Some people thought she entered a convent” (John Holden, quotes in Normoyle)

… Like her mother and her second cousin Richard Rice junior, Rice’s daughter “became delicate” a term of imprecise meaning. For example, an entry in the North Richmond Street Annals states: ‘”27 February 1838, the Founder being in delicate health retired for repose [From Richmond Street] to our house, Mount Sion, Waterford”. The same word is used describing some of the early Brothers. “The Christian Brothers were very poor in Cork first. Some of them who had joined the Society had been delicately brought up.” In particular, Br Bernard Duggan is described as a man having “a delicate constitution”. Br Joseph Murphy described some Brothers as delicate…

What is clear is that the word does not mean physical or mental retardation. None of these examples suggest any form of disability. The Brothers’ investigator of Ricean history, Br Berchmans Cullen, concluded that “it was never said among the old people of Callan that she [Mary] was incapacitated in any way or that she was mentally defective”. If Mary had any sign of mental incapacity, then it would be reasonable to expect that the Callan people would have relayed this observation to their interviewer.

The mental incapacity at birth scenario concerning Rice’s daughter originated in 1929 with Sr. ]osephine’s assertion that Mrs Rice fell from a horse in her final stages of pregnancy causing the newly-born infant daughter some sort of intellectual incapacity. This story came to light 140 years after the event without corroborating witnesses and it is in contrast to the consistency of the Callan evidence which fails to mention any physical or mental disability concerning Mary Rice.The most likely conclusion concerning Mary’s health was that she was delicate, lacking a robust constitution, but strong enough to live seventy years, considerably beyond the average Irish life expectancy of the time of thirty-eight years…

One wonders if young Mary had acquired epilepsy, and that it became more pronounced later in life. Likewise, she may have had a stroke. In- deed, an old Callan woman named Statia Cuddihy says that “his daughter became delicate" (my emphasis), implying she was not always that way.

… One may well inquire what happened to Mary Rice when her father followed his calling in earnest in 1802. Mary was 13 at the time. In normal circumstances, in the next few years she would have left home and married, since most young Irish girls married between 15 and 17 years. The teenager Mary went in 1802 to live with Edmunds younger brother Richard, his wife Bridget (nee Egan) and their young family. Richard cultivated a farm in Killaloe, two kilometres from Callan. He held a mortgage on the property with a loan of £167 from his brother Edmund.

Traditional interpretations of this account suggest that when the father decided to initiate the Brothers, he sent the young incapacitated Mary to her Uncle Richard to be cared for. But once again an examination of the facts offers an alternative interpretation.

Until this time, Mary had been living with her father and her aunt Joan. Joan was the first daughter of Mrs Rice senior. Edmund was the fourth son of the second marriage. Mrs Rice senior was married to Robert Rice, Edmund’s father, relatively quickly after the death of her husband, since she had two infant daughters to care for as well as the conduct of a large farm. Given this information, it is reasonable to speculate that Joan was between eight and twelve years Edmund’s senior. When Rice at the age of40 commenced his ‘school’ in New Street in l802, Joan was probably around 48 to 50 years of age. It is known she married and had a daughter. The possibility has to be entertained that, given her biological clock, Joan had left her brother’s household some years earlier to marry, leaving the 10- or 11-year-old Mary the ‘lady’ in charge of the Edmund Rice household.

In any event, the most likely person to care for a ‘disabled’ Mary would have been Joan, even after her marriage. Mary and Joan would have been particularly close, with Joan clearly having fulfilled the role of mother for Mary. So it seems logical that if Rice wanted to place his disabled daughter into the care of anyone, it should have been Joan, the only ‘mother’ young Mary experienced.

The question to ponder is: why did Mary go to live with Rice’s younger brother Richard? In 1802, at the age of13, Mary was considered a blossoming young woman. Edmund’s brother, Richard was managing his farm single-handedly, with his wife trying to raise her growing young family, eventually to become nine children. Such a situation does not of itself appear the most likely home into which a mentally and physically disabled girl could be integrated appropriately. If she were so incapacitated, the place for her to go would seem to have been with Joan, Mary’s then long-term surrogate mother, or Patrick Rice, Edmund’s second eldest brother, in his early forties and who was farming Westcourt with his childless wife Mary (nee Sullivan), while caring for his elderly mother.

In Ireland, and in other cultures, fosterage was a customary tradition in that the children of siblings were often cared for by a variety of aunts and uncles. Indeed, permitting a childless couple to raise a child from another family member was seen as an act of great compassion. For these reasons, it seems far more appropriate to send a ‘disabled’ Mary to Aunty Joan, her husband and little daughter or to Uncle Patrick and his wife.

20200618 123843What does seem likely is that the ‘delicate’ Mary was at an age and of sufficient capacity to proyide real assistance to young Mrs Richard Rice with a rapidly expanding young family. So it is proposed that Richard broached the issue with Edmund about Mary becoming part of his family to assist him and his wife care for her many younger cousins.

There is further tentative evidence to entertain this alternative interpretation. In 1816, at the age of 27, Mary went to live with her uncle, Patrick, Edmund’s second eldest brother, and his wife at Westcourt. Patrick would have been in his late fifties at this time. Mr and Mrs Patrick Rice were hardly an ideal couple to care for a mentally and physically incapacitated adult. Consequently, one might speculate if the unmarried Mary again was requested to provide some assistance for an elderly childless couple, who were barely coping on a farming homestead. But this is speculation. What is factual is that Mary lived at Westcourt with her aunt and uncle until around April 1825, when Aunt Mary became invalided or died. Uncle Patrick died in 1833 (see McLoughlin pp52-56)


1803 Mount Sion, Edmund’s first permanent foundation at Ballybricken

Mount Sion 3According to Houlihan, with the funds obtained from the sale of his provisioning concern, Edmund Rice purchased a plot of land on the south side of Waterford. This was close to the Ballybricken home where he had lived with his wife for those few years they enjoyed together. Nor was it far from the Presentation Nuns whom he had helped with the establishing of their convent and school. In fact there was a narrow passageway known as “Hennessy’s Lane” connecting the two properties so that Edmund and his community could use this pathway to go to the convent for daily Mass. Brother Rice's new school would be on an elevated site in the working-class district where once the thatched Faha chapel had stood.

It would take almost two years before the new school was ready for occupancy. In the meantime, classes bulging with raucous youngsters, continued at the New Street make-shift school. Edmund and his little community of Brothers, as they taught, worked and prayed together were at the same time getting to know each other and making plans for their move up the hill.

Bishop Thomas Hussey was pleased that there would now be a new and permanent tuition-free school for boys from Waterford’s poorest families. When the construction work was well on its way, Edmund noticed that the Bishop had become rather cool and distant, not as friendly as he had been. Upon inquiring and discussing this with his good friend, Fr John Power, he found that there were rumours going around the city that Edmund Rice was moving to this new site in order to be completely independent of Church authorities. Of course, this was not true, but apparently Bishop Hussey thought it was. Edmund decided to bring the deed to the property to the Bishop’s residence and to sign it over to him in his presence and to confirm that he was committed to live and work under the jurisdiction of the local bishop. Bishop Hussey was touched by this humble and generous gesture on the part of Edmund Rice.” “Go on my dear friend, and prosper,” said Bishop Hussey; “I want no deed. I know of no one better fitted to administer your property than yourself. I am quite satisfied. You and your work shall ever have my warmest support and protection." (ref. Burke) The Bishop resumed his interest in the undertaking and in his report to Rome spoke in glowing terms of Edmund Rice’s community of teaching brothers, the success of their school on New Street and the project of expansion they had begun.

Meantime Edmund started the building of a proper school, and a house for his small community. The Brothers moved into their new residence on June 7th, 1803 after it had been blessed by Dr. Hussey who had returned from exile. He  suggested the name "Mount Sion" because the situation of the building reminded him of Mount Sion in Jerusalem. Indeed Edmund was bringing about the establishment of a “new Jerusalem”. Mount Sion consisted of two classrooms downstairs with seven bedrooms for the Brothers above. The bedrooms were small and contained little furniture – a bed, a stool, a table and a few religious emblems. The head of the wooden bed titted into a recess in the thick wall, and an alcove served as a wardrobe. In his Relatio to Rome at the end of June, the bishop reported that "Already a monastery has been built where dwell four holy men who request approval of a Rule when it will appear advisable to the Holy See". The four were Edmund, Thomas Grosvenor, Patrick Finn and John Mulcahy.

Later in 1803 Dr. Hussey died suddenly, and in May, 1804 the new bishop, Edmund's friend John Power, blessed the new school. The large classrooms measured 20 metres by 9 metres. The classrooms were overcrowded from the start, and wooden huts had to be built. Open-air classes were also held for two to three hundred boys, with a play-shelter alongside. The complex included a bakery with a tailorshop above.

Edmund Rice was an exceedingly busy man. Not only was he engaged in teaching and providing clothes and bread, he was faced with the twin task of drawing up Rules of Religious Life for his intended congregation, and also devising a system of education - how to handle swarming, large classes in the most effective way! 1n addition, as a well-known businessman of property, he was constantly in demand for drawing up and witnessing wills and deeds of conveyance. We can only assume that his life as an outstandingly successful businessman, accustomed to handling a variety of calls and demands, in the large and varied aspects of having to supply ships with their requirements, that this experience and training stood him in good stead.  That he was eminently practical was proved by his business success. It was now seen in the practical rules he drew up for his new system of teaching and also in the Religious Rules he outlined which would suit the Irish character and temperament of his companions. These Religious Rules would encapsulate his own spirit and vision; here he had a clear field as his was to be the first congregation for men to be founded in Ireland. 

BakehouseJames O'Rourke of Peter St, Waterford recalled in 1912:
Not only did Brother Rice educate the poor but he fed them also as he was a man of unbounded charity. A few days since I visited Mount Sion schools. I noticed the old Bake House where the bread was baked and distributed to the poor and hungry. The buildings are all changed and improved with the progress of time but this old house stands alone to speak out after the lapse of ages of the charity of Brother Rice.

On the Mount Sion site Edmund had built a bake house and tailors shop to feed and dress the students. The Mount Sion account books indicate that Rice purchased large stocks of material then in use: ratteen – a kind of tweed manufactured extensively in Carrick-on-Suir; dowlas – a coarse calico, the durable corduroy, and lesser quantities of linen.

In the year 1913 the amount of material purchased was as follows:

Ratteen 365 yards @ 1s 4d a yard
Dowlas 286 yards @ 1s 4d a yard
Corduroy 181¾ yards @ 3shillings a yard
Linen 262 yards @ 1s 7d a yard

He employed a tailor making clothes for poor boys. It is clear from the Mount Sion account book that at times the number of tailors employed rose to six or seven. Among the tailors employed were Power, Corcoran, Brown, Wells, Boyd, Thomas Power, Mary Wells and Mr. FloodIt is evident from two items listed that the number of suits made must have been very large:
“For making 95 coats and 91 trousers - £9-6s.
“For making 42 suits and trimmings - £4-8s.

As this charity became known in the City of Waterford, although no appeal had been made to the public, subscriptions were received from both Catholics and Protestants. For the ten years 1813-1822 the total outlay was £1,284-5s-21/2d while the donations were £1,178-13s-31/2d. Edmund’s charity for the poor inspired his fellow citizens to generosity.

Suppliers:
Rateen: Thomas Morris, Carrick-on-Suir
Shirts: Edmund/Edward Bulger
Shoes: William Sullivan, James Sullivan

From the Mount Sion Account Book 1825 - 4 January:
40 pair of breeches @ 1/6 £3 – 0 – 0.
42 coats made by J Power &c £1 – 18 - 0
83 yards of linen @ 83/4 £3 - 0 - 6
20 yards Linen @ 83/4 sent to Mendicity 14s 7d

Accompanying Prisoners to the Scaffold

 

TowerOne constant reality that surrounded Edmund during his life was famine and famine fever. There was dysentery, typhoid, typhus, hunger and disease all around. These evils were the fruits of injustice, of political and historical circumstances. Official commissions investigating the conditions of prisons in Edmund’s time produced horrifying reports of suffering, misery, disease, severity, punishments and violence. Death sentences were common in those days and we know that, for example, some 130 persons were hanged in Co. Cork between 1767 and 1806 – 32 for murder and 98 for theft – while 202 were transported.

Edmund saw destitute rural families trudging homeless, after famine and failure on the land, into the towns where their hope of a new life were but a dream. The doors of coaches and carriages arriving in Waterford were surrounded by hordes of beggars. He sympathised with those who fell under the strong arm of the law and his practice of visiting prisons was well known in Waterford. For Edmund and the early Brothers, this ministry included accompanying condemned men on their way to the gallows.

He visited three jails in the city: the one in Reginald’s Tower for bankrupt men and their families who depended for food and fuel on the charity of passers-by, one at St. John’s Bridge close to the place of public executions where desperate sheep stealers and highwaymen lay awaiting a public hanging, and Bottamy Jail close to Mount Sion where the “fortunate” awaited transportation by slow and filthy sailing ship to a world unknown at the other end of the earth. It is recorded in his account books that, while visiting one prison at Christmas 1808, he gave away 42 half-crowns (two shillings and sixpence) to the prisoners.

The ministry to prisoners continued among the early generations of Brothers and the Dublin Pilot newspaper of March 23rd, 1836, referred to the execution of two convicts who were accompanied on their way to the scaffold "by two Brothers of the Christian Schools".

In 1829 the famous trial of two wood-sawyers, Michael Mellon and Thomas McGrath, for the death of Thomas Hanlon, was held in Dublin and drew public attention as it related to early attempts by workers to form trade unions and the attempts by employers to resist any form of worker organization. The two prisoners, in the eyes of the government and the employers, were not simply criminals but radical social agitators. On the death of Hanlon, the government was determined to get rid of these dangerous radicals. To be seen on the scaffold in the company of these two notorious agitators must have seemed to many Brothers as open to misunderstanding, and one would have expected some division of opinion among them as to the propriety of appearing with people being labelled as violent labour conspirators at a time when the Brothers were appealing for financial support among the employers and the Catholic middle-class.

The newspapers reported that "the men were attended by two monks of the Hanover Street establishment". The trial had lasted no more than two days. It began on Thursday, Nov. 5th., and by Saturday afternoon both men had been hanged. The Dublin Evening Post (Nov. 10th) reported that "the two monks were unremitting in their attentions to the convicts from the moment of their condemnation until the last moment of their earthly existance". The Freeman's Journal added that Mellon and McGrath "repeatedly expressed their heartfelt acknowledgements for the spiritual consolation administered to them by these pious individuals. On the night before their execution, the monks remained with the convicts... in their cells until a late hour. When they withdrew, Mellon put out the light and retired to rest. They slept for about an hour".

(Though we are not sure of the identity of these two Brothers, one is, most likely, Bernard Dunphy, like Edmund he was a native of Callan, and he joined the Brothers in 1816. He became the Director in Hanover Street in 1822 and was there until 1842).

Early on the Saturday morning, Nov. 7th., according to the Dublin Evening Post, the two Brothers returned to Newgate prison to be with the two condemned until their execution later in the day in front of a crowd of 7,000. About 12.30 the prisoners were led out of their cell, and while Mellon was "quite composed", McGrath was in a very disturbed state, agitated and trembling, almost fainting when he caught a glimpse of the scaffold mechanism of ropes and pulleys. The reports tell us they "displayed fortitude and responded audibly and firmly" the responses to the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus, a prayer that Edmund had inculcated in the early Brothers.

(Ten years later, in 1840, William Lynam, the President of the sawyers union, was sentenced to death for the murder of Hanlon and was later transported for life. It was discovered that the chief witness against them had been a police informer who claimed the bounty for their capture. We don't fully know why Mellon and McGrath did not protest their innocence.)


1808 - The new community begins to take shape, First Vows

According to Houlihan, by 1802 the transition was made but Edmund’s temporary New Street school in Waterford was just a stepping stone to the kind of school he hoped to build. The teachers he paid did not stay with him very long. The Waterford street-boys turned “students” were too much for them. Before the year was up, Edmund found himself quite alone. His decision had run into its first snag. What could he now do under these circumstances? More decisions had to be made. Should he return to the business world? Maybe he should look for a monastery some place where, in peace, he could commune with the Lord.

He had heard that in some places men who were teaching in Catholic schools were forming groups who lived and prayed together. Local people called them “Monks” although they were not under vows or members of a religious order. Edmund, alone with 200 boys to teach, probably discussed his situation with his brother, John, who had recently returned from Italy. The idea of “Monks” (Catholic lay-teachers) living together in small hovels was giving pastors and bishops ideas about founding orders of men who would teach in the schools of their parishes.”

It may have been through his brother John that two Callan men volunteered their services to teach in the New Street school. Thomas Grosvenor and Patrick Finn had spoken to John and the priest advised them to join up with Edmund for a while, to do some teaching and to make a decision about their vocation after the experience. Now, Edmund had the makings of a religious community or brotherhood. The three lived together, prayed in common and taught in the school. This was the beginning of Edmund Rice's “Fratres Monachi” (Brother Monks) as they were called in the first official documents issued by Rome in 1820.

Meanwhile he was in dialogue with Dr. Power, hoping to get the bishop's official recognition and that his small community be allowed to make public vows. Eventually the bishop agreed. The Presentation Sisters had made their solemn vows in Waterford in 1806 and the Patrician Brothers did likewise under Bishop Delaney in Carlow early in 1808. So, on August 15th, 1808, Edmund and seven companions made annual vows under the Constitution of the Presentation Brothers. Edmund took the religious name Ignatius after his patron, St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Founder of the Jesuits.

Earlier, Bishop Hussey had informed the Pope of the existence of Rice's community in 1803 when he wrote “that a few men have been formed into a Society who eagerly desire to bind themselves by the three solemn vows of chastity, poverty and by obedience under rules similar to those of the Sisters". Now the new bishop, Dr. Power, wrote a Memorial for Rome stating "respectfully that there is in his diocese a Congregation of pious and devoted laymen who devote themselves in imparting to poor boys such instruction and charitable assistance as the above-mentioned Nuns afford to poor girls. In the city of Waterford and in three other towns of the diocese there are houses already opened in which these devout men live in community, and employ themselves continuously in the gratuitous instruction of poor boys. Thier houses and schools were erected by Mr. Edmund Rice, who is himslef one of the pious workers". (The bishop was incorrect, of course, there were only two other communities outside Waterford at that time - Carrick on Suir and Dungarvan).


Edmund's first followers

Austin Dunphy in Origin tells us that "about this time he was joined by two other young men, who intended to devote their lives to the gratuitous Education of poor boys. Their motives, in thus associating together, were, in the first place, to withdraw from the dangers of a sinful world; and in the next place, to sanctify themselves by frequenting the Holy Sacraments, by prayer, pious reading, self-examination, retirement, and works of mercy, especially that of instructing poor ignorant boys in the principles of Religion, and Christian piety. On the seventh of June one thousand eight hundred and three, they first occupied the dwelling house; and towards the end of the same year, the Schools at the East end of the house were finished.

On the first day of May 1804 the schools were opened for the reception of the poor children. Mr Rice and his two companions were, about this time, joined by another young man: so that they were now four in number. The good effects of their instructions soon became visible in the conduct and manners of many of the poor children; so that this circumstance was good encouragement for them to proceed in their meritorious undertaking. The Schools soon began to attract public notice, and the scholars increased daily".

Edmund and his growing number of followers were striving to feed, clothe, and teach the poor, unruly boys of Waterford. Mature men of very varied accomplishments and of different social background joined him: a silk merchant, a wine merchant, a teacher of mathematics, an accomplished musician, a banker, an architect and builder, a captain in the yeomen, and a parish clerk. 

According to McLoughlin, the first generation of Brothers was well educated and had met the challenge of earning a living. They often brought property in the form of a dowry and several had brothers who were priests.:

Austin Dunphy, Rice’s long-time deputy, was described as a most capable manager ‘having both discretion and ability’
Patrick Ellis, who became novice-master, had been a professor of mathematics in hte Diocesan seminary in Waterford.
Francis Manifold had been a major in the Wicklow yeomanry
Ignatius Barry was a certified chemist
Joseph Cahill is described as a man of independent means
Thomas Cahill had been a prosperous boot-maker and had speculated successfully in considerable real estate. (He had been flogged for his part in the 1798 rebellion)
Laurence Watson and Thomas O’Brien (a man in his sixties) were both wine merchants
Joseph Ryan had been extensively engaged in the leather trade
Joseph Keane was a silk trader
Joseph Murphy, uncle of Margaret Aylward who founded the Holy Faith Sisters, whose literary attainments were extensive, came from a wealthy family
Jerome O’Connor and Baptist Leonard are described as ‘well educated’ and having good business capacity
Joseph Leonard was a bank manager
Austin Reardon had been an architect and builder
Paul Riordan had been an accountant
James Dollard had been ‘an excellent businessman
John Wiseman was a qualified civil engineer, “as well as being erudite in English, Irish literature, Latin and Greek.
John Power was a nephew of the Bishop of Waterford
John McClelland was a former Presbyterian whose father had been a minister in that church.

Clearly, Rice's first followers were substantially educated, some conversant in the classics, while all had been engaged successfully in the workforce. They not only brought with them an appreciation of what boys needed to have to gain meaningful employment, but also sound business sense, organisational acumen and a practical and relevant orientation in the conduct of their schools. The early Brothers were religiously motivated and committed school masters, enthusiastically focused on the children’s development and their achievement. They provided a powerful alternative role model to the children’s struggling and illiterate parents, often “overburdened by the persisting struggle to reconcile resources with children’s needs” (see McLoughlin p. 145)

Thomas John-Baptist Grosvenor
Edmund Rice’s first companion in Waterford was Thomas Grosvenor, from Callan, County Kilkenny. A man in his early twenties, he had been a hatter by profession. In 1802, three men, Edmund Rice, Thomas Grosvenor and Patrick Finn took up residence in the living quarters above the converted stables in New Street, Waterford, where the Brothers’ first school was opened. Teaching poor boys, who had never been to school proved a difficult and challenging task, however, due to dedication and diligence order was established, and as successful school system was established. Thomas Grosvenor, having assumed the religious name John-Baptist, was one of the seven Brothers who made profession of vows for one year on 15 August 1808. The following year he made these vows perpetual.

Brother Rice was invited to open a school in Dublin. While such development presented challenges, the absolute necessity of making some provision for the education of thousands of boys in Dublin appealed to the heart of the Founder. To establish this foundation Edmund asked his oldest companion and confidant to open the school in the capital. In 1812, Thomas John-Baptist Grosvenor, left Waterford and opened the Brothers’ first school in Dublin. After availing of temporary quarters then school was opened in Hanover Street East.

As early as 1814 Grosvenor visited England, in all likelihood seeking support from the Treasury. Here he also met Father Dunn who was interested in having a Brothers’ school in Preston. In a long letter to Father Dunn Grosvenor inadvertently opened his own soul. He wrote, “… the members of this society undertake to educate and improve the poor, from no other motive than that of pure and disinterested charity, considering that to instruct them carefully and deeply and to improve their young and tender minds with a knowledge of their social duties is an exercise whereby they can render great glory to God and the greatest service to his creatures…”

A major development among the Brothers was the process of seeking Papal approval for the Institute. For some reason Brother Grosvenor was not happy with the development, or his felt his vocation was elsewhere. When the Pope approved the new rules in 1820 Thomas withdrew from the Brothers and began studies for the priesthood. Following ordination he spent some years teaching in a Dublin school.

Thomas Power
The blessing of the Mount Sion residence in 1803 and of the school in 1804 indicated that steps forward, albeit tentative, were being taken towards making the establishment permanent. The fact that either Bishop Hussey or his successor Bishop Power officiated at each function meant there was Church approval at the highest local level. We know that in 1804 the community consisted of Edmund Rice, Thomas Grosvenor, Patrick Finn and John Mulcahy. That next man to join the community was Thomas Power.

From the beginning the Brothers were anxious to receive approval of the Institute from Rome and be permitted to make profession of the usual religious vows. They were well aware that the Presentation Sisters in nearby Hennessey’s Road received approval in 1805. One of Thomas’ relatives may have been a member of that community.

After four years of dedicated and unpaid service, he decided to leave the Institute. This decision was not made lightly. We can be sure the other Brothers in the community, while respecting his freedom, and grateful for his Herculean services, were saddened to see him leave. In 1808 Thomas Power, conscious of the essential apostolate of Catholic education, yet aware that the call of God was for him to go elsewhere, parted company with the Mount Sion community.

Austin Dunphy
The fourth native of Callan to join the Edmund Rice infant society was Edmund Dunphy. Aged 23, his mother was a Murphy and it is not known if she was related to Edmund Rice’s mother’s first husband, Mr Murphy. Edmund was just eleven years of age when he first met Edmund Rice. The meeting made a lasting impression on the sensitive child. We are not surprised that Edmund Dunphy’s vocation to religious life grew from that encounter. As he says, “He [Edmund Rice] was unquestionably a remarkable man. The first time I met him was in the year 1796. He was then a fine-looking man, and bore a high character…”

Edmund Dunphy joined the Mount Sion community in 1808. Receiving the religious name Austin, he devoted his energies to teaching the poor boys attending Mount Sion school. At this time plans were being drawn up for schools in Limerick and Thurles. The Limerick school did not materialize until 1816, when Austin was appointed pioneer leader of the new community. Coinciding with his transfer to Limerick Austin Dunphy was happy to welcome his younger brother Michael into the Institute. However, the need for Brothers was greatest in Dublin. Michael joined the community at Hanover Street East, where he spent his entire religious life.

When the first General Chapter of the new congregation was held in January 1822 Austin was elected Assistant to the Superior General, Edmund Rice. He fully supported Edmund Rice during the challenging years, dealing with Catholic Emancipation, the 1829 Assembly, writing the new Constitutions of the Society of Religious Brothers [1832], transferring the Congregation to Dublin, and dealing with the controversy caused by the acceptance of the National Board of Education’s jurisdiction, and supporting the necessary introduction of pay schools.

Brother Edmund Austin Dunphy died suddenly in Carrick-on-Suir in 1847, aged 62 years. The development of the Congregation of Christian Brothers was possible in a significant way through the selfless dedication and commitment of many men from County Kilkenny. Obviously the position of Edmund Rice was paramount. Next, chronologically, we recognize the Brothers Dunphy. The commitment did not stop there. Several nephews and grand-nephews of the Dunphys, inspired by the example of their uncles, also joined the Congregation.

John Ignatius Mulcahy
John Mulcahy was one of the four holy men mentioned by Bishop Thomas Hussey in his letter to Rome about the new house in Waterford. His father Bartholomew was a native of Clonmel. John’s elder brother James joined the Brothers later on. Having borrowed £300 from John, Edmund Rice paid him an annuity of £30 for the next forty-four years.

John Mulcahy was pioneering superior in 1806 in Carrick-on-Suir and in 1807 in Dungarvan. These early foundations experienced many difficulties, especially regarding funding. When John opened the house in Dungarvan he was joined by his elder brother, James. Together they formed the community for the next seven years. With three houses now in existence, Waterford, Carrick and Dungarvan, Bishop Power permitted the Brothers to make profession of religious vows.

When papal approval was received the majority of the Brothers accepted it. However, John Mulcahy, and his Cappoquin establishment continued to follow the Presentation Rule. For the next quarter of a century John Mulcahy would soldier alone. John persevered in his lonely existence, ever zealous to the children’s education. He died, unexpectedly, on 25 February 1845. His school ceased to exist. His burial place is unknown.

Patrick Finn
Historians inform us that Edmund’s first two companions hailed from Callan; Grosvenor does not cause any doubt; Patrick Finn’s status is more complicated. Shelly, the Callan-born chronicler, says Finn was from Callan; Finn’s Cistercian records say he was from Dungarvan. Patrick Finn, together with Thomas Grosvenor, joined Edmund Rice in the converted stable at New Street, Waterford, in 1802. These three men formed the first community of Brothers, giving generations of followers inspiration to follow Christ in the education of youth.

Patrick moved to Mount Sion in 1803, and began teaching in the new school building the following year. He witnessed the growth of the Congregation with foundations in Carrick-on-Suir and Dungarvan. However, when time came to profess religious vows Patrick had a change of mind. Deeply religious, devoted to prayer, being an active Religious was not his vocation. He did not make vows in 1808, and he left Mount Sion.

Patrick was accepted in the Lulworth Cistercian Monastery, Dorsetshire, England, on 29 July 1809. He remained just two more months at Lulworth. We do not know Patrick’s whereabouts for the next eighteen years. On 11 March 1827, he entered the Cistercian Monastery at Melleray, receiving the religious name Anthony. He made profession as a Brother on 29 April 1828. The peace and tranquillity expected in a monastery did not last long. The political upheavals caused the monks to leave their monastery; the non-nationals were driven out. With sixty-three others Patrick sailed to Cobh, Co. Cork, making their way to Rathmore, County Kerry. Eventually they moved to Cappoquin, County Waterford, where they established Mount Melleray Monastery in 1833.


Transformation in the boys of Waterford

Edmund wrote in a letter: “Have courage, the good seed will grow up in the children’s hearts later on.” Slowly he and his companions were experiencing the truth of this belief. As news of the extraordinary effects of the good work of these men, on formerly uncontrollable boys, spread throughout the land, Bishop Moylan of Cork asked Edmund for some Brothers for his diocese. Edmund had none to spare but offered to form and educate any men the bishop could send him for the work. Soon some came, were prepared for religious life and teaching, and returned to Cork to carry on the same kind of work Edmund and his Brothers were doing in Waterford. In this way the Presentation Brothers were spreading throughout Ireland.

In 1809 there were 700 children attending Mount Sion. Not only did Edmund educate them, they were also fed from a bake-house. He also employed one tailor full-time making clothes for the poor boys, and at times he had up to seven tailors making suits of corduroy for them. The tailors worked over the bake-house where he had plenty of clothing material then in common use: ratteen, a kind of tweed; dowlas, a kind of coarse calico; corduroy and linen. On one occasion Edmund purchased 90 pairs of new shoes for poor boys.

Edmund drew up his own hybrid system of education, formulated later in his "Manual of School Government". It distilled methodologies from the best systems of the time. Edmund had reflected on the Reports of the Board of Education, the methods of the Protestant schools, the Lancastrian method used in the Presentation Sisters schools, and the De la Salle Brothers' system in France. He had their French manual "Conduite de Écoles Chrétiennes" translated and distrubuted to all his schools.

Furthermore, it envisaged not only the provision of a thorough education but also that the school would be imbued with a spirit of religion. Spiritual values would at all times be inculcated. In a letter to Archbishop Bray in 1810, Edmund wrote: “The half hours explanation of the Catechism I hold to be the most salutary part of the system. It is the most laborious to the teachers; however, if it was ten times what it is, I must own we are amply paid in seeing such a reformation in the children.”

There was no doubt about Edmund’s vision for his schools, and their success was widely acclaimed. Edmund's undoubted talent as a business-organiser was not lost on his schools, and his connections with many of the businessmen of Waterford and elsewhere put him in a very favourable position to help secure positions for lads coming out of his schools.


New communities in Carrick-on-Suir and Dungarvan

Early housesAccording to Houlihan, as news of the success of Mount Sion was spread around Waterford, and as the school was expanding, in order to accommodate incoming students, Brother Edmund Rice had to look out for more teachers to take charge of the new classes. Up to this time, men had joined his brotherhood as volunteers on their own initiative. He realized that he would now have to actively recruit many more men to keep up with the growth of his tuition-free school. He had his eyes out for men like himself, men who had done well in the business world (and therefore, would bring funds with them to help support his community and school). Edmund needed men who were motivated to reach out to the masses of disadvantaged people in the city.

One such likely person was a Thomas O'Brien, a wine merchant acquaintance of his who had done well financially and whom Edmund thought would be a good candidate for the brotherhood. The wine dealer, like most of Waterford’s citizens, was well aware of what Rice and his men were doing at Mount Sion and he was not long in deciding to become one of Edmund’s group. However, he was not so much thinking of Mount Sion, but rather of setting up a similar school in his native town of Clonmel, which was about twenty miles from Waterford. Mr. O’Brien was anxious to use his wealth to endow such an establishment if Edmund and Bishop Power agreed that it was feasible project. Br. Ignatius Mulcahy was sent to Clonmel in order to investigate the possibility of opening a free school for the boys of that town. Dr. Thomas Fleming, the pastor of the parish in Clonmel was approached. Br. Mulcahy showed him the introductory letter written by Bishop Power and explained how Brother Edmund would gladly build, maintain and operate a school if he was agreeable. Fr Fleming was not interested, the proposal was rejected.

Undaunted by the failure of this proposal, and again with the Bishop’s blessing, Edmund sent Ignatius Mulcahy, this time, to Carrick-on-Suir, another town not far from Waterford. Fr John McKenna expressed a willingness to have a monastery and schools erected in that town. Brother Rice now had the "go ahead" from the Bishop, the priest and Mr. O'Brien. His second monastery and school were now in the offing.

At the beginning of the year 1808 there were five members in the Waterford house; two in Carrick exclusive of Mr. O'Brien; an two in Dungarvan: in all nine.


1809 - A Favourable response from Rome and Perpetual Vows

Icon Edmund Rice 13At Bishop Power’s suggestion, the first Brothers adapted the Rule of the Presentation Sisters and lived according to it until such time as Rome would approve such a rule for themselves. Bishop Power allowed the community to make temporary vows for a year in 1808 and after hearing from Rome in January 1809, he permitted them to take perpetual vows.

Most Illustrious and most Rev. Lord, In a Memorial presented to this Sacred Congregation in your Lordship's name, it is stated that there is in your Diocese a Congregation (or Society) of pious laymen, who are engaged in giving to poor boys the same charitable assistance that is given to distressed girls by the Nuns called of the Presentation; and also, that there is already opened in Waterford and two other places, an asylum where the same devout men live in community, and are employed in the instruction of about 400 boys; and particularly that Mr Edmund Rice, one of the same pious labourers, has erected and endowed their house and Schools. In order then, that an undertaking so praiseworthy and advantageous to Religion be consolidated and perpetuated, your Lordship recommends the Petition of the said pious laymen to obtain from our sovereign Pontiff Pius VII a Brief similar to that which was granted to the above mentioned Nuns of the Presentation, and addressed to his Lordship, Doctor Moylan, Bishop of Cork. Such an application has been extremely consolatory to the Sacred Congregation; and the zeal and religious disposition of the said devout laymen are hereby praised. But as it is necessary to obtain the Apostolical approbation, it is expedient to have recourse to the same means, which were employed in obtaining the said Brief for the Nuns of the Presentation; therefore your Lordship must draw up (form) and transmit the Rules and Constitutions by which the new Institute is governed; and after these Rules shall have been examined and approved, the desired Brief may be obtained by the Sacred Congregation. In the mean time requesting your Lordship to assure Mr. Rice and the other pious laymen that their charitable undertaking is highly pleasing to his Holiness and the Sacred Congregation.

I beseech the Lord to grant you a long and prosperous life.
Your Lordship's most affectionate Brother,
Michl. Cardinal di Pietro, Prefect
G. B. Quarantotti, Secretary.
Rome, Propaganda,
January 21st. 1809.

We can be sure that among the seven were Edmund Rice, Thomas Grovenor, John Mulcahy, William Hogan and Michael Power, as well as two of the following: Thomas Power, James Mulcahy, Thomas Ready and Edmund Dunphy.

According to Austin Dunphy:
The receipt of the above Document was the source of much joy and consolation to the Brothers. They hoped, at no very remote period, their Rules would be approved of and confirmed. The Bishop had caused them to be translated into Latin for the purpose of transmitting them to Rome. But from various causes, they never were forwarded. It was, however, conceived that the above Document afforded sufficient grounds for the Brothers to make perpetual vows. They accordingly, on the Feast of the Assumption of our Blessed Lady, August 15, in the year 1809, in the Chapel of the Presentation Convent, pronounced their perpetual simple Vow, in the presence of the Bishop, who had previously drawn up the form of them, and which is as follows.

“In the Name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and in honour and under the Protection of his Immaculate Mother, Mary ever Virgin. I, Brother N.N. do vow and promise to God, Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, and to persevere till the end of my life in this Institute for the charitable instruction of poor boys according to the Rules and Constitutions of the Congregation of the Presentation of our Blessed Lady approved of by the Apostolical Authority of our Holy Father Pope Pius the Seventh, in the presence of you; my Lord, Right Rev. Father in God, John Power, Lord Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, and of our Brother N.N. called in Religion N. Superior of this Convent of the Presentation on the Feast of the Assumption of our Blessed Lady in the year of our Lord 1809.
N N. In Religion N.”

For seven years, Rice and his community had made up a daily schedule for their prayers which was based on that of the Presentation Sisters. There was a chapel in their house and they were allowed to have the Blessed Sacrament reserved. In spite of the full schedule of teaching each Brother had assigned to him, several hours of the day were set aside for prayer and meditation. This was an essential part of their lives. Ascetical practices were carried out and meals were quite simple, perhaps too simple, since the men put in long hours in difficult school work every day but they were committed to live much like the poor families that they served.