Few people today will be familiar with the name of William Delany, Jesuit priest and one of the great educationalists of the late 19th century. Born the son of a baker in County Carlow, in 1860 at the age of 25 he was sent to teach at St Stanislaus’s College, then a Jesuit secondary school in County Offaly. Ten years later, Delany became the college’s Rector and embarked on an expansionist policy which led to rebukes from his superiors (the school ran up substantial debts due to his building programme). What they, and everyone else, could not deny, was the quality of education received by students at St Stanislaus’s College, which led them to seek further academic qualifications. At the time, the Catholic University of Ireland, founded in 1851, could not legally confer degrees, and Cardinal Cullen had forbidden Roman Catholics from attending other third-level institutions because they were non-denominational, denouncing them as ‘godless colleges.’ From 1876 Delany overcame this problem by entering his students for the London University examinations, where they achieved one hundred percent success: in 1881 a First Place and First Exhibition were secured by boys at St Stanislaus’s College, competing against thousands of English entrants. Delany would soon leave the school, and was instead appointed the first president of the new University College Dublin (the successor to the Catholic University) where he achieved equal success. However, despite its academic achievements, in 1886 St Stanislaus’s College closed as a boys’ school. The debts caused by Delany’s building programmes, along with the shortage of Jesuit priests in Ireland, forced the order to make certain decisions, one of which was to focus attention Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, despite the fact that the latter’s record was not as good as that of the County Offaly school.
St Stanislaus’s College, popularly known as Tullabeg, dates back to 1818. The land on which it stands had been provided a few years earlier by a local woman, Maria O’Brien, whose father, a wealthy Roman Catholic merchant from Dublin, had bought an estate in the area: Rahan Lodge, originally built c.1740 as a hunting lodge. Initially it was intended that the new college would act as a novitiate for training Jesuit priests. However, before long it began to serve as a preparatory school for boys who would then go on to Clongowes Wood College. After several decades the school began to offer second level education to students and, as already mentioned, continued to do so until 1886. Two years later, a new purpose was found for the property, when it became the novitiate for the Irish province of the Jesuits; every young man who entered the order thereafter would spend a period of time at Tullabeg. This continued to be the case until 1930 when the novitiate was transferred to Emo Court, County Laois. Next the place became a faculty of philosophy for Jesuits who had already finished their studies at university. A further change of direction occurred in 1962 when the order decided to make Tullabeg a retreat centre; this finally closed in 1991. Thereafter the property seems to have had a chequered history, at one stage being used as a nursing home while a nine-hole golf course was installed in the grounds.
St Stanislaus’s College is a building of diverse parts and periods, the whole adding up to a very substantial complex. The earliest part dates back to the second decade of the 19th century, when a south-facing block of three storeys over basement was constructed, its architectural style very much aping that of country houses of the period, with a flight of stone steps leading up to the main entrance, the door flanked by Ionic columns and topped by a generous fanlight. Over the following years, projecting wings were added on either side of this block, and then a church built to the immediate west. Once St Stanislaus’s College began to take in secondary school students, additional space was required, so in the early 1860s a large block to the east was added. Known as the Seaver Wing (after the rector of the period), the building, which is centred on a large three-bay breakfront featuring substantial tripartite fenestration, incorporated classrooms, dormitories and a refectory. Later in the same decade, a further wing was added parallel to and north of the original house; this held a college chapel and study hall, along with further accommodation. The work of this period was designed by successful Dublin architect Charles Geoghegan. During his time as rector, William Delany commissioned further work on the premises, rebuilding the students’ chapel, converting another chapel into a study hall and remodelling the east wing; he also had part of the local river deepened and enclosed to provide decent swimming facilities. Little of substance appears to have changed thereafter until the mid-1940s when Fr Donal O’Sullivan, then rector of St Stanislaus’s, commissioned the modernist architect Michael Scott to design a new chapel in the building; this had stained glass windows by Evie Hone, a timber altar and statues by sculptor Laurence Campbell and terracotta Stations of the Cross by French sculptor Robert Villiers. When the Jesuits left Tullabeg in 1991, they removed all these fittings and installed them in some of the order’s other properties. So those items were at least saved from the vandalism and decay that awaited the rest of the place and has led to its present decay. What can be done with such a vast range of buildings? Tullabeg is in a relatively remote part of the Irish midlands, in a rural area with few facilities. No doubt this isolation was beneficial when St Stanislaus’s operated as a religious house, but is now a distinct drawback. It would appear a few commercial ventures were attempted or considered here, but not found viable. So it sits, neglected and falling into further dereliction, a monument to another, now passed, era in the country’s history.