History of the School of Education


Tomas Kelly Portrait School of educationNote: The following article was written, shortly before his death in 2001, by an tAthair Eustás Ó Héideáin O.P., Professor of Education at NUI, Galway from 1968 - 1988

The first Professor of Education, Tomás Ó Ceallaigh, was appointed in 1914, soon after similar appointments had been made by the National University in Dublin and Cork.

Ó Ceallaigh held the Chair for only ten years. He became very ill in 1923 and his doctor advised him to go to France. He left Galway on February 4th 1924 and we are told that on his way through Dublin he met an old friend, Fr Pádraig de Brún, later to become President of UCG. Within three weeks, on 24 February, Ó Ceallaigh died in France, in San Roche Hospital, Nice and he was buried in Nice Cemetery where a Celtic cross, with a simple inscription in both Irish and English, was erected to mark his grave.

Ó Ceallaigh came to Galway with the reputation of a scholar, an outstanding, experienced teacher, and a writer, especially in Irish. An obituary in the Galway Tribune(17 May 1924) recorded another activity for which he was noted:

'When the National Loan was established some years ago Father O'Kelly's energetic work in Galway resulted in a very considerable collection which was acknowledged by the late General Michael Collins -God rest both their souls. This written acknowledgment has survived many a raid and search by the "Tans" and other enemies. Fr Tom was chosen in that time of danger for this work because he was always a man who could do what he had to do efficiently and quietly without noise or boast. A man devoid of all pretence, Fr O'Kelly preferred doing work to talking about it'.

The details of his earlier life can be summarised simply. He was born in Gurteen, Sligo, on December 15th 1879. At the age of four he went to live with his grandmother who had a considerable influence on him, passing on to him her interest and skills in Irish music, folklore and language.

At the age of thirteen he won first place in a scholarship examination to Summerhill College, Sligo. Later, in 1897, he went as a clerical student to Maynooth College, was ordained priest in 1903, and after the award of the Licentiate in Theology degree returned to Summerhill College where he taught until 1912.

In 1908, the year of the establishment of the National University of Ireland, he qualified as a Bachelor of Arts, and from 1913 to 1914 studied in University College Dublin where he was awarded the Higher Diploma in Education. In Dublin also he was Ard Ollamh in Coláiste Laighean, the Leinster College of Irish. Later (1922) he was awarded the M.A. Degree in University College Dublin.

Ó Ceallaigh's short professional life was spent in teaching, first in Summerhill College Sligo, then in Coláiste Laighean, finally in University College Galway, and those in contact with him said he was an exceptionally good teacher. His second love was Irish language, music and song. The interest given him by his grandmother ripened considerably in Maynooth under the influence of Fr Eoghan Ó Gramhnaigh who had been appointed Professor of Irish in 1891.

In Maynooth, Ó Ceallaigh taught Irish to other students, he was one of the founders of Cuallacht Chuilm Cille and Irishleabhar Mhuighe Nuadhad, and he edited Irisleabhar na Cuallachta. That was only the beginning of his literary work in Irish. His biography, An tAthair Tomás Ó Ceallaigh agus a Shaothar, by An tAthair Tomás S. Ó Laimhin (Gaillimh 1943), gives the text of twenty two poems composed by Ó Ceallaigh, two translations, and nine poems which he collected from various sources. The biography also includes six plays and five ceol-dramaí.

Here our particular interest is the period 1914-1924 during which Ó Ceal1aigh was Professor of Education in UCG. When he applied for appointment one of his referees was Dr Douglas Hyde, who wrote of him:

'Tá aithne ag gach uile Ghael a bhfuil suim aige i litríocht agus i n-oideachas na hÉireann ar an Athair Tomás Ó Ceallaigh. Agus tá meas an domhain Ghaelaigh ar a chuid filíochta agus a chuid dramaíochta gan trácht ar a léinn i gcursaí na Gaeilge' ( Applications and Testimonials for Chair of Education, 1914. Quoted, Ó Láimhin, op cit, p 5).

Another referee, Seoirse Ó Muanáin, B.L., Secretary of Coláiste Laighean, the Leinster College of Irish, wrote:

'The Rev. Thomas O'Kelly, B.A., B.D., has acted as Principal of the Leinster College of Irish for the session 1913-1914. In that capacity he has been solely responsible for the academic organisation of the classes at Dublin, Milltown and Mullingar. He has, further, been in personal charge of classes in Dublin and Milltown in Irish Literature, Advanced Phonetics and Metrics, Teaching of Texts, and Methods of Teaching. His lectures have been systematic, precise and apt. They have attracted the close attention of students who have expressed the highest appreciation of them. In a quiet manner he has preserved a high standard of order in all the arrangements. This has been greatly helped by his gentle, tactful and persuasive personal manner (Applications and Testimonials for Chair of Education,-1914. Quoted Ó Láimhin, op cit, p 20).

A third referee was Professor Timothy Corcoran, Professor of Education in University College Dublin. In the academic year 1913/14 Ó ‌Ceallaigh studied under him for the Higher Diploma in Education, and secured first place in the examinations. Corcoran wrote:

'During the academic session 1913-'14 the Rev. Thomas O'Kelly has been constantly in attendance at my lectures at the Course prescribed in this College for the Higher Diploma in Education, established by the National University. He has also, to my knowledge, been engaged in work on our programme for the degree of M.A. in Educational Science, though unable, owing to other educational duties, to attend the special course leading to that degree. I have very great pleasure in recording, even before the end of the Academic Year, the high opinion I have formed of Father O'Kelly's knowledge and ability. His written work, submitted to me in the form of terminal essays, shows him to be able to unite in a marked degree the Theory of Education and that practical skill and judgement which come from prolonged experience in classwork' (Applications and Testimonials for Chair of Education, 1914. Quoted Ó Láimhin, op cit,p 21). 

Before the appointment of Ó Ceallaigh in Galway, the National University had already filled two Chairs of Education, a Professorship of the Theory and Practice of Education in Dublin, and a Professorship of Methods of Education in Cork. The University Calendar for 1914 gives details of the Higher Diploma in Education courses approved for Dublin and Cork, and adds: 'The above conditions to apply in every respect to University College Galway, should an Education Department be formed there' (NUl Calendar 1914, p 116).

 Tomas O ceallaigh name history

The UCG Calendar for 1915/16 (pp 87-93) gives an outline of the first UCG programme in Education.

Courses were approved for two Diplomas (the 'Higher Diploma' and the 'Diploma'), together with Education as a subject for the B.A. Degree, and the M.A. Degree programme in Educational Science.

First Higher Diploma Programme

Early Provision of Education as a Subject for B.A. Degree.

An tAthair Eric

Diplomas in Education

Postgraduate Degrees in Education

Innovation in Education