Friday, 27 November 2020 Features


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The Arrival of the Sisters of St Louis

It was on 8 January 1924 – a cold snowy day, according to one of the ‘Founding’  Sisters – that the first four Sisters of St Louis, accompanied by the Mother General and Canon McNamee, from Monaghan, arrived in Ballymena.  They were warmly welcomed by Very Reverend Thomas Canon O’Donnell.


At that time Kintullagh House was not in a very good state of repair. 

Ballymena did not yet have electricity.  The house was cold and draughty, lit by gas or oil lamps and with open fires as the form of heating. 

The sisters – Mother Claude, Sister Conception, Sister Finian and Sister Albert would have been glad to get to bed after a long, tiring day of travel. 

They recalled how they were woken early the next morning by the clanging of the great brass doorbell.  They thought something was wrong.  When the door was opened they discovered Canon O’Donnell on the doorstep – he had come to celebrate 6 am Mass with them in the new convent. 


This Mass is commemorated by a plaque on a sideboard kept in the convent.  It reads:

‘Used as an altar for the first Mass celebrated in Kintullagh, 9 January 1924
Celebrant Very Rev T Canon O’Donnell PP VF’.


Canon O’Donnell had long been anxious to establish a school for the education of the catholic girls in Ballymena so in September 1924, St Louis High School was started with Sister Evangelist as Principal and an enrolment of thirty five pupils.  The other members of staff were Sister Mechtilde, Sister Benedict, Mother Josephine, Miss McEvoy and Miss McKavanagh. 

The large rooms in the Convent were used for classrooms and some of the trees and shrubs being cleared away to make room for playing fields and tennis courts.  One of the attractions was a walled garden presided over by Thomas O'Brien.  Thomas, his wife Bridget and children Thomas, Annie and John had come from Carrickmacross around 1925.  Thomas became the gardener for the Sisters and the family lived in a black stone cottage at one of the Cullybackey Road entrances to the property.    Later George, another gardner, famous for his prize winning blooms, won prizes at the Ballymena and other shows in the district.  A special treat for the pupils in the early days of the school, was a visit to the garden, especially at the end of the summer term.  

About 1926 a gymnasium was erected for games, ‘drill’ and dancing but, with the increasing numbers, it was soon subdivided by folding doors and used for additional classrooms.

As the numbers continued to rise a completely new Grammar School was built and opened in September 1954.  The pupils flitted out of the Convent to occupy the beautiful new building.

In September 1924 two Sisters of St Louis, Sister Paschal and Sister Bernardine, had joined the staff of the school on the Cushendall Road pending the reconstruction of buildings attached to the Convent.  In April 1925 this work was completed and the St Louis Public Elementary School was opened, staffed by three Sisters and one lay teacher – Sister Theresa,  Principal,  Sister Paschal, Sister Bernardine and Miss Annie McVeigh . 

When St Patrick’s Secondary School opened in 1957 Sister Attracta and Sister Anne were appointed to the teaching staff.


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