DRIVING along the Callan bypass, I have on several occasions noted to myself that someday I will follow the sign to the Edmund Rice Visitor Centre to learn some local history.
Last Wednesday I decided to pay the brothers at the centre in Westcourt a visit and was pleasantly surprised by the peaceful and serene setting and the informative tour by Brother Malachy. The Edmund Rice Centre itself is used by the local community for a multitude of activities and it’s walls document the work and history of the Christian Brothers. There is also information about Charles Bianconi, a friend of Edmund Rice who founded the public transport system in Ireland and a stunning piece of stained glass artwork created by Desmond Kyne. Photographs from every corner of the world adorn the walls illustrating the work and ethos of the Christian Brothers.
As well as telling me the interesting history of the centre and it’s namesake Edmund Rice Brother Malachy is also a fountain of knowledge on other places of interest in the area including Skerrys Castle (which dates back to Cromwell’s time), the Abbey, the Friary and the Famine graveyard.
As we wander from the centre to the birthplace of Edmund Rice, a thatched farmhouse Brother Malachy stops to show me two bog oakwood sculptures in the garden crafted by local artist Kevin Fennelly. “One represents the life of Edmund Rice and the other the resurrection or the 15th station,” he explains.
The farmhouse, which is over 300 years old is the birthplace of Edmund Rice who was born here in 1762. “He stayed here and went to a hedge school in Moates Lane and then two years later went to Whites School in Kilkenny, which is on the same site as St Mary’s Cathedral. At the age of 17 he went to Waterford to his uncle who was a shipping chandler and ended up taking over the business and making millions. He married at the age of 23 and at 27 his wife died in tragic circumstances leaving behind a baby daughter.
The house has been beautifully restored and contains furniture dating back to the period, some of which originally belonged to Mr Rice. Edmund sold his business and opened his first school in a converted stable in New Street in Waterford in 1802 in 1806 a school was opened in Carrick On Suir and a year later in Dungarvan. With the success of the schools and the growth in the number of schools, Edmund applied to the Pope for approval of his congregation which was granted in 1822. Edmund Rice will be remember for his teachings and strong religious beliefs. He believed in making people realise their dignity and he did this principally through education. He was beatified in Rome in 1996. There is also a chapel on the grounds of the centre which is open daily.
After leaving the centre I drove back into Callan and strolled around the meadows that surround the ancient Augustinian Abbey admiring the willow sculptures that are scattered throughout the field. They are located opposite the vibrant KCAT Centre. Walking down Bridge Street it is clear that trojan work has been done in recent months to clean up the shopfronts and the quaint nature of the town is easily seen. As well as being rich in history Callan has also become home and given birth to a number of notable artists the most famous been Tony O’Malley.
There is a palpable buzz around the town as people prepare for the upcoming Abhainn Ri festival and it is all too apparent that when if one scratches the surface then won’t be left wanting when it comes to history, culture and arts in Callan.