The Irish Colleges: centres for training

Map of the Irish Colleges

In 1873, an article in the French newspaper Le Monde stated: "The Parisian establishment called the Irish College is merely a large ecclesiastical seminary-the Saint-Sulpice of Irish dioceses." At the time, the Irish College belonged to a group of assorted institutions in charge of training the Irish clergy in Europe, in Rome, Lisbon, and Salamanca among other places. However, the Irish Colleges were much more than centres for education and training. Some of them had a profound influence on the development of Catholicism in Ireland during social and economic crises, while others fulfilled a diplomatic role by facilitating dialogue between their host countries.

Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, waves of Irish immigrants came to France, driven south by war, famine, and disease. The same held true for members of the Irish clergy, who came to Paris to study following Oliver Cromwell's persecution of the Catholics in the 1500s.
Subsequently, the Irish, who were often considered to be destitute, were only able to pursue their education abroad through the donations of pious benefactors. In 1578, Reverend John Lee, who had arrived in Paris with a small group of Irish students, was "charitably received" by the Collège de Montaigu. In 1624, when the Collège de Navarre became the home of the Irish students in Paris, the bishops of Ireland wrote a letter to French Catholics recommending the institution to their charity. Prominent French laymen such as Councillor of State Jean de l'Escalopier also helped by financially supporting these small communities of priests.