The De Valera Family and St. Brigid’s Greystones

The following is and extract from

History of

Greystones Convent

and Blacklion School

by

Sister M. Dolorosa

(1964)

President De Valera (and his family)

‘The year was 1917. Sister Mary Rose was called to the parlour  

‘a lady wished to see her’.

As the Sister stood for a moment, framed in the parlour doorway,

the visitor noted the kindly lines in her face.

‘A warm heart beats with’, she though, ‘which all her Victorian dignity,

and the Jansenistic rigour of her generation, cannot hide’.

In her turn, the Sister looked at the dainty figure befor her:

a fair-hair lady with a gentle dignity, and the most winning of smiles.

The nun’s heart went out to her at once.

‘I’m Mrs. De Valera,’ the lady introduced herself.

‘De Valera!’ Sister Mary Rose was conscious of a little inward shiver.

‘The name was not at all common.

Could it be connected with that dreadful Rebel? She sincerely hoped not!’

Like all nuns of the period, she was naively ignorant of the world of politics.

Of course, she knew what rebellions were.

Had she not heard endless discussion in her own home and ’98. 1803 and 1848!

Then there was 1867, when she had been in the Convent for six years,

and the recent trouble in 1916 …

What bloodshed! What loss of life! And all in vain!

Would her dear misguided countrymen never learn sense?

Untrained, and with the most primitive of weapons,

‘with every recurring folly, they were prepared to defy a mighty Empire.

Of what use were pikes against the British cannons?

To be sure, they must have had some guns in 1916: a number of people were shot!’

The mere thought of taking life was enough to make Sister Mary Rose feel faint.

She recoiled in horror from these thoughts,

but was far too well-bred and courteous

to allow them to effect her manner to the visitor.

‘How do you do, Mrs. De Valera. Won’t you be seated, please.’

Her hostess indicated the sofa.

‘Now, what can I do for you?’

‘I have come to ask you to take my two eldest children into the school.

Vivion is almost seven years of age, while Mairín is not yet six.’

A Valued Friendship

The interview proved to be the beginning of a warm friendship

between the Sisters of the Holy Faith in Greystones,

and the family of Éamon De Valera, now President of Ireland.

Moreover, Sister Mary Rose was to live long enough to learn,

that the latest ‘recurring folly’ of her ‘dear misguided countrymen’

was not ‘all in vain’, after all!

The Children Come to School

When the De Valera family took up residence in one of the stucco houses on Kinlen Road, in 1917,

they hardly realized at the time that they were settling among a very unsympathetic and hostile community.

Before they left the district, however in 1922, many had thawed out and succumb to the charm of this family,

the members of which were ready to suffer so much, and make such sacrifices for their ideals.

Vivion and Mairín came to the Convent School and made their First Holy Communion with the Sisters,

before the family returned to Dublin.

Éamonn, Brian and Ruaidhrí, all attended the school, while Emer was a little visitor of four at the time.

On their return to the City, they continued their education in the Holy Faith Schools, Haddington Road,

until they changed their residence to another district.

The youngest, Terry, is the only member of the De Valera family, who did not attend a Holy Faith School.

Since that sad period of our country’s history, having come through many suffering and vicissitudes,

from which they were bravely shielded by their valiant mother, the children,

after distinguished academic careers, have become:

Major Vivion De Valera, MsC, PhD.

Miss Máirín De Valera, Msc, PhD.

(at present Professor of Botany in University College, Galway).

Éamonn De Valera, MAO, MD, FRCPI

(Professor of Gynaecology & Obstetrics in University College, Dublin).

Ruaidhrí De Valera, MA, PhD

(Professor of Celtic Archaeology in University College, Dublin).

Emer De Valera, BA,

(cut short a university career to become Mrs. Brian Ó Cuív).

Toirdhealbhach De Valera is a solicitor.

Alas! Brian’s name is absent from the list.

He met with a sad accident at the age of twenty (1936), when he was thrown from a horse.

This was not the least of the many great sacrifices which this family has been called upon to offer to God.

The Language Movement

…..In 1917, just at the time when the family of President De Valera came to live in Greystones,

the Language movement was in full swing.

The coveted ‘Fáinne’ was becoming quite fashionable.

Understandably, the nuns did not like to be left behind in this particular field,

but at the time, they could not leave their convents in order to attend classes outside.

The delight of the Sisters in Greystones, when they discovered that

they had an experienced teacher of the Irish language in their midst,

in the person of Mrs. De Valera, who was willing to conduct classes in the Convent,

can well be imagined.

Mrs. De Valera gave them every help in the study of the Language. …

Mrs. De Valera also taught Irish to the children in the school in Greystones,

thus the Sisters’ pupils benefited, too.

Ireland’s First Lady

Wishing to put on record an account of this friendship

between the Sisters of the Holy Faith and the family of President De Valera,

we applied to Mrs. De Valera for confirmation.

…Realizing that if she compied with our wishes in writing,

she might be harassed by others looking for written memorials –

a task to which she felt very unequal in her eight-sixth year

– she decided on a personal interview instead;

a privilege for which we would not have dared to hope!

On December 31st, 1964, Mrs. De Valera, as ‘Ireland’s First Lady’,

paid a visit to the Convent to which she had first come in 1917.

The pleasure of this visit for her, must have mingled with sadness.

All the old faces were gone; all the old friends were dead.

There was no Sister Mary Rose to receive her.

And alas! For the ‘Victorian dignity’ and (we hope!) the ‘Jansenistic rigour’

– they had vanished a generation ago.

Instead she was ‘hugged and kissed’

and ‘physically’ conducted to a modern armchair in lieu of the ‘indicated sofa’.

We trust that the warm affection which inspired this conduct compensated for our lost of dignity!

There sat this little lady with the gracious smile, telling us in her own simple and homely way

about the only people who held out the hand of friendship

to her in her years of trial in Greystones from 1917 to 1922:

the Sisters of the Holy Faith.

How even Sister Mary Rose’s heart,

melted in kindness toward the ‘dreadful Rebel’ so as much as to pray

and ask others to pray that Our Lady would make him invisible to his enemies.

An Bhean De Valera was accompanied by her daughter, Professor Máirín De Valera , who related

how impressed the De Valera children had been by the kindness of all the nuns,

but especially by that of Sister Mary Paulinus.

This Sister was in charge of the kitchen.

When any of the children were put out of the school-room ‘in disgrace’,

Sister Mary Paulinus called them into the kitchen,

where their ‘penance’ was changed into pleasure by the enjoyment of some titbit or sweetmeat.

Yes, the Sisters took the De Valera family and the Cause they embraced, to their hearts.

In those early days the Cause was fought under the banner of ‘Sinn Féin’.

The day came when the Sisters went to the polls to vote.

Sister Mary Rose, with all the affection she had for the family of Éamonn De Valera,

never took to the ‘Cause’.

When the Sisters returned after having registered their votes,

she on overhearing some of their whispered remarks, complained:

‘I’m afraid some of you have voted ‘Sinn Féin!’

The sole reason they had for voting at all!…

Informal Chats

When the chaos which reigned between 1917 and 1922 was finally brought under control

and Éamonn De Valera took his place in public life

as President of Dáil Eireann, under the first Constitution,

himself and Mrs. De Valera slipped down to Greystones,

on a few occasions, to have a chat with their old friends in the Convent.

During one of those visits (long before it ever appeared in print)

he described for the Sisters his romantic escape from Lincoln Jail:

how he procured the wax and got an impression of the Chaplain’s key;

how duplicates were made;

the thrill when the expected signal was flashed in the darkness outside;

the awful anxiety when the key which Collins and Boland had brought,

broke in the lock; the relief when his own duplicate worked;

his boyish sense of adventure as he passed the sentry unobserved,

and all the subsequent vicissitudes.

The card which comes every Christmas from Áras an Uachtaráin to the Sisters in Greystones,

is a gentle reminder of all the affectionate traditions which have been

handed down to a younger generation of nuns.

But they need no reminder to keep alive the deep regard

which they will always have for President & Mrs. De Valera

and each member of their family.’

End of extract from Sister Mary Dolorosa’s piece on the History of St.Brigid’s

Holy Faith Convent – A School Long Ago

convent

The convent was built in 1906.

In 2015 the convent was sold to the Department of Education.

There are plans to use the convent to give us more room in which to learn and to play.

In 2013, while an extension was being build to the school,

a number of classes went back in time and went to school in the convent.

Click below to see…

More than 100 Years of The Holy Faith Sisters in Greystones

convent

In 1903 Rev. Nicholas Donnelly

Parish Priest of Bray and Greystones,

asked the Holy Faith Sisters

to take charge of a school at Blacklion.

 

It was situated to the left of

the entrance to Applewood Heights.

The Sisters already had convents in

Newtown since 1892

and in Kilcoole since 1897.

 

From 1903–06 Sisters Mary Dionysius, Joanna and Anthony

travelled from Kilcoole each day by pony and trap

to teach in Blacklion School.

They were driven by one of their students.

 

In 1906 the Sisters came and built a convent

beside the church in Greystones

on land bought from the La Touche family.

 

Sisters Mary Winifred, Peter, Bertrand and Reginald

stayed in Kilcoole Convent

for a two weeks or so until the convent at Greystones was completed.

Seven pupils were enrolled at first but these numbers gradually grew.