Irish College at Salamanca

The Irish College at Salamanca was founded by Rev. Thomas White, formerly of Clonmel, Ireland, in 1592 to house the students of that country who came to Salamanca due to the English persecution of the Catholics. The students resided at the college while attending lectures at the University of Salamanca.

Cloister at Colegio del Arzobispo Fonseca


The religious persecution under Elizabeth and James I lead to the suppression of the monastic schools in Ireland in which the clergy for the most part received their education. It became necessary, therefore, to seek education abroad, and many colleges for the training of the secular clergy were founded on the Continent, at Rome, in Spain and Portugal, in Belgium, and in France.[1] The Penal Laws in force in Ireland from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, included forbidding Catholics to teach in Ireland or to send their children abroad for education,


The most famous and largest of the Irish colleges in Spain was that of Salamanca, founded, at the petition of Father Thomas White, by a decree of King Philip II, dated 1592. The support of the students was provided for by a royal endowment. That same year, the King gave Father Thomas White permission to bring ten students from Valladolid to Salamanca, where they were provided with a stipend so that they could continue their studies. The King placed the school under the direction of the Society of Jesus; the first rector was Irish Jesuit Father James Archer who was sent from Flanders. In the following years Archer visited the Spanish court regularly in an effort to secure scarce funding for the institution.[2]

White went to Lisbon to assist with the college founded there by Father Fr John Howling SJ., but in July 1593 returned to Salamanca and joined the Jesuits. He spent the next three years fundraising for the schools at Lisbon, Salamanca, and Santiago. In 1596 he returned to Ireland to enlist students and raise funds.[3] The college eventually invested in property such as olive groves and vineyards in order to have a more stable source of income and produced its own food from a small farm.

In 1608 the Salamanca College was incorporated into the University of Salamanca. In 1610 King Philip III donated a house which came to be known as El Real Colegio de San Patricio de Nobles Irlandeses (The Royal College of Irish Nobles). Upon entering the college, students intending to become priests swore an oath that upon completion of their studies they would go on the Irish mission. They also promised to reimburse the college their expenses if they did not complete their studies. The course of study typically lasted seven years. Before returning to Ireland, newly ordained priests could apply to the king for the viaticum, approximately 100 ducats to cover travel expenses.[3] The king also established scholarships for the sons of Irish exiles, without the requirement that they study for the priesthood. The college was further assisted by bequests from these exiles, such as the family of O'Sullivan Beare.

Fonseca Palace

The Jesuits continued to govern the college until the order was expelled from Spain in 1767 by Charles III. After that the rectors of the college were selected from amongst the Irish secular clergy, presented by the bishops of Ireland and confirmed by the King of Spain. Dr. Birmingham was the first rector after the departure of the Jesuits. The following year, the college moved into a building formerly occupied by the Spanish Jesuits. In 1769 the colleges at Sevilla and Santiago were incorporated into the college at Salamanca. In Alcalá, anciently Complutum, famous for its university, and for its polyglot edition of the Bible, an Irish college was founded in 1590, by a Portuguese nobleman named George Sylveira, a descendant, through his mother, of the MacDonnells of Ulster. He bestowed on the college an endowment of the value of £2000, and, at a cost of £1000, built a chapel to his patron, St. George. In February 1790, by royal decree of King Charles IV Irish College of San Jorge at Alcalá was amalgamated with the Irish college in Salamanca.[4]

The college closed in 1807 due to the Peninsular War. French troops looted the college and many records were lost. Some of the students served with Sir John Moore as interpreters. Patrick Curtis, (known as Don Patricio Cortés), subsequently Bishop of Armagh, held office from 1781 to 1812 and rendered valuable service to the Duke of Wellington during the Peninsular War. Dr. Curtis was spymaster of a network that provided intelligence to Wellesley's Anglo-Portuguese Army.[5] The Irish returned after the war, and in 1838, through the good offices of the English Ambassador, George Villiers, the town council gave them the use of the Fonseca Palace.[6] Also known as the Colegio Mayor de Santiago el Zebedeo, it had been founded in 1519 by Alonso de Fonseca, archbishop of Santiago de Compostela, in order to provide Galician students with a college in which to study within the University of Salamanca.

In the 19th century, the Spanish government dissolved the university's faculties of canon law and theology. In 1910 the Irish students at Salamanca numbered about thirty and attended lectures at the diocesan seminary in lieu of a theology faculty of the university. The college was supported chiefly by ancient endowments, which were subject to the control of the Spanish Government.

The students again left in 1936 with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and the building was requisitioned by General Franco. From June 1937 to May 1939 it was occupied by the German embassy. With the opening of seminaries Ireland, there was less need of the facility in Salamanca, which was in poor repair. The Irish bishops negotiated turning over the premises to the University of Salamanca, which now uses it as a postgraduate residence and cultural centre. Over 360 years, until it closed in 1952, the college welcomed generations of young Irish trainee priests.[7] The college archives were then sent to St Patrick's College, Maynooth.

Notable rectors and alumniEdit

Dr. William McDonald, of the Archdiocese of Armagh, Father Cowan, of Dromore, Father Bernard Maguire, of Clogher were rectors. That office was then held by the Very Rev. Michael J. O'Doherty, D.D., a priest from the Diocese of Achonry, from 1904 until 1911, when he was succeeded by his brother Denis J. O'Doherty,[8] who served until 1934. Fr Alexander J McCabe was appointed in 1935 serving until 1949, temporarily replaced by Fr. Francis Stenson. The last rector was Rev. Joseph Ranson who was appointed in 1949.


The Irish College at Salamanca was open to students from all the provinces of Ireland, but in the seventeenth century, the majority of them came from the southern and eastern provinces. It was made the cause of complaint that Father White, S.J., was unwilling to receive students from Ulster and Connaught, and the exiled Irish chiefs, O'Neill and O'Donnell, presented a remonstrance on the subject to the King of Spain.[1]

List of rectorsEdit

  • Rev. James Archer SJ, first rector of the college
  • Rev. Juan(John) O'Brien, SJ, (1655-1661), Waterford born Jesuit priest
  • Rev. Dr William Bermingham, (1778–1780) first rector after the departure of the Jesuits
  • Rev. Dr. Patrick Curtis, (1780-) later Bishop of Armagh
  • Rev. Patrick Mangan D.D., (appointed in 1808 but due to the peninsular war served from 1817 to 1830)
  • Rev. James Francis Gartlan D.D., (1830–1868)
  • Rev. William Mc Donald, (1871- )
  • Rev. Michael J. O'Doherty, D.D. (1904–1911)
  • Rev. Denis J. O'Doherty, D.D. (1911–1934)
  • Rev. Alexander J. McCabe (1935–1949)
  • Rev. Francis Stenson (1949)
  • Rev. Joseph Ranson (1949–1952), archivist and last rector.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Boyle, Patrick. "Irish Colleges, on the Continent." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 5 Feb. 2018
  2. ^ McCoog, Thomas M. SJ The Society of Jesus in Ireland, Scotland and England 1598-1606 Leiden 2017, p. 238
  3. ^ a b Henchy, Monica. “The Irish College at Salamanca.” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, vol. 70, no. 278/279, 1981, pp. 220–227.
  4. ^ New Catalogue of Salamanca Papers, Maynooth College Archivium Hibernicum
  5. ^ Henry Morse Stephens (1888). "Curtis, Patrick" . In Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 13. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  6. ^ O’Connell, Patricia, "The early modern Irish College network in Iberia, 1590 – 1600", The Irish in Europe, 1580-1815 (Thomas O’Connor, ed.) (Dublin 2001).p. 57
  7. ^ O'Dwyer, Davin. "Seduced by Salamanca", The Irish Times, Jun 25, 2011
  8. ^ Spiritual Leaders

  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Irish Colleges, on the Continent". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.