The Irish College in Rome still represents a major threat to
the Protestants of Northern Ireland.
The various college premises which preceded the
present palatial building were not just seminaries but nests of intrigue. They
are scattered around Rome and their past is assumed to be
forgotten. It was here, in the first Irish College site of St Isidore and the
subsequent building, in the Via degli Ibernesi, on the Quirinal, one of
Rome’s seven hills, that the schemes were laid, and plots hatched, which lay
behind various bloody rebellions we have already described.
The nineteenth century reassertion of Roman Catholic
power in Ireland, which we now come to consider, culminating in the Easter
rising and the Irish Free State, and leading directly to the troubles of
Northern Ireland today, were plotted in a subsequent, third, college building
next to another obscure church on the Quirinal, S Agata dei Goti (Saint Agatha
of the Goths). Readers should look closely at this building. The evils of the
nineteenth century romanisation of Ireland, emanating
from the seven hills of Rome, came from this obscure edifice on the Quirinal. Yet the present writer has seldom seen anyone even
so much as glance at it.
We need therefore to acquaint ourselves with the Irish
college’s history. The modern college only arose in 1926 following the decades
of plotting that gave rise to the Irish Free State.
And herein lies Rome’s first deception – the illusion that the Irish College is one progressive, venerable
institution. In fact a gap of 26 years (1778-1826) elapsed between the first,
St Isidore phase and the subsequent Via degli Ibernesi phase. These two
very unsuitable venues were followed by the acquisition of the still really
quite modest S. Agata dei Goti site. The only link between the second and this
third phrase is that a student of the second phase, evacuated in 1798, came
back after 28 years (1826) as Rector of the third, newly founded, College on
the S. Agata dei Goti site. This was just as Roman Catholicism was stirring
again in Ireland.
The first College: St Isidore 1628-1798
To go back to
the beginning, regular readers will recall that “brilliant academic”, Luke
Wadding, a Franciscan of Salamanca chosen by King Philip III of Spain to be his agent in Rome.
Spain hoped to redeem the failure of the Armada by an
invasion of Ireland. Wadding reached Rome in 1618 under pretext of leading a working party on
the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception – not in fact defined until 1854.
Cunning Phillip knew that such a controversy would drag on and Wadding was
still in Rome, plotting under the same cover, when he
died in 1657.
been asked to provide two priests per Irish diocese. But the monks, whatever
their order, would not supply priests for Ireland. So Irish students arrived in 1625 and were farmed out around Rome for three years. They mixed with the Franciscans in
class to avoid attention. The Spanish church
of St Isidore, near Barberini tube station, provided
Wadding with his premises. The Irish Franciscans are still there though the
college has since moved on.
All that really
happened in 1628, the official date of the founding of the Irish College, was that Wadding got them a house across
the road form St Isidore!
Cracks in the
arrangements appeared at once. Wadding was supposed to be promoting the Irish
Franciscan Order, but, lest the students should get too monkish an outlook, the
first rector to be appointed to the Irish College, Fr Eugene Callanan, was not a Franciscan. After
internal dissension the next two rectors were Franciscans.
Urban VIII had
become Pope in 1623. He appointed his nephew Cardinal Ludovis, as “Protector
of Ireland”. Ludovisi invested heavily in the College and his endowment
continued after his death but he put the college under Jesuit control. Wadding
went to law and spent a fortune challenging Ludovisi’s will but the Jesuits
won. So from 1635 to 1772, the years of the terrible 1641 Irish rebellion and
the Battle of the Boyne,
the supply of Irish priests was exclusively a Jesuit affair.
XIV suppressed the Jesuits, for worldwide scandals, the Irish College did not escape. A puzzling note pinned to
St Peters cryptically read, “1. s. s. s. v. Clement
knew at once it was his death sentence – In Settembre sara sede vacante (In
September the Holy See will be vacant). And so it was. But though Clement lay
murdered by the Jesuits as his reward for suppressing their order, his years of
visitation and evidence gathering in the myriad of Jesuit institutions sealed
the Society’s fate if only temporarily. And the Irish college, under its Jesuit
Rectors, was not spared despite a pre-emptive student riot.
Marefoschi’s inspection of the Irish College in 1771
revealed unequivocal evidence of corruption and the College was placed under
the care of an Italian Jansenist, Cuccagni. (The Jansenists and the Jesuits
were bitter enemies.) Despite many efforts to have an Irish Rector installed
in the College, Cuccagni served until the French under Napoleon entered Rome in June 1798. Cuccagni’s chief interest was
producing a newspaper. There were some clever students at this time but in
general they imbibed the enlightenment ideas of the college and did everything
but serve as diocesan priests in Ireland. A few became teachers at the newly
opened Maynooth college in Ireland.
regarded these colleges as Jesuit nests. When Rome
fell to them in June 1798 the students of the Irish
College were “hustled” out of the back door as the
troops stormed the front. A long trek across Europe
and an open boat channel crossing saw the end of the Irish aspirations to train
priests in Rome for twenty-eight years.
College (1826-1837): Via degli Ibernesi
We now come to
the second phase. The street where this was housed became so associated with
Irishmen that it is still called the Via degli Ibernesi (Street of the
After the Battle of the Boyne, with Irish Protestantism assured and the
penal laws in place to keep Jesuits out of Ireland, the college became much less important and moved to this second, more
obscure, site on the Quirinal. The sour nuns next door were so enraged
by high spirited Irish students being foisted upon them that they at once
exercised their rights over the water supply and had it diverted leaving the
college high and dry. They then named their price to restore supplies and got
The last to
leave St Isidore’s was Michael Blake who became Vicar General of Dublin but was
urged back to Rome in 1824 under totally new circumstances.
These were the early years of Irish romaniser and republican, Daniel O
Connell. The Vatican realised that Ireland must be taken for Rome lest the Irish take it for themselves.
Blake is called the “second founder” of the Irish
College. He is really the only tenuous link in a
pretentious claim to 375 years continuity.
College (1837-1926): S. Agata dei Goti
S. Agata dei
Goti was a new college in new times and readers will chill to the transactions
within its walls as the series progresses. In a short time O Connell’s heart
came to reside under the high altar of S Agata dei Goti, only to move again
with its monument in 1926.
Rome was stormed once more in 1848. the
ingenious rector now enjoyed much American-Irish support following the massive
Irish US emigrations. He pulled off an amazing bluff by hoisting the American
flag. Several high profile Romanists used the building as a refuge. Cardinal
Castracane who had headed up a “Commission of Regency” when the Pope fled to Gaeta, was a wanted man when the French retook Rome. “Soldiers ransacked,” the college but, “the
Cardinal escaped by dodging his pursuers from room to room”. The final fall of
Rome in 1870 brought the Agata dei Goti College into the Italian State.
In the new 1926
college no students came between 1939 and 1947 because of World War II. Pope
Pius XII only granted the college pontifical status on 25 January 1948.
anniversary celebrations in this building next to the Lateran were honoured by
the presence of the President of the Irish Republic herself, Roman Catholic Mary McAleese. Her all
purple dress perfectly matched the ubiquitous scarlet and purple of the Roman
ecclesiastics. The Most Rev Dr Sean Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and (Roman Catholic) Primate of All-Ireland, lead the
Irish hierarchy. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State,
represented the Vatican. Indeed the sea of purple and scarlet
might have been a scene from Revelation Chapter 17.
recited a triumphant version of the college history giving the impression of a
continually developing institution going from strength to strength saying that,
“Throughout its history, graduates of the Irish
College reached the highest positions in the
church at home”.
But the Irish College’s position is not so secure as one might
imagine from the inscription on the stone that President McAleese unveiled at
her visit. The current building has to be maintained, yet apparently only five
students from the class of 2003 became priests.
reported in the same year that the expense of “the reconstruction of the
boundary wall…(and) roofs were a source of concern … heavy rain was frequently
infiltrating the upstairs rooms … work mooted several years could no longer be
And who pays?
Well, according to the annual report there are gifts, bequests and the
activities of the Friends of the Irish College in Rome.
And the Irish
Republican Government funds the remainder; such is its bondage to the Church of