The Past Students Union of the Pontifical Irish College was founded at a meeting in Dublin in 1910 and became known as the Venerable Oliver Plunkett Union, the brainchild of a priest of the Diocese of Ardagh & Clonmacnoise, Rev. Dr. Thomas Langan. Correspondence in the College archives attests to ongoing discussion between him and the then rector, Monsignor Michael O’Riordan, as to the benefits of forming a past students union. They decided that such a body would be a practical way of assisting the College in its work of formation of students for the priesthood. It would also have the added benefit of maintaining contact with ex alumni of the College. This Union, which was appropriately called after the most illustrious past student of the College, St. Oliver Plunkett, lapsed for a number of years in the 1920’s due to the troubles in Ireland.
The inaugural meeting of a new union, called the Oliver Plunkett Union was held at the Gresham Hotel, Dublin on Tuesday 21st May 1929. Present were: Dr. Codd, Bishop of Ferns, who took the chair, Dr. Mc Nally, Bishop of Raphoe, the Dean of Cashel, the Dean of Ardagh & Clonmacnoise along with fifty-five priests from twenty dioceses. Fr. T. Murphy of Mallow was appointed Temporary Secretary. One hundred and forty-four past students had already expressed an interest in joining the union. Messages and telegrams of goodwill were read from a large number of past students. The assembled members decided to dispatch telegrams of loyalty to the Holy Father and to the Rector of the Irish College.
The founder of the Union, Monsignor Thomas Langan D.D., P.P. of Moate, Co. Westmeath, Dean and Vicar General of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise was unanimously elected President, with Canon Peter Doyle, P.P. of Mooncoin, Ossory elected Vice President. Four provincial organisers were also appointed, as were three councillors from Kilmore, Cork and Dublin. The objects of the Union were set down as follows: 1) To promote friendship and unity among the past students of the Irish College, Rome. 2) To maintain the closest possible relations between its members and the Irish College, and to co-operate in promoting the interests of the College. 3) To take part as far as is feasible in the Catholic public life of Ireland.
Other items on the agenda of the inaugural meeting of the Union included the canonisation of Blessed Oliver Plunkett and the jubilee of the Blessed Oliver Plunkett Literary and Debating Society. Fr. McFeely in a very spirited address urged the Union to have a particular interest in current affairs “that touch on Catholic interests.” He was adamant that the Union should not turn into a “mutual admiration society” and highlighted the fact that there were many problems facing the Irish clergy especially the Social Question. The Labour Movement in Ireland although dependent for the most part on Catholic membership, was not really a Catholic movement. Its leaders were non-Catholic and were therefore unsympathetic to Catholic ideals. A certain amount of drift had set in which if allowed to continue might result in the Church losing influence with the people. He contended that the Union should grapple with the problems of Catholic life as soon as possible and apply appropriate solutions to modern difficulties before the “enemies of religion have an opportunity of accomplishing their evil designs.”
The first meeting of the Union’s Council took place at the same venue immediately after the inaugural meeting. The membership of the Council comprised the President, the Vice-President, the four provincial organisers and two of the three councillors. A Secretary and Treasurer were appointed and eleven distinguished past-students were nominated as honorary Vice-Presidents. For the first few years there were two annual Council meetings, one preceding the Union meeting and the other following the Union meeting. Many past students of the Irish College soon joined the Union and its formation was greatly welcomed by alumni all over the globe, in addition to the Archbishops of Dublin and Sydney, the Bishop of Auckland, New Zealand, and the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland.
The second A.G.M. of the Union took place on 24th June 1930, preceded and followed by a Council meeting. At this A.G.M. three trustees and three patrons (The Archbishops of Dublin and Sydney and the Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney) were appointed. The Vice-Rector of the Irish College was nominated Honorary Vice President. At the third A.G.M. of the Union the following year, two auditors were elected and four Irish alumni of Propaganda Fide were admitted as members.
The following resolution was also passed: “The name of any member who has not paid his subscription for two years may, at the discretion of the Council, be removed from the register of members, but such members shall be re-eligible for re-election.” It was also decreed that a Mass for deceased members of the Union would be offered each November. Provincial gatherings of the Union were frequent in the early years and members were encouraged to attend as many of these as possible. Although, the fourth meeting of the Union was held in Drogheda, the Gresham Hotel in Dublin remained the favourite venue for such gatherings. No meetings were held in 1942, 1943 or 1944. Nineteen dioceses were represented at the thirteenth A.G.M. in September 1945 in Drogheda marking the silver jubilee of the beatification of Oliver Plunkett. The Union met in the Royal Hibernian Hotel, Dublin, the following year but returned to the Gresham Hotel in 1947. During the Holy Year of 1950, the founder of the Union, Monsignor Langan travelled to Rome by plane on pilgrimage and called at his alma mater before presenting a silver-handled walking stick to Pope Pius XII. After returning home to Ireland he wrote a short but rather quaint account of his pilgrimage. He relinquished the chair of the Union at the 1951 meeting and died shortly afterwards, having spent 70 years in the priestly ministry. Monsignor J. Scannell, Dean of Cork, took the chair for the annual meeting that same year. In June 1952 Monsignor Arthur Ryan of Down & Connor was elected President with Fr. John Maloney of Dublin being appointed Secretary. The number of councillors was also increased to seven.
Drogheda was the venue for the 1953 A.G.M. at which twenty-one dioceses were represented. With the closure of the Irish College in Salamanca that year a “resolution of sympathy with the Salamancan alumni was adopted.” The Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire was the venue for the 1954 A.G.M. at which Most Rev. Dr. John Kyne, Bishop of Meath, was elected President. Fr. John Maloney was once again appointed Secretary and eight councillors were also elected. The 1955 A.G.M. was held in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin, at which Monsignor Michael Curran of Dublin (former Rector of the College) was elected President. Holy Cross College, Blackrock, Dublin, was the venue for the A.G.M. in 1956 but the Union returned again to the Gresham Hotel in 1958 when Fr. P.J. Cartron was elected President. No meeting took place in the Patrician Year of 1961. The following year Very Rev. Canon Murphy was elected President and was succeeded by Very Rev. Canon Harmon P.P. of Foxford in 1964. Fr. Sean Durkan of Killala became Secretary that same year. At the 1967 A.G.M. held in the Crofton Airport Hotel, Dublin, Rev. Dr. Richard MacNevin was elected President and Fr. Michael Walsh of Meath was elected Secretary.
No meeting was convened in 1969. At the thirty-seventh A.G.M. of the Union the following year in the Royal Marine Hotel, Dun Laoghaire, seventy members were present with Canon Murphy in the chair. The issue of poor attendance at meetings was the subject of much debate. “Ways and means of attracting larger numbers were put forward.” Fr. William Gaul of Ferns was elected President at the 1971 A.G.M. and Fr. Pádraig McCarthy of Dublin was elected Secretary. No meeting was held in 1979. All Hallows College, Dublin, was the venue for the Union A.G.M. in June 1980. Numbers attending were down to sixty. It was reported that of the 340 notifications sent to ex alumni only 103 replies were received.
No meeting was convened in 1982. In 1983 Monsignor Daniel Long, Archdeacon and Vicar General of Kerry, was elected President with Fr. Frank Hannon of Dublin becoming Secretary, and Fr Kieron Kennedy of Ossory being appointed Treasurer. The fifty-fourth A.G.M. of the Union was held in Rathgar in 1989 at which Monsignor John Hanly, P.P. of Laytown, Meath (former Rector of the College) was elected President and Fr. Denis Newberry of Down & Connor became Secretary. The ongoing refurbishment of the College was discussed and the possibility of issuing a newsletter for ex alumni was muted. At the 1994 A.G.M. Monsignor Edward Dunne, P.P. of Dunboyne and Fr Oliver Skelly C.C. Tullamore, Meath Diocese were elected President and Secretary respectively, while Fr. Pádraig Murphy of Armagh was elected Treasurer of the Union.
The Oliver Plunkett Union which is open to all who have studied at the College, continues to pursue its objectives set out in 1929, maintaining bonds of fraternity that were established during student days. The A.G.M. of the Union takes place in mid-September each year beginning with Evening Prayer, followed by the election of officers, and culminating with the Union dinner. Ex alumni who are keen golfers can arrive earlier in the day to play in the annual Archbishop Brady Cup Tournament.
The Officers of the current executive are;
President: Fr George Hayes (Kerry)
Secretary: Fr Richard Gibbons (Tuam)
Treasurer: Fr Colin Grant (Down & Connor)
Consigliere: Monsignor Ambrose Macaulay (Down & Connor)