An tAthair Peadar MacSuibhne
For nearly thirty years Fr. Peadar Mac Suibhne was at Knockbeg College.
That educational establishment came alive in him and was identified with
him all over Ireland. He personified for hundreds of boys from all over
Kildare and Leighlin diocese and beyond a school with a bias towards
training young men for the priesthood but by no means expecting all its
pupils to become clerics.
Knockbeg was set up as an extension of Carlow lay college in 1847. By
the end of the century it had become a diocesan college with the title
of minor seminary along the lines suggested by the council of Trent. We
the boys never knew we 'were in a 'seminary'. We even liked most of what
we experienced at the school.
A liberal education As a boy in Knockbeg in the 1930s I was never
conscious of pressure upon boys to become priests. Knockbeg for me was
Fr. Swayne, first encountered at home on a hurried call to Castlemore
and then taking my hand and entering the college porch as I glanced back
up the avenue to catch my final glimpse of the pony and trap hurrying my
mother home. Knockbeg proved to be a liberal education. The Rector was
the key influence. He was an educator with a highly personal system. Fr.
Swayne was many things to boys, parents and past pupils. For the boys he
was so completely at home in speaking Irish that we met in him for the
first time a fully bilingual person. In principle he never spoke English
with us. We became Gaeligeoiri just by being in the college. The lingua
franca was the lingua Gadelica. Beneath a serious mien there was a
fountain of good humour ready to break out. His rotund, soutane-encompassed
figure seemed to be everywhere and appeared at moments of embarrassment
for the rule-breaker. Rules were an important part of life. Discipline
was enforced with the strap.
- Fr. Mac Suibhne, Rector of
- Knockbeg, as many will remember him.
An tAthair Peadar opened up to us new worlds of Irish history, books,
church art, Gregorian chant, republicanism and local history. He edited
a college annual which featured photographs, athletics, poetry, essays
and local lore. He gave us a sense of local identity, bringing past
pupils frequently to address us, creating by his own personality and
interest in us a bond of friendship. We frequently returned to Knockbeg
during the holidays and enjoyed it!
Great re-unions The great reunion meetings in the college in the
1930s were marvellous manifestations of the wider family bond forged by
his tireless organisational energies.
The Army Band, Mrs. Lawler of Naas catering, the Goddard drill
display, and the sports events added up to a most enjoyable function at
a time when such gatherings were rare indeed. Games were important —
football G.A.A. style only, swimming, handball, hurling, tennis. Debates
were organised, outings to other colleges and to the cinema in Carlow
were red-letter days. Rowing boats on the Barrow and a run into Carlow
were adventures to be savoured in retrospect. Rushing letters to the
post office in Carlow and sometimes further afield provided welcome
diversions. The man wrote countless letters at breakneck speed every
day! Hospitality was personified in the Rector. He had a willing
domestic staff led by the Blue Nuns. Parents were made to feel they
belonged; they were part of a wider family. Such warmth and welcome
strike a nostalgic note. He was always at home to Muintir na Tire.
Knockbeg College under Fr. Peadar was a heart-warming experience for
countless visitors. Fine plans for a new college never materialised. The
second world war put paid to that dream. I remember with appreciation a
man who opened doors in my life to the heritage of our Gaelic past, the
beauty of the Church's heritage, the living faith of the local
community, the bonds uniting families in the body of Christ. He was
always in a hurry and never without a smile. He had friends everywhere
and travelled all the roads of Ireland to their delight and his
pleasure. If he was a priest's priest he was no less the people's priest
as much. He had pietas love for his own place and people. His pastoral
years in Suncroft and Kildare will be recalled with affection,
appreciation and many a chuckle. He was an unconventional P.P. for whom
the traditions of parish and diocese were precious fragments to be
preserved. The Americanisation of leisure in Ireland dulled many people
to his Gaelic, Catholic vision, De Valera was a friend and an idol. His
retirement to Carlow college in 1970 enabled him to edit five volumes of
the letters of Cardinal Cullen and histories of the parishes of
Rathangan, Clonegal, Ballon. He was a tireless collector of traditions.
He enjoyed his retirement, winning the affection of priests and
seminarians alike in the college. He never aged. His zest for life
sustained him to the end. He was a natural conservative, jealous of the
heritage of the past, respectful of its monuments, content with things
as they were and as he idealised them. He had a robust loyalty to his
priest friends. His independence put off some higher clerics. His
unpredictability disturbed others. His sharp mind exposed sham. His
years in retirement at Carlow College were happy ones. Athair influenced
many young men by his good humour, his loyalty to the church, his
disciplined life and warm friendship. Kildare friends called regularly.
- Time for people All his life he had plenty of time for people.
Seminary training in Clonliffe and Carlow College did not rob him of
whimsical and highly individual approaches. His mind ranged familiarly
over the church affairs and churchmen of the past 150 years in Ireland
in the way others look back over a long lifetime. Cardinal Cullen was
the hero of his old age. Historians owe him a debt and accept in general
Fr. Swayne's plea for a reassessment of the Cardinal as an Irish church
leader. He loved Carlow College, researched its history and was proud of
its past pupils priesting around the world. He remained young at heart
and related easily to young people. He will be missed by college and
town and friends without number.
- Ar dheis Dhe go raibh a anam dilis.
("May his faithful soul
be on the right hand of God")
Source: The Nationalist April 9th 1982, p.10 from
the Nolan collection of newspaper cuttings provided by Michael Purcell..