A Brief History

Carlow College, St. Patrick’s, dating from before the French Revolution, is Ireland’s oldest third-level Catholic institution. Gardner’s Relief Act (1782) led to the gradual relaxation of the Penal Laws. Bishop James O’Keeffe of Kildare and Leighlin (1752–1787) took advantage of this relaxation to establish an institution of higher learning in Carlow. Carlow College was founded in 1782 and had its first admissions on 1 October 1793. From 1793 until 1892 Carlow College was both a lay college of the Humanities and a Seminary.


The 1840s proved to be a decade of particular growth for the College. In 1840 the second President of Carlow College, Fr Andrew Fitzgerald O.P. (1814–1843), successfully petitioned the University of London to accredit degrees at Carlow College in the Arts and Law. In 1844 the Foreign Missions Fund was established to provide bursaries to ecclesiastical students who were ordained for dioceses abroad; of the estimated 3,150 learners to be ordained at Carlow College, an estimated 2,050 were ordained for overseas dioceses. Another important development took place in 1847 when the third President of Carlow College, Dr James Taylor (1843–1850) purchased 127 acres in Knockbeg, Co. Carlow for the younger learners of the College.

With the University Education (Ireland) Act 1879, the Royal University of Ireland was established and the following year degrees offered at Carlow College were accredited by this educational body. In 1892 all lay learners of the College were transferred to St. Mary’s Knockbeg and Carlow College operated exclusively as a seminary for the education of priests until 1989. In 1990 Carlow College reclaimed its original remit by welcoming lay learners from all over Ireland to study third-level courses in the Humanities and Social Sciences. From 1990 the degrees at Carlow College were accredited by the National Council for Educational Awards (NCEA) (1990–2001), the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC) (2001–2012) and Qualities and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) (2012–Present).

Since 1997 Carlow College has embarked on a building and renovation campaign which has seen the development of new lecture halls and the completion of the Kathleen Brennan Students Centre, P.J. Brophy Library and the Delaney Archive (2006). As part of its on-going support for the arts the College donated land to the Carlow Local Authority for the development of the Centre for Contemporary Art and The George Bernard Shaw Theatre (VISUAL), an €18 million development project located in the heart of Carlow Town. In 2011 Carlow College refurbished Lennon House to provide on-campus accommodation. With future development in mind, in 2015 the College completed the purchase of a site adjoining its campus.

During its more than two-hundred-year history, Carlow College has educated generations of leaders, both lay and religious, in the public life of their day. Distinguished among its past learners were the Young Irelander, James Fintan Lalor, the Fenian, John O’Leary, pioneering churchman in Australia and the United States: John Therry and John England, the poet Richard D’Alton Williams, the impressionist artist, Frank O’Meara, and Paul Cullen, Ireland’s first Cardinal. For a complete list of Carlow College Presidents, please click [here].


About the College

Carlow College, St. Patrick's is situated in its own grounds on an eighteenth-century parkland and is known locally as St. Patrick’s College. As such, Carlow College is ideally located in the heart of Carlow town. With Tullow Street only one hundred meters away our students have access to banks, shops, food outlets and a wide variety of social venues on the doorstep. Pedestrian access from the town centre is on College Street and is flanked by the Cathedral to the South and by the magnificent VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art to the North.

The former entrance on College Street is now a pedestrian entrance and the railings which replace the high walls show off the College, its parkland and the Arts Centre, as an attractive feature of the town. The College is within walking distance of the facilities students need and the new entrance on the Dublin Road, with its spacious car park, facilitates vehicular access for the many students who commute to the College from the surrounding counties.

Carlow College is proud of its long history and it maintains its strong tradition as a student friendly campus where students and lecturers work together to create the optimum atmosphere for student and personal development.

Over the years Carlow has educated generations of politicians, priests, writers and public officials who were leaders in the society of their time. Today's students find employment in education, community work, the civil service, media and the social care field. A high percentage of our students proceed to postgraduate studies in the fields of Philosophy, English, History, Theology and Social Studies.

The College has partnerships with Carlow University, PittsburghSt. Ambrose UniversityDavenportIowathe Illinois Consortium for International Studies and Programs (ICISP), Mount Mercy University, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Francis Marion University, Florence, South Carolina and with Trinity College Dublin.

Carlow College is a venerable institution with a progressive outlook. Most importantly, Carlow College is a vibrant place where students thrive.