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History | Coláiste Mhuire

The History of Coláiste Mhuire - The Hevey Institute

Coláiste Mhuire is a boys’ secondary school located in the centre of Mullingar adjacent to the imposing Cathedral of Christ the King. The school first opened its doors on the 20th of October 1856. The Hevey Institute, as it was then called, consisted of a Collegiate or Classical School and a General School. In the former, boys were grounded in Latin and Greek to prepare for entry to St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth and the latter catered for the ‘poor children resident in the parish of Mullingar’ in the care of the Christian Brothers. By the 1860’s, there were already 400 pupils in attendance and, in time, the Classical School gave way to the General School.


The Hevey Institute was established as a result of the benevolence of local brewer and landowner James Hevey who left his lands at Bryanstown, Ballinea "to support and educate in literature, science and theology, such poor children as they should select in the parish of Mullingar, and for that purpose to build and keep in repair a schoolhouse". Following his death in 1837, the Hevey Trust was established to ensure that the benefactor’s purpose was fulfilled. In 1854, a site between the new railway line and new chapel was purchased for £200. The Hevey Institute was designed by a Mr. John Bourke, an architect of Dublin who also designed The Mater Hospital. Richard Davis won the contract to construct the building that eventually came in at a cost of £6,500, according the ‘The Freeman’s Journal’ of 1858. The grandiose Hevey Institute with its variety of classical features including an impressive Italianate belfry made it one of the finest buildings in Mullingar.

To truly grasp the significance of this compassionate gesture by James Hevey, the construction of the Hevey Institute must be looked at in the context of its time. Ireland in the 1850’s was devastated by death and emigration due to the famine. Despite the fact that the population of Westmeath had dropped by nearly thirty thousand people from the 1840’s up until the end of the century, Mullingar’s population remained steadily unchanged during the same timeframe. Living conditions in the town were very poor, however three major events occurred in the space of a few years that really benefited the town and brought about brighter spirits among its inhabitants; the opening of rail line to Dublin in 1848, to Galway in 1851, and the opening of the Hevey Institute in 1856. There was a definite need for a new school in Mullingar as the parish was recovering from the famine as its population hadn’t decreased in parallel with the rest of the county. The only other establishment of education in the town at the time was Presentation Convent which opened in 1826 (Presentation Mullingar). When the Hevey Institute opened its doors for the first time in 1856, boys of the general school were introduced to subjects such as Spelling, Reading, Writing, English, Composition, Arithmetic, Rudiments, Proportion and higher rules, Grammar, geography, History ancient and modern, bookkeeping, geometry and trigonometry, linear drawing, mensuration, Globes, Navigation, Algebra, and mechanics. The Hevey Institute provided an opportunity of an education and hope for a better life for young boys in Mullingar in the late 1800’s.  


In the intervening years, The Hevey Institute has undergone extensive restoration and extension over the years to cater for the growing population. In September 1959, a primary school was opened on the grounds. The advent of free education in the 1967 changed secondary education forever; among the many changes which followed was the birth of the yellow buses which brought pupils in from outlying parishes and villages.  This in turn led to an increase in school numbers and thus, funding for a new building providing extra classrooms and science labs for the variety of subjects that were being taught in Irish schools at the time. The new secondary building was opened in 1972 at a cost of £124,060. The sports gym was built in 1980 to accommodate the needs of young boys to play a variety of sports and this helped progress the school’s already prolific sporting tradition. In September 1994 the first lay principal, Mr. Joe O’Meara was appointed and he oversaw a further extension in 2003 at a cost of €3 million which included a state of the art technology room opened in February 2005.


The Christian Brothers left Mullingar in 2005 and The Hevey Institute once again became a part of school life. The iconic building had lain unused for a number of decades and had fallen into a state of disrepair before a complete refurbishment began in 2008. Extensive internal and external work was carried out to bring the building into the 21st century while carefully retaining its original architectural features. Part of the work on the east wing included the restoration of the building’s oratory with the original stained glass windows cleaned and restored to their former majesty. The windows depict scenes and items from Ireland’s faith history, such as the Ardagh Chalice, the Mass Rock and St. Patrick’s fire on Tara. The addition of an iconic glass corridor linking The Hevey Institute with the 1971 extension has transformed the connecting space and created a light and spacious link that perfectly fuses old and new. It was an ambitious and expensive project funded by local grants and donations completed in 2012. This link between the present and past building truly helps reflect how the ethos and mission of the school has remained over its 160  year history and continues into the present day.  


We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to Dr. Joe Murray, past pupil, former teacher and friend who was instrumental in compiling the history of Coláiste Mhuire. His interest and knowledge of his alma mater is invaluable.

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