St Patrick’s College shares the campus with the National University of Maynooth, which was created by the Universities Act of 1997.
The original St. Patrick’s College was founded in 1795 as a seminary for the training of Roman Catholic priests. The French Revolution had decimated most of the European seminaries, and there was a shortage of educational facilities, especially for priests that were especially needed in Ireland. King George III signed the Irish Parliamentary Bill, basically to prevent the French from encroaching on England via the Irish Catholics.
The college site at Maynooth was chosen at the request of the Duke of Leinster in 1795. The foundation was begun in 1798. More than 11,000 priests were ordained here, and have served in locations all around the world.
The grounds were part of the property of the famous Fitzgerald family, who originally founded the College of St. Mary on this site in 1518. It was destroyed, along with the family dream of a Catholic educational institution, by King Henry VIII’s religious reforms. The establishment of St. Patrick’s College eventually fulfilled the dream of the Fitzgerald family.
The original college building is called Stoyte House, named after the former owner of the residence. The monetary resources were extremely meager; so a few unremarkable but functional buildings were added. The courtyard of St. Joseph’s Square, however, maintains its classic beauty to this day.
The college budget increased in 1845, after the Catholic Emancipation Act became law and repeal of the Union was being considered. The new money was used to build St. Mary’s Square, a quadrangle of fashionable Gothic style buildings. The college chapel was not completed until 1893, also in Grand Gothic style that was very popular in Ireland at the time.
Shortly after the centennial celebration of St. Patrick’s College in 1895, the seminary was granted Pontifical University status (from Rome itself) and had the ability to grant degrees in Theology, Canon Law and Philosophy as well as to ordain priests.
In 1910, the college was granted National University of Ireland status, along with the ability to grant degrees in the arts and sciences. In 1966, the first lay students were admitted.
Today, NUI Maynooth, St. Patrick’s College Pontifical University and the National Seminary all function side by side on the historic campus. There is a Visitor Centre, featuring exhibits that teach local and college history, and provide tours of the buildings and gardens, which are centered around two walking paths – the Path of Saints and the Path of Sinners.
The ruins of Maynooth Castle sit near the entrance to the campus. It was the original property of the Fitzgerald Family, and allowed to disintegrate after their failed 1536 rebellion. The 13th century castle keep and great hall can still be seen, and tours of the site are conducted during the summer months.
St. Patrick’s College also houses a museum highlighting a collection of religious articles such as rosaries, chalices, and vestments. A group of scientific exhibits, including telegraph equipment originally used by Marconi and induction coil inventor Nicolas Callan are also on display.
St. Patrick's College. Image by William Murphy