Born: 25 December 1847, Glanduff, County Roscommon
Entered: 08 October 1867, Milltown Park, Dublin
Ordained: 18 April 1880, Thurles, County Tipperary
Final Vows: 02 February 1886
Died: 13 May 1910, St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin
Part of the Milltown Park, Dublin community at the time of death
Early education at Clongowes Wood College SJ
Father Provincial of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus: 2 August 1905-1909
by 1870 at Roehampton, London (ANG) studying
by 1871 at Stonyhurst, England (ANG) studying
by 1879 at St Beuno’s Wales (ANG) studying
◆ HIB Menologies SJ :
Born at Glanduff near Athlone, but was raised at Kingsland near Frenchpark, County Roscommon.
Early education was at Castleknock and Clongowes.
After First Vows he was sent for studies to Roehampton and Stonyhurst.
1873 He was sent to Tullabeg for Regency, when William Delaney was rector there at the time. He had a great ability to inspire, excite and sustain the interest of his students, and he remained there until 1878
1878 He was sent to Innsbruck for Theology.
1881 he was Ordained at Thurles by Dr Thomas W Croke, Archbishop of Cashel, and then he returned to teaching this time at Clongowes.
1885 He was appointed Rector of Clongowes.
1891 He was sent to Belvedere, and later to UCD.
1895 He was sent to Gardiner St, and appointed Superior in 1898.
1905 He was appointed Provincial, and stood down in 1909 due to failing health. After some months of rest he was appointed Rector of Milltown, but his health gave away completely there and he died 13 May 1910 aged 62.
He was held in great esteem in the Province, and hence the various kinds of high Office, and all of which he was very successful at. He was a very gifted man, a delightful companion, and loved by all who had the privilege of his friendship.
Paraphrase of “Press Report” - Mr RJ Kelly wrote
The late Father Conmee SJ, whose lamented demise we all deplore, was a singularly gifted man. Almost every Catholic in Dublin has heard, at some time or other, his striking eloquence in the pulpit. The obituary notice does him a lot of justice to his many-sided activity, save one which is probably less known. he was a great antiquarian and student of Irish history, deeply read in the history of our country, and, perhaps most particularly in that of his native county of Roscommon, his connection with he was always so proud of. One of the most singularly attractive booklets describing the traditions and customs for a district, once came from his pen, and, was published under the title “Old Times in the Barony” by the CTS. With characteristic modesty, Father Conmee wished his name not to appear on the title page, and at his earnest request, it was published anonymously. I hope it is no violation of the secrecy to now disclose his name. A more graphic and beautiful piece of descriptive writing was probably never penned, and in reading it, one has only one regret - that it runs into so few pages. A further regret is that one who could write so well could also give so little time to doing this. I often asked him to write more on things not well known and of which he might write so well, but the responsibilities of his many high offices left him little time to take up such a task.
This particular work of his was one of the first of our Catholic Truth Publications, and it is no disparagement of many others to say that it was one of the best. It was a valued publication of ours, but not his only service to us. He was one of the most active and prominent of our supporters from the beginning, and to his end he continued his deep and practical interest in our work, regretting that his having to be away so much meant he could not attend our meetings and give us the benefit of his great learning, wise judgement and ripe experience.”
◆ Royal Irish Academy : Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge University Press online :
Conmee, John Stephen
by David Murphy
Conmee, John Stephen (1847–1910), Jesuit priest, writer, and educator, was born 25 December 1847 in Glanduff, near Athlone, Co. Westmeath, the son of John N. Conmee, a prosperous farmer. His family later moved to Kingsland, Co. Roscommon, and it was here that he spent his early childhood. He was educated at Castleknock college, Co. Dublin (1861–4) and at Clongowes Wood college, Co. Kildare (1864–7). On 8 October 1867 he entered the Irish province of the Society of Jesus at Milltown Park, Dublin. He continued his studies at Roehampton, London and Stonyhurst college, Lancashire. Returning to Ireland in 1873 he began his teaching career as a master at St Stanislaus college, Tullabeg, King's Co. (Offaly). His superiors soon realised that he was a born schoolmaster, with a talent for inspiring students. Known for his kindness, he was popular with both staff and students, and became involved in all aspects of college life. In 1878 he went to Innsbruck to begin theological studies and took the opportunity to travel around Europe. He was ordained in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, by Archbishop T. W. Croke (qv) in 1881, taking final vows in 1886.
He returned to Clongowes Wood college and served as prefect of studies (1881–5) and rector (1885–91). During his time as rector he oversaw the amalgamation of Tullabeg and Clongowes Wood colleges. He was appointed to the teaching staff of University College, St Stephen's Green, Dublin, first as prefect of studies and then as dean (1898–1904). In 1898 he was also appointed as superior of St Francis Xavier's Church in Gardiner St., Dublin. His teaching career finished with his promotion to provincial of the Irish province in 1905, after which he visited the Australian mission and toured the Holy Land. He retired as provincial because of ill-health in 1909 and was made rector of Milltown college. After a long illness, he died 13 May 1910 in Dublin.
While remembered as an educator, he also wrote poetry and prose. He published Ephesus (1873), Lines for the opening of the debate (1882) and Old times in the barony (1895). The Jesuit archive in Leeson St., Dublin, has a collection of his unpublished writings, including ‘Essays on spiritual subjects’. He is mainly remembered for his connection with James Joyce (qv), who spent three unhappy years at Clongowes while Conmee was in control. He clearly made a strong impression on the young Joyce, appearing as the kindly rector in A portrait of the artist as a young man (1916) and being mentioned more than sixty times in Ulysses (1922).
IBL, ii (1910), 8; ‘A relic of Father Conmee SJ’, Ir. Monthly , xxxviii (1910), 389–92; ‘Clongowes and Father Conmee: two filial tributes’, ibid., 421–7; Ir. Times, 14 May 1910; The Clongownian, June 1910; Patrick Murray, ‘A portrait of the rector’, IER, ser. 5, cix (1968), 110–15; Bruce Bradley, James Joyce's schooldays (1982); Thomas J. Morrissey, Towards a national university (1983), 190–91, 333, 360; James H. Murphy, Nos autem. Castleknock college and its contribution (1996), 18–19
◆ David Strong SJ “The Australian Dictionary of Jesuit Biography 1848-2015”, 2nd Edition, Halstead Press, Ultimo NSW, Australia, 2017 - ISBN : 9781925043280
Note from Thomas Gartlan Entry
In 1908, the visiting Irish provincial said of Thomas that despite his fondness for athletics, he was a very suitable person as Rector. He enforced discipline and was very popular with the people of Sydney, and this led to the success of the College. This report was made by Father John Conmee, when no other College in Australia had escaped criticism.
Note from Luigi Sturzo Entry
One of his Irish novices and later Irish provincial, John Conmee, praised him for his gentleness, meekness, admirable patience, faith, and ardent love of the Lord
Note from James O’Dwyer Entry
When the Irish provincial, John Conmee, came to Australia in 1908, he was not happy with conditions at Xavier College. “It is from almost all aspects, a failure - enormous debt (£30,000), fails miserably and increasingly at exams, fails in all athletic contests ...”. He believed that the college needed an educational rector who would improve the college intellectually and spiritually and remove the debt. James O’Dwyer was appointed rector in May 1908.
◆ James B Stephenson SJ Menologies 1973
Father John Conmee 1847-1910
At Glanduff near Athlone, on Christmas Day 1747 was born Fr John Conmee. Kingsland, near Frenchpark County Roscommons became his home afterwards. He was educated at St Vincent’s College Castleknock and at Clongowes.
He became a Jesuit in 1867 and spent many years teaching in Tullabeg under Fr Delaney. After his Theology in Innsbruck, he was ordained priest in 1881, in Thurles by Archbishop Croke. He resumed his teaching at Clongowes where he became Rector in 1885. Belvedere was the next scene of his labours, where he had a pupil afterwards world famous, James Joyce. He was named Superior of Gardiner Street in 1898, becoming Provincial in 1905. However, his health was not robust, and he retired from this onerous post in 1909, to become Rector of Milltown Park. Here, however, his health broke down completely, and he died on May 13th 1910.
He was a man who inspired great affection in those who knew him, and these were many, as he was for many years in the foremost rank of preachers.
He had great literary gifts. His name will always be remembered for that masterpiece of writing “Old Times in the Barony”. It was founded on his recollection of early years in the country, unsurpassed in its mingled pathos and humour, its nostalgic capturing of a way of life that has passed. He was a great antiquarian and student of Irish history, especially his native Roscommon. In a word, he was a man of the highest gifts, both of mind and heart, all directed to the service of God and the good or religion, by the powerful weapons of good example and persuasion.
He had a peculiar delicate skin which lacked healing power, and for this reason could never use a razor – the necessary shaving being done with a scissors. This defect was what caused his collapse, after an operation which resulted in his death.
◆ The Belvederian, Dublin, 1910
Father John Conmee SJ
Though Belvedere could never claim the honour of having had among its alumni the Rev J S Conmee SJ, still so close was the link that bound him to our Alma Mater that we cannot omit to include his name in the list of those whom the Master has called to receive the reward of their toil. For some time past, since his return from Australia two years ago, Father Conmee's health had been failing, so much so that last Summer he had to be relieved of the office of Provincial, which he had held for nearly four years. In January of this preserit year, when his health seemed to be improving, he was appointed Rector of Milltown Park, but scarcely had he entered on his new duties when once more his strength gave way, and after fighting the disease for three months he was finally compelled to enter St. Vincent's Hospital shortly after Easter. Report contradicted report, but yet on the whole he seemed to be gaining strength, so that the final announcement of his death, which followed close on an operation, came as a terribly unexpected blow to all who had the happiness of knowing him. For it was indeed a happiness to know Father Conmee. Rarely adorned with gifts of mind and heart, he possessed a manner so charming that it captivated you at once. Those who were, in Belvedere in the years 1891-2 will remember his kind and gentle sway when Prefect of Studies. The writer, who had. the good fortune to know him then, will never forget the kind interest that Father Conmee took in all his boyhood's little aims and dreams.
So it was with all. So great was this personal charm that it seemed to pervade his very sermons and his writings. Who that heard him preach before the great Medical Congress in the Pro-Cathedral, 1898, will forget the vivid eloquence of his discourse? or who that has read that little gem of literature, Old Times in the Barony, will not feel drawn to him who penned its lines?
Ever a friend to Belvedere and Belvederians, Father Conmee has a great claim on all our Past. Will they not discharge their debt in prayers for him who in his lifetime prayed for them?
◆ The Clongownian, 1898
IN MEMORIAM. The Thirteenth of May,
On which departed from earth my dear old Master and Friend,
Father John S Conmee SJ
Once more the Springtime weaves around
Her witcheries of scent and hue;
Life pulses; in delightful sound
Earth laughs back to the mother-blue :
Sunlit, the grave old college towers
Crest the green pastures of Kildare;
Bees murmur in the meadow-flowers;
Keen boyish voices pierce the air.
Alas! How such a scene as this, .
Its harmonies of earth and sky,
Spoke to the soul of him we miss,
The sympathetic heart and eye!
Attuned to all things fair and good,
His spirit from each loveliness
Of Art's or Nature's changing mood
Had caught a charm to soothe and bless.
The child's new grief, the silent tears
Of helpless women, cares that bend
The weary man, youth's perils, fears, -
Knocked at his heart, and found a friend -
How gentle, genial, quick to share
Or joy or grief, to flash or veil
His own bright wit, alert to bear
Toils that o'ertasked a strength too frail,
A thousand mourners tell. The loss,
The pain, is ours; for him the prize:
Lifted at last the life-long cross,
Secure the opening Paradise.
He goes; there fadeth from these walls
Another link with dear days dead;-
But why sad dreams? 'Tis Love that calls
Each old friend homeward. Up, to tread
Their mounting path above these tears!
They wait thee where the shades decline,
Safe in the endless vernal years,
The radiance of the Heart Divine.
Father John Conmee SJ
It is with sincere sorrow we chronicle the death of Father John Conmee SJ, formerly Rector of Clongowes. He died in Dublin on Friday morning, May 13th, 1910. Though it is close upon twenty years since he was Rector here, yet we have always counted him as belonging to the College. There was no place in the world so, dear to him; and, perhaps, of his life's work, he would like first to be judged by that done in Clongowes. He loved the old school well - few have loved it so well - and he loved the boys, past and present, with a fondness that had in it some thing of the depth and tenderness of a home affection.
During most of his priestly life he filled posts of superiority. He had a very kindly heart. Indeed it may be said with truth that he hardly.ever served in the ranks as a simple private. He began his career as a young master under Father William Delany in Tullabeg when that college was at the height of its fame. It was curiously said of the Rector of Tullabeg that he got more out of a man than was natively in him-and got it without asking.
But there was a great deal in Mr John Conmee, and all he had he gave unstintingly, He had much to do with the formation of the gifted boys who went out from Tullabeg in those days, and who have made their mark so well in life. Mr Conmee was a born school master. In fact, so striking was his personal influence over the boys that the balance of power was apt to be disturbed, and other masters complained that the boys gave too much time to Mr Conmee's work. He made the class really pleasant, and when he had explained an ode of Horace or a play of Shakspeare, the Mathematical Master got no fair play. The very playground of the boys became seasoned with Attic salt. Mr Conmee helped largely to create that atmosphere of willing work that marked the School. He poured out prologues to plays, racy things like the famous “Talk versus Chalk”, or “Classics v. Mathematics”. He started the debate on Parliamentary lines, and soon had the house ringing with questions that made the boys think and feel; and consequently read carefully and talk really well. He encouraged the musicians by taking an instrument himself in their band. All the while work in the lasses was going on with deadly earnestness.
Such was the state of things when the Rector thought the time had come for letting people know that the work done in Irish schools was as good as the best elsewhere, he steered his little ship of Tullabeg boldly ato the almost unknown waters of English competitive examinations. The result justified he experiment. The chief men of the Irish Parliamentary Party poured in delighted con gratulations. In this brilliant success Mr. Conmee had a good deal to say.
Years passed by, and not long after ordination Fr Conmee was made Prefect of Studies and afterwards Rector of Clongowes. During lis term of office as Rector occurred the most important event in the history of our School - the amalgamation with Tullabeg.
If ever the School needed a good man, then was the time. The step taken in amalgamating the two establishments was a grave one. The difficulties in the way of a successful fusion of the two sets of boys were many. The pace at the time in the steeplechase of Irish Intermediate Examinations was great. There was head-shaking and much croaking about the wisdom of putting all the eggs in one basket. But the young Rector was fearless. No point of the responsibilities that pressed upon him was missed. He radiated confidence and good humour. Studies, discipline, games - he saw the need of many changes in view of the changes going on all around. But he knew his boy world and its citizens - knew them better than they knew themselves. They grumbled at not having this and that. The Rector knew boys had a sort of eternal right to grumble; but he knew that if, in giving them what they grumbled for, you touched, with lightest finger only, any old School tradition, the boy grumbled again - that's why they're lovable.
It was well for Clongowes that the leaders amongst the Clongowes and Tullabeg boys were an exceptionally manly and decent lot of fellows. All went smoothly. The numbers were great, and the vigilant Rector was constantly on his guard against that evil in big schools, which contains every other evil monotony. Inside the house and outside he strove for variety. Indeed this human note was heard in all his work. With him dulness was a deadly sin. In preaching he would have you first make sure of your doctrine ther be interesting. He had an amusing horror of a bore. Outside he started new games, inside he made things bright and pleasant with play-room, music, frequent concerts, theatricals, debates on the Tullabeg lines (and only a little less brilliant), academies of one kind or another. School life went pleasantly.
Though he took an interest in the games such as few Rectors have taken, and helped more than any, I doubt if he ever grasped the power of the games to mould character. But he helped them as they helped against dark dangers - he helped them as relaxation from hard work; he helped them because the boys loved them and he loved the boys; and yet, he hardly knew the difference between an all-cane-bat and a three quarter at Rugby.
The regulation of the studies was not taken up till the following year. Then the Provincial, Father Thomas Browne, sent to Clongowes as Prefect of Studies, Father Daly, whose organising and sustaining power we all appreciate so highly. With the advent of Father Daly the Rector breathed. At once the School, now well knit, leaped to the front, and it has held its place ever since - never once failing. In after years, in whatsoever part of the world he might be, when the Examination results. came out, a hearty message of congratulation was wired to the Prefect of Studies and masters and boys by Fr Conmee.
He loved the place and all in it, and, though far away, it was in his heart. He loved the place and all in it-all the old folk, now past heavy labour, who worked about the grounds, the labourers on the farm, the cottage neigh bours around. They were all part of Clon gowes, and he would go to them, and chat with them about old times and old friends. A little bit of plantation known as Father Mac's wood, gave him the nom-de-plume he signed to “Old Times in the Barony: Max Wood.
Naturally he had a great love for things softened and beautified by the hand of time. He loved mediæval story and mediæval times. The Assisi of St Francis and its rich store of sacred legend had thrown a spell over him to which he rendered himself a willing captive. The old Bohemian town on the Moldau Prague, he loved best of all the towns in Europe.
Along with this we are not surprised to find a highly cultivated classic taste. Indeed, if he had lived in the days when John Philpot Curran and his “monks” flourished Father Conmee would have been admitted to that refined community without even a ballot, for in wit, in taste, and in scholarship he would have been a match for the brightest spirits amongst thetn. “If Gilbert (of operatic fame) were to die”, said a gentleman many years ago, “I know of only one man who could take his place - Father John Conmee”. It is a pity burthens were laid upon him that made writing well nigh impossible.
And yet the man who was all this was a man compact of nervous energy, who keenly watched the times and the trend of things, and strove with all his might to keep his School abreast of the best progress of the day. The old traditions of the School were dear to him, as we have said, but if they were hurtful he spared thern not. Nothing was so dear to him as the.weil-being and the welfare of the boys. That explains much.
Though he could be firm to severity if there : were need, yet he found it hard to refuse when a deputation from the boys came to ask some thing. Once he told the Prefect, on a glorious spring morning, not to permit the boys to come up for a holiday - there was no use in their coming, so let them not come, he would give nothing. The Prefect had his misgivings. He feared the Rector's - great big humanness, and he knew that those blessed boys would go up, despite their slender chances. That poor Jonas carried the message, and preached woe to them that went up. The crowd of Ninevites heard, took counsel, decided to go up, went up, and got the holiday, The Rector looked a delightfully guilty man when later he met that Prefect. Ah! these human weaknesses-these chords of Adam draw us!
He loved coming in contact with the boys, great and small, and loved them to talk freely before liim. It was a little child of eight. He had come to us from South America, Eugene Kenny. His Christmas vacation was to be spent in the College. Everyone, of course, was kind to him, but the friend of friends was the Rector. Go to his room when you might, there was the little chap sitting on the hearth rug before the fire with his toys about him, and occasionally from the toy basket of a child's mind he would draw out such funny questions: “Rector Conmee, could you jump far?” “Rector Conmee, do you own all that letter-paper ?” And, “Do you own all Clongowes, and the cricket-ground and the big roller?” And he crept over to the great man that owned all that note-paper and the big roller. Coming up to Christmas Day the child was terribly excited about Santa Claus. The Rector had evidently been throwing out words of mysterious import. Now, Eugene slept out in the Infirmary. In the middle of the night he was aroused; he heard something he listened, then he felt with his little hands all about. Yes, there they were not his own little stocking, but two big ones - football ones - and full to bursting of everything. He tore out of the bed and, plucky little chap, groped along the dark passage where he heard the creaking sound. He wanted to catch Santa Claus and thank him. But the Rector had got clear away and listened. Both listened - the child above, and the Rector-child below. Then the little feet went back to bed. Oh! the tales on Christmas Day of that adventure, and the tears in the little eyes for missing good Santa Claus; and the wonder, and something else besides, in the gifted man's eyes as he looked upon the little boy the Child Jesus asked him to make home for, as his own home was far away.
Eugene, Eugene! wherever you are, do you hear me? Father Conmee is dead !
One could go on telling many things that would be sweet to those that loved him. Indeed, so many-sided was he that some will doubt if we have not forgotten the best things. I am only asked about the Clongowes days. I have left out so much - those Sunday even ing sermons, perhaps the best ever delivered to boys in the old Chapel. The practical instruction conveyed with beauty of diction and charm of living interest, that made those giddy boys go eagerly to the sermon when the Rector preached. Then the love that lent such persuasiveness to his beautifully modulated voice. How he held them! I recall, too, the College Mass on Sunday morning. The gracious and distinguished look of the Rector in the sacred vestments; the reverence in his movements revealing the deep faith in the awful mysteries; the father-love in his face as he bent to give the Blessed Sacrament to the little ones-all of it comes back now so clearly.
The active brain and the kind heart, they are still in death. We have seen his career as boy, as young man, as Rector; it is hard to think the light of life is extinguished for ever.
When the end was near, the Father who attended him told him of his state. For an instant there was the old fashi Who said so? Have the doctors said so? Yes, Father.
Then, like a little child before a loved father, he said simply, but grandly "”ery well, as God wills”. And so he died.
He hoped for yet ten years of life to put in some good work for God. But the gentle way in which he received the word that all hope was over may count more with God than the years he hoped for. God rest him well, and all our dear dead ones.
◆ The Clongownian, 1931
“The Snows of Yesteryear”
IV The Kings
The memories of Fr Conmee retained by my brother, Con, are so much more vivid than my own that I quote them verbatim here from his manuscript. Afterwards I shall endeavour to depict the other great rector of the eighties, Fr Edward Kelly, from my own recollection. Follows my brother's manuscript:
With Fr Conmee there was without doubt that certain austerity which engendered a feeling of discipline because it seemed to emanate from a personal discipline of his own. But it was an austerity tempered by a generous outlook, a gentle and humorous affability, a wholehearted and complete under standing and an indulgent appreciation of the stuff and nature of youth. Joyously apparent were all these qualities especially when he was in the midst of a throng of clamorous Third-liners. For them he had as many jokes and stories and elusive ways of drawing out funds of spirited repartee, as with the elders. Old and young knew perfectly well that there was no better appreciator of their capabilities howsoever displayed—be it in a joke, a song, a concert or a play or in an achievement of scholarship or debate, than was their Rector.
In the long list of college directors it would be difficult to imagine one better endowed for such a position than Fr Conmee. In appearance refined and debonair, in manner always genial, in stature more than mediuin, his features rounded Father than aquiline, | his presence invariably produced the impression of an active mind and a personality not i only at ease with its environment, but ever alert and responsive to whatever “time and the hour” was capable of. His versatility was as wide as his scholarship was ripe. His indeed was a nature at home with all that was best in Arts or Letters; and together with that, he had the gift of imparting his enlightened enthusiasm to those with whom he had intercourse. His speech, always fluent, was, when occasion offered, often eloquent. His accent was charged with a Connaught “burr” which added homeliness to his utterance. Indeed that same outward sign. of homeliness, had its counterpart in his very spirit of which he has left us an imperishable impression in an essay bequeathed by his pen to current literature entitled “Old Days in the Barony”. Even in this he exhibited another feature of his character, humility, by publishing it under a pseudonym, Only lately have I heard that, the work was so prized for its human and literary excellence I that Walter Pater was in the habit of presenting its merits to his class of Oxford ? undergraduates for their admiration.
Literature was not, however, his sole métier. He had a fine musical taste which ranged from Sullivan to Beethoven, but dwelt with greatest complacency on the grace and tempo of Haydn and Mozart, especially in their minuets, which he had accomplishment sufficient to enable him to render for his own enjoyment, on piano or violin. But while his musical taste was proper it was not esoteric nor did it prohibit him the hearty enjoyment of a song, especially an old one, of any merit. Indeed in the ranges of song he made many a personal sally, not, so to speak, vocally so much as inventively in the sense of verse-interpolation of his own making. I still recall the words he put to two songs that he introduced into the Tavern Scene of Henry IV. The first as a glee that we sang to the setting of that graceful old quartet “See our oars with feathered spray”. But his words were more apropos to an occasion of indoor merriment, and ran thus:
Masters make a merry glee,
Pass the night in jollity,
Send around the ruby wine,
See it in the goblet shine
And deep we'll drown all grief of soul
Within the flowing, flowing bowi,
And here till morning's light we'll stay
And thus we'll chase all cares away.
His other song for the same play was an apostrophe on old Jack Falstaff, viz. :
Jolly old Jack he never doth lack
A quip or a repartee,
And loud he laughs and deep he quaffs
Of the rosy Malvoisie.
And he loveth his sack, doth brave old Jack
As well as well. can be,
And the top of his nose like a beacon glows
That's seen far out at sea.
These excerpts will please be taken not as the measure of his literary ability, but as . an example of his facility in making use of music as a medium for his own addition to the merriment that was going for ward. His sense of humour could always be counted on to better an occasion of merriment. Who that took part, during those days of near fifty years ago, in the staging of Henry IV can ever forget the zest with which Fr Conmee selected and drilled the tatterdemalion ranks of Falstaff's recruits accoutred with tin whistles on which he taught us (for I was one of the tattered band), to march past the footlights to the tune of “The cure, the cure, the perfect cure; the only perfect cure”, on the eve of our departure for the Battle of Shrewsbury. And if Fr Conmee delighted in contributing he equally delighted in receiving.
We had, I remember, one time a Christie Minstrel performance got up by the boys, and no one in the whole audience was more overwhelmed by paroxysms of laughter than our Rector. The bones and banjo were very far indeed from being below the dignity of his appreciation. At the same time his voice was ever ready to applaud our ventures into the spacious realm of Shakespeare, in the rehearsals of which he took an active part.
All that I have written serves to throw a play of light on the joyousness, sympathy and versatility, of Fr Conmee's nature, as well as on his disposition to be a party himself with the boys in their intellectual activities. Up to this, I have dwelt almost solely on the expansiveness of the less serious side of his nature. Now perhaps it is seemly to contrast this with the serious.
When need was for it, nothing could be more solemn than his thorough concentration in chapel functions. No boy, youngster or elder, ever left his confessional without a pause of thought and an after time reflection on his parting “Go in peace and pray for me”. During great Church ceremonies his presence on the altar was in just keeping with the ceremonial and his intonation of the “Preface” or the “Pater Noster” of the Feast day's High Mass, was as much a manifest of his love for the old Liturgical Chant as it was of the authentic voice of the Priest.
Up to this I have said nothing of Fr Conmee's great administrative ability. Let these my final paragraphs suffice to illustrate it.
The direction and administration of a College is no small matter even in its humdrum course of ordinary routine. What then must it be in a time of crisis, but a test of super-ability? Such a crisis did indeed occur in the year 1886, and it was one of a sort to test the hardihood of the best. The demon of fire in one night devoured the old study-hall and with truly demoniacal perspicacity and thoroughness included the refectory in its blaze. We boys only knew of it on rising in the morning at the usual hour. Then the building was a smouldering heap of ashes, and the nearest resembance to a form or remnant of panic lay in a wild-fire humour, that we should all be sent to warm our hearts at our respective homestead hearths.
Within a few days, with dashed hopes, we became increasingly, and I may say, irreconcilably conscious of an over-ruling power undismayed by conflagration and undaunted by adversity. In Fr Conmee the demon of fire had found an intrepid adversary, an antagonist already armed, one who in the encounter revealed all the qualities that belong to courage, force, resource and vision, vision that saw in the embers of the ruined pile but the ashes of a Phoenix preparing to rise in new life to a loftier flight. Fr Conme's vision was as compelling as it was prophetic, and was nothing less than the direct outcome of a strong, forceful, and resourceful vitality and an administrative genius. It would have been impossible for any boy listening to his farewell address to us at the end of that term, on the eve of our joyful departure for summer vacation, to ignore its portent, or to be cold to its perfervid, fire-heated fervour. It was a pæan of enthusiasm for a Clongowes re-endowed and revitalised, and with a future of unprecedented expansiveness.
In what way that was to come about, he did not then disclose, nor did we learn until half the ensuing summer holidays had spent themselves. Then suddenly the public press announcements spelt out solution by proclaiming the amalgamation of Clongowes and Tullabeg. Thus began the Clongowes Wood College we know to-day; its second growth, so to speak, and if the initiation of such a scheme did not originate in Fr Conmee's resourceful brain, to him, and to his courage must be attributed the initial and progressive success that attended the first stages of the new régime. · My own notion is that both the scheme and its success were entirely the work of Fr. Conmee-one of the most notable S examples of that product for which the Jesuiti
order is known in each nation and generation to be the producer, namely--the right man for the right place.
Edward J Little