The Jesuits

The Castle in the Twentieth Century

The twentieth century saw great changes to the castle.

Sold by the Blackburnes in 1913, part of the estate was purchased by the Society of Jesus who, while maintaining the structure and main rooms of the castle in good condition, added two large wings during the 1920s to accommodate a hall of residence for the seminary and a retreat house and chapel. John Sullivan, a candidate for canonization, was Rector from 1919-24. In 1913, the Jesuits were responsible for giving acclaimed Irish artist Patrick Tuohy (1894-1930) his first commission – to produce ten ceiling paintings of the life of Christ in the castle.

In the early 1980s, the Society decided to sell the castle as they no longer needed it as a seminary. Their decision caused great concern for local residents who feared that it might be demolished. These fears were allayed when the castle was declared a National Monument in 1986 and purchased for the nation by the Office of Public Works in 1987. At the same time, Dublin County Council acquired the grounds.

Patrick Tuohy, RHA (1849-1930) by Seán O'Sullivan (1906-1964), in 1926. National Library of Ireland.
'House of Retreats' - Rathfarnham Castle under the Jesuits. Courtesy of the Irish Jesuit Archive.
Jesuit community at Rathfarnham Castle, 1932 The Jesuit commnuity at Rathfarnham Castle on the occasion of the International Eucharistic Congress. Includes: Fr. T.V. Nolan SJ (Rector) and Irish Jesuits resident at Rathfarnham with guests; Mar Ivanios, Archbishop of Trivandrum, India; Bucys, Bishop of Olympus; Broderick, Bishop Peduelli; Trurita y Alumandos, Bishop of Barcelona; Rector of the Armenian Mission in Paris and Fr. Griffith, Vancouver. Rev. D.D. Ivanios and Bucys celebrated massess according to their respective Eastern rites in the chapel at Rathfarnham. FM/RATH/71. Courtesy of the Irish Jesuit Archive.

In 1908 Fr William O’Leary built a seismograph

This was an instrument that measured earth tremors; he built it in in Mungret College, Limerick. In 1916 he built one in Rathfarnham, where it stayed in operation until 1961. The seismograph could detect the shaking earth from anywhere in the world, leading Rathfarnham to become the international centre for seismography for a short time.

It was not kept in the castle itself, but in a small building in the grounds. This building was the Steward’s House in the time of the Loftus family, and is today used as the headquarters of the Tree Council of Ireland. The original seismograms recorded by this device are now in the possession of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, where research is being carried out on them.

With thanks to the Irish Jesuit Archives.

In 1932, a Milne-Shaw seismograph was obtained to replace the ‘O Leary seismograph’. Courtesy of the Irish Jesuit Archive.
The Drum of the Rathfarnham Seismograph, 1938. Courtesy of the Irish Jesuit Archive.

Did you know...

… that one of the Jesuits living at Rathfarnham Castle, Fr Frank Browne, famously took a trip on the Titanic and escaped with his life when a telegram from his superior told him to get off the ship in Cork? On the first leg of the journey from Southampton, he had taken many photographs of the ship and its passengers, and these were to become some of the only records of that fateful voyage.

The Jesuit Chapel at Rathfarnham, occupying the Ballroom. Taken in 1976. Photo by David Davison.