Saint Patrick's Academy, Islandeady in Co. Mayo

Saint Patrick's Academy is situated in the very picturesque and serene village of Islandeady.

We occupy a house which is seeped in history going back to Famine times in Ireland: Woodville House aka Saint Patrick's Academy was built in the townland of Cloonan, an area of 244 acres including 18 acres of water, in the parish of Islandeady and the Barony of Burrishoole in 1837 records mention the "Big Houses" of Islandeady Parish, the principal seats being:

  • Macnagh residence of M. Roland

  • Green Hill House residence of J. Burke

  • Cloonan House residence of J. O'Malley

  • Rahins House residence of H.J.H Browne

  • Woodville House residence of T. Burke

Woodville House was built around 1780 by the Bourkes, a Catholic family who had managed to hold on to their lands under a new landlord named Sir Roger Palmer. It was the Bourkes who planted the trees around Woodville House in 1824.

Around 1850 records show a William Scott living at Woodville House with 238 acres, 1 rood, 20 perches with a valuation of £68 - £135. The Scotts were Protestant who enlarged the House, adding a force and who, during land reclamation, inadvertently cleared away a Mass Rock. (This mass rock was close to a wall on the land now owned by Brownes.)

The gate lodge which was on the site where Stauntons Old Shop is at present was demolished. Scott, it appears was a man of many misfortunes.

He was not very popular locally and when he evicted two poor families - the Gannons and Stauntons, one year close to Christmas Eve, he was condemned from the pulpit by the parish priest: Scott himself was spotted one day buying locks in Kilkelly's, Castlebar.

The local reported back "He rode a coal-black horse - He was a big man"!

Woodville House next passed into the hands of one Walter Fahy around 1880. A granary was built, numerous sheep and cattle were installed and the farm prospered until the mid 1920's.

It was around this time that the townland of Cloonan was divided up by the Land Commission, and Woodville House was left with it's 9 acres and private avenue.

In 1924, Mr & Mrs Hughes took up residence - teachers at Cloggemagh N.S. with quite a large family. Pat Hughes, the master and a staunch republican rep cows and pigs and rented land locally for tillage. Their reign ended in 1939.

The next scene in the history of Woodville House opens with a colourful character - namely Dr. T.J. Murphy around 1940.

Prior to his move to Woodville, D. Murphy held various positions: he was doctor on board ship that laid cables from Norway to Newfoundland. Practised, with his brother, in Birmingham and during the war years took up a position in a hospital in the south of England. Here, he practised for a while at Harbour House, Newport and later at North Mall, Westport.

Dr. Murphy sold the Westport practice to Dr. Farrell in the 1960's after which he returned to Woodville and took up a post in the Mayo Mental Hospital.

Although he seldom spoke of his role in "The Troubles", Dr. Murphy certainly played his part. He was enrolled in the Volunteers by Séan McDermott, who was a friend of Major John McBride, met Roger Casement and knew Pearse 2nd Plunkett. Dr. Murphy left Woodville in 1965, he died in the 1970's and is buried in Islandeady Cemetery.

In 1965 Woodville was purchased by a Mr. Murray (soccer player) and the house underwent major change: it's modest yet striking grandeur was stripped - it's interior converted into flats.

Fortunately this purpose was never fulfilled and Cathal Hughes (grand nephew of Pat Hughes) took possession in 1980 and restored Woodville House to it's former glory, remaining there until 1990.

In August 1990 Woodville House opened a new chapter in it's history: Bourkes' Big House became St. Patrick's Academy.

The house has opened it's doors to many visitors down the years and apart from the Scotts occupation has welcomed many priests (before the Parochial House was built, priests usually went to Woodville for their meals). I

n the 1930's a missioner from the Cross and Passion Order was a guest of the Hughes Family and His Grace Dr. Walsh, Archbishop of Tuam dined with Dr. Murphy in the early 1940's.

It's walls no doubt have echoed to the sound of the cannon as Humbert entered Castlebar, it's lands have supported the trade of the French troops, it's doors have with stood the blows of Yeoman and Redcoat. It has been battered and buffeted by the Big Wind, the famine visited and left it's mark and it has given sanctuary to the hunted. Today Woodville echoes to the sound of the students.

We cater for secondary school students, boys and girls and provide limited boarding facilities. Local families provide accommodation for girls. The school was set up to cater for those who needed an alternative to the larger school. We emphasise a friendly caring approach catering as best we can for each individual's educational and emotional needs.

Students come to our school for various reasons. Our boarders would mainly come from Catholic backgrounds where their parents would wish them to learn and live in an atmosphere enriched with the living of their catholic beliefs.

Others would come requiring academic excellence through our small numbers and dedicated staff. Weaker students would come here for the same reasons in the knowledge that they would have a much better chance of succeeding here.

We also take in a small number of students with learning or behavioural disabilities i.e. dyslexia, mild autism, a.d.d.

Our students are very content and happy learning without pressure and being encouraged to do their best with the abilities they have. The atmosphere of the school has often been likened to a large happy family and that coupled with the beautiful grounds and scenery make for a very good and pleasant learning environment.

We are a totally independent private school unable to get government support. We depend on fees for half of our running costs and the remainder we raise through benefactions and fund-raising activities.

We are very happy living in Islandeady. We would like to integrate more with the village life activities and would also wish to contribute to the community in any way we can. We would be delighted if the Islandeady community would invite us to participate more in their affairs.

For instance, we could offer a scholarship to the local primary schools for a student to attend St. Patrick's Academy. We could offer evening study for village students.

Perhaps there are opportunity in the sports area where we could co-operate? We have been requested to open a Montessori pre-school here at the Academy. We would be interested to hear from parents in the village regarding this venture which if there are sufficient children would commence in January 2001.

Thank you for reading this article. I should be delighted to hear from anyone with ideas or views on a possible closer relationship between ourselves and Islandeady.

Yours sincerely,

Annette Casey (School Principal)