Brother William Ignatius Carroll (1908-1996)

Obituary by L A Anthony

About the 9th century AD, Cearbail (Carroll), Prince of Ossory, divided his kingdom among his three sons. He gave the South East to one whose residence was on Knockdriver Hill (Knockdrin) in the vicinity of Stonecarthy.

The above quotation is a note in the hand of the subject of this memoir; he was sure that his family's ancestry could be traced back to the same Cearbail, Prince of Ossory, and he set about proving it. His people came from Dunnamaggin, where a certain Carroll had settled. To make the case watertight, he needed to establish that this Carroll was from Dysart, near Thomastown. In his research, Willie, as he was known in the family, travelled to Thomastown to consult two elderly O'Carrolls, only to find that he could not make the necessary connection.

He has recorded that he, William, was born at 8.00 a.m. on Wednesday, 28 January 1908, son of John Carroll and Ellen (nee Callaghan), and that he was baptised on the same day by Rev. Michael Nolan CC, with Elizabeth and Thomas Maher as sponsors. Nine children had been born previously, of whom two, Patrick and Joseph, seem to have died at birth or shortly after. Six further children were to arrive. The family lived at Broadmore, near Callan, a farm of 24 acres held in yearly tenancy through Lord Clifden and Whitesland from Lilah, Baroness Annely. John Carroll erected a farm office in 1898, for which he borrowed money from the Commissioners of Public Works, but which would not be amortised until 1922. Consequently, at home there was a background of thrifty carefulness, if not of actual poverty. This was tempered with the love and faith of his Catholic parents and was surely one factor in developing Willie's tireless industry.

Walking a half mile along the road to the Brothers' school in Callan during the winter, he could see the Founder's birthplace, Westcourt, about three fields away through the trees, and he was always pleased with the thought that he was a close neighbour of Edmund Rice's family.

An older brother, Patrick, with whom he was very close, was a seminarian in St Kieran's College, Kilkenny, until he advanced to the Irish College in Rome in 1920 to finish his studies. He was ordained in 1926. Patrick's time at St Kieran's was probably largely financed by the O'Carroll Bursary, worth £4,000 given by Fr Michael Carroll of Kilmacow solely for the use of members of the O'Carroll family. Willie also tried his vocation to the priesthood and entered the Junior seminary of St Kieran's, but he stayed only a few months. Our postulator, Br Evangelist Delaney, wrote 'Home circumstances (large family and inability to meet the full pension) necessitated his return to the Callan Schools.' It would appear that the O'Carroll Bursary was not made available to him by the church authorities, who had the right of awarding it. Pat and Willie kept in touch as far as possible during their time of training.

All the references to Willie at school speak of him in the highest terms: 'a boy of excellent character,' according to his parish priest, 'the child of respectable parents, who brought him up religiously, obediently, and truthfully.' With the Brothers, he was docile and pious, prominent in the general communions, 'an excellent example to his companions'. In 1924, when he applied to join the Congregation, he was successfully following the Junior Grade course.

There was something else that he could not fail to be following, namely, the struggle of the Irish people for freedom from British rule, especially as it concerned his own local community. Callan had been a stronghold of the Fenians in the middle of the nineteenth century. A company of National Volunteers was formed there early in 1914, and in May 1917 the Kilkenny Brigade of the Irish Volunteers came into existence as the result of a meeting in Callan. Fr P H Delahunty, a curate in the parish of Callan, was President of the South Kilkenny Executive of Sinn Fein. Callan publicly celebrated, with parades, music, dancing, and bonfires, the overwhelming victory of Sinn Fein in the General Election of 1918. It was said that almost every house in the town was illuminated that night. Unfortunately the rejoicing was to be of short duration; within a month, the Irish War of Independence had begun. The Volunteers, who from mid 1919 were to be known as the Irish Republican Army, were determined to be rid of the British, even if it meant waging a military campaign. Shotguns and rifles were collected from both the sympathisers and the unwilling, and farmers, tradesmen, professional people, and students were organised into fighting units for what was to become a guerrilla war.

One of the places where the civilians drilled was at the cross-roads by Dunamaggin cemetery, within walking distance of Willie's home. The Kilkenny area featured prominently in the nationalist struggle. He would have heard of the capture of Hugginstown Police Barracks, ten miles away, from which a quantity of guns and ammunition was removed for future use. There were attacks on other local barracks, ambushes of military vehicles, gun battles, and the joy of victories won was accompanied by the sorrow of friends and acquaintances wounded or killed. Willie's eldest brother, Jimmy, was involved in the IRA, at least to the extent of being arrested and put in prison on suspicion by the 'Black and Tans' (members of the British security forces).

On being accepted for the Christian Brothers in July 1924, Willie was sent to England to study for his matriculation. The location was Prior Park, Bath, for which he retained a fond affection. The college, situated almost at the top of Widcombe Hill, had a beautiful country view to the city below. He could still feel he was at home as he walked through the woods and fields surrounding the building. Although it looked palatial from the outside, the rooms for the first intake of postulants, being former servants' quarters in the attics of the mansion, were not. It was in the mansion chapel on St Patrick's Day, 1925, that Willie received the habit of the Congregation and the name 'Brother Ignatius'. This was the name by which he was to be known in future. It was a name he reverenced, especially for its connection with Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice, whose footsteps he was following.

The superiors soon found for their prospective members a place that was more suitable than the cramped quarters in Prior Park College, and in April 1926 a party of young men, including Br Ignatius, could be seen at Bath Spa railway station boarding a reserved coach to take them on the long journey to Hooton, Cheshire. From there they would walk about two miles along country roads to Carlett Park, which was to be a novitiate for the next forty years. At the appropriate time, Christmas Day 1926, the novices joyfully pronounced their first vows. They were now able to join the many Christian Brothers who had given their lives to improving the lot of poor Catholic children through education. This meant years of study and preparation for the teachers-to-be, beginning with matriculation, which Br Ignatius secured in July 1928. He now went to the Brothers' student house in Strawberry Hill. After a rigorous two-year course in education and other subjects at St Mary's College, Twickenham, he gained his teacher's certificate from the University of London, after which, in 1930, he began his teaching career at St Mary's College, Crosby, where he spent a year.

In those days, young Brothers rarely stayed longer than two years in their first mission, as it was felt that changing schools would bring wider experience. So we find Br Ignatius assigned to teach the boarders of Prior Park College in October 1931. It was in Prior Park that he committed himself irrevocably to the Lord by making profession of perpetual vows on Christmas Day 1933.

He was now at the height of his physical powers and could contribute much to the sporting life of the school: as umpire in cricket and hockey, or referee in rugby football. (He maintained his interest in these games right into his final years.) During holidays the Brothers would play hurling or handball among themselves. Despite his low size he was no mean opponent, since he had a keen eye and was quick in movement.

September 1935 saw him back again in St Mary's College, Crosby. After two years in St Mary's, he returned to St Joseph's, Marino, to study for a BA at UCD. In 1939, having obtained his degree, he returned to teach in Crosby. We have a glimpse of him at this time from a pupil, who wishes to remain anonymous:

Br Carroll was my form master in the 5th form. He was an excellent form master with a great pastoral sense and commitment. He was ever conscious of his pupils' needs and anxieties and, being very approachable, he always leant a paternal ear.

He was meticulous in observing the recitation of the Angelus at mid-day and the saying of the Ave Maria at each lesson. He led these prayers with sincere devotion.

He conducted Religious lessons with zeal and vigour and expected pupils to be well versed in Hart's Christian Doctrine, Sheehan's Apologetics, and Schuster's Bible History. In this regard he was truly Anselmian: fides quaerens intellectum (having faith that seeks understanding).

Br Carroll was always impeccably groomed and sparkling. If cleanliness is next to godliness, he was very close.

He was a first-rate historian, and pupils in his charge scored well in examinations. He had a remarkable memory for facts, which he could recall with amazing speed and accuracy. His prowess in this area was often deadly for pupils. His approach to history was scholarly, and he insisted that pupils did varied background reading outside the prescribed text books. He insisted on extensive reading of the Cambridge History series and demanded pupils take comprehensive notes. Pupils' essays were always meticulously and punctually marked and not infrequently accompanied by abrasive comment.

When on yard duty he was like an Olympian guardsman: he stormed backwards and forwards at a rate of knots, and anyone wishing to converse with him was required to do likewise.

I met Br Carroll more than fifty years later at St Edward's. To my amazement he remembered me and my twin brother, Andy. He recalled many incidents and pranks in which we had been involved. I remember him with great affection.

In September 1941, St Joseph's College, Blackpool, became the scene of Br Carroll's labours. Here, among his other assignments, he held the post of bursar for four years. He was to have the same influence with his pupils in St Joseph's as he had previously in other schools. One of the pupils of that time is Professor Hudson of the University of Liverpool, who has kindly provided his recollections for this necrology.

Professor Hudson was taught history by Ignatius from January 1943 to 1946 for his School Certificate and Higher School Certificate examinations. He says that Ignatius was an extremely competent, practical, and devoted teacher. He knew what was required to pass examinations and made sure his students were up to the mark. Facts were sacred, and students had to know the answers to: Who? When? Where? Why? He was a realist who was good at spotting the kind of questions that would be set in any particular year. He also had an eye for the significant detail. (When George Carman went to Oxford for interview, Ignatius pointed out a particular newspaper article which he told him to prepare to discuss with the Professor of History. In fact, the Professor seemed to be not so well informed about this particular development in his field as his interviewee, and the now famous Queen's Counsel in Law credits his entrance to Oxford to the briefing he had been given by Ignatius prior to his journey to the University.)

Ignatius was also in charge of the senior dormitory at St Joseph's College. It hardly needs saying that there was never any trouble. The night time passed so quietly that you wouldn't know that there was any Brother in the bedroom at the end of the dormitory.

Every Brother had a nickname. The source of that for Ignatius was a card game-'Happy Families' which was then popular. This game, a variant of rummy, used cards, each bearing a picture of a member of an imaginary family. The illustration for Joe Bung, the plumber was so much like Br Carroll that the name stuck to him.

World War II was in progress, so Ignatius had to submit to the constant deprivation and inconveniences of the 1940s. During this period Fr Martyn of Our Lady of Victories, London, became a refugee, on account of the missiles fired on the capital from the continent. As he was unsuitably lodged in Blackpool, the Brothers offered him a place with them in St Joseph's College. On his return to London, he presented them with two historic chalices from Cong as a token of gratitude. Br Ignatius witnessed this, and it would prove decisive later on.

In 1951 he was changed to St Joseph's College, Stoke-on-Trent, and in 1954 he was appointed sub-superior. In 1954, also, he transferred to Falkland, Scotland, to our residential school for boys who were in trouble, either on account of unfortunate home circumstances or for having been brought before the Juvenile courts. Moreover, when the term of office of the founding Brother Kevin Nugent, was completed, he was asked to be the headmaster of this all-age school. On his arrival, the Scottish Education Office recognised him only for primary school work, but with typical determination he would not let that stand in his way. In his free time he attended classes organised by a Glasgow committee for the training of teachers. Within a year he qualified for post-primary level. He became superior of St Ninian's in 1956, with Br Kevin remaining on the staff. Also in the community were Brs Alphonsus McKenna and AIbeus Fitton.

Ignatius was a great community man. He took his full share and more of prayer, work and recreation. He would enjoy a glass of whiskey on a feast day and the flow of conversation that would accompany it, which, especially later in life, he would very often lead. His talk would cover diverse topics: pupils and masters, local, national, and inter-national events, and especially the rights of the Congregation. He could not bear to hear any word of disparagement of the Congregation, but bishops and governments would be berated if he thought they deserved it.

He had his share of troubles in Falkland. The Scottish Education Office officials were loathe to grant recognition to the school because they thought that institutions were not the best way of providing for deprived children, whom they would rather see fostered. Consequently, shortly after opening, numbers dropped and kept low. The Brothers on the staff were old and frequently unable to go to class: on account of ill health. In one letter, Br Ignatius described himself as 'superior, headmaster, secretary, nurse, and Jack-of-all trades'.

Although he pleaded with the provincial for another Brother, no one was available. In, addition, in May 1958, the cleaners, matron, and night-watchman left. With staunch support from a lay teacher, Mr Joliffe, the school soldiered on. One consolation was in the boys, whose open unsophisticated nature appealed to Ignatius, especially when they showed appreciation for what was being done for them.

In Summer 1958, when Br Patrick Dolan finished his term of office in the boarding and day college of St Joseph's, Blackpool, Ignatius was appointed to succeed him as superior and headmaster. Shortly after arrival he became aware that the Cong chalices were missing and, like a terrier after a bone, he went in search of them. It was not long before he had caught the scent of the trail to our community in Sunderland, where they were found and returned to Blackpool. (They are now in Mount Sion and Callan.)

His suspicions offended some Brothers. On joining the community, Colman 0 Briain felt that he was being watched and not fully accepted until his public examination results were as good as those the headmaster would have achieved. Ignatius, ever a loyal servant of the Congregation, could not rest until all that was possible for the College had been done. There were no half-hearted measures with him and he expected the same from all his colleagues. Yet, despite this commitment to work, he still found time to entertain visitors and visit Brothers who were ill.

Br Eddie Egan, who spent a year in Blackpool, has kindly provided his recollections of 1960-61:

Ignatius was a quiet, regular Brother. He loved history and was an admirer of Charles II for his skilful use of the Cabal. Ignatius, himself, seemed a little suspicious of people. I had occasion to knock at his door one morning, as there was no altar wine in the sacristy. He thought I had done it deliberately to wake him up on a rare occasion when he had slept in after 'burning the midnight oil' poring over architects' plans for school extensions.

During that year there was a cause celebre that reached the national press. Two senior boys were expelled for having written to a radio disc jockey for a record request giving as their address 'Joe's Jailhouse', which was a local nickname for St Joseph's boarding department. Ignatius's fear was not the indignity of the nickname but the fear that the type of popular music these boys were introducing into the boarding department was detrimental to its spiritual and moral health. (The offending item was Elvis Presley's Jailhouse Rock.)

On successfully completing his full term of office in Blackpool, Ignatius was posted to St Edward's College, Liverpool, where there was a strong, established academic staff, resulting in his being asked to teach in the lower classes of the secondary school. With customary drive he fully entered into assignments he had not touched for years. These were the 'swinging sixties', when an unprecedented freedom and affluence was enjoyed by the young, even young Brothers, of whom there were several in St Edward's. Ignatius challenged the new Catechetical Movement with a small pamphlet privately circulated entitled, The Pass Betrayed, in which he argued that unrest in the Church could be attributed to priests and teachers replacing authentic Christian Doctrine with their own views on the bible and spirituality, and that there was a need to return to traditional religious education. After Liverpool, he spent a year each in Ledsham, Stoke, and again in Ledsham, until his posting in Plessington School, Hooton, in 1969.

For several years he had not been in good health, even though he had visited the Brothers' doctor in Liverpool. Later he was seen by another doctor who suspected cancer. When the suspicion was followed up and confirmed, the disease was no longer at an early stage, so that a colostomy, then a new and risky operation, was considered to be the only option for him. After it had been proposed, Ignatius asked two questions: What chance of success was there, and would he be active afterwards? When told that there was a 5O% chance of success and that he could hope to be fully mobile, he determined to go through with surgery. The Brothers supported him with their prayers at this critical time, which marked a turning point. So complete was his recovery that eventually he would be introduced to medical students as proof that a person could live a full, healthy life after colostomy.

Not only did Ignatius live a full, healthy life, but he returned to the classroom again, this time in St Anselm's College, Birkenhead, with, of course, a reduced teaching schedule. Eventually, reaching the age of three score years and ten, it was time for him to rest from his labours; but that didn't mean spending his days idle: he pioneered the post of provincial archivist after doing a little preparation for it in Killiney, near Dublin, and he began working in earnest in 1979 in The Priory, Bath, where the provincialate had been relocated beside Prior Park College. The nature of the work was congenial, and there were no pressures bearing upon him. It could be argued that this part of his academic career was what the previous years had prepared him for. In 1966 he had assembled a booklet containing all the tributes paid to the Founder in Ireland and England, which at least one Brother thought should have been printed in the Educational Record. (Perhaps it was too long, or was already contained in the Educational Record, scattered over many volumes.)

In 1986 the provincialate moved to Liverpool, and Br Ignatius returned to another place with which he was familiar, St Clare, the residence in Sandfield Park for St Edward's College. He continued as provincial, archivist with a room that he converted for the archives at the top of the house. With wonted courtesy and lack of self-interest, Ignatius helped numerous enquirers in matters social, historical, and educational, among whom was Dr Frank A. Zwolinski of Dundee University, who has provided the following in tribute to his memory:

Br Carroll's commitment was first and foremost to the Brotherhood to which, as we are aware, he consecrated his life and devotion, and it was his unfailing desire, as a fervent disciple and ambassador, to protect, honour, and defend the integrity and obligation of the Order in terms of its mission, from its humble inception to the breadth of its developmental expansion, especially through periods of vicissitude.

No one was more knowledgeable of the history and evolution of the Christian Brothers' Teaching Order than Br Carroll, and, through his inveterate knowledge, and as a respected authority, he has been able to further the cause and aims of the Brothers' crusade in his ability to furnish many lay students and researchers with a wealth of personal and archival source material in the furtherance of their studies, and at that level, once again, his degree of commitment and enthusiasm was freely given. May I add that the level of accuracy and 'truth' (which he always believed should be central to the core of any historical study) was much appreciated and valued with gratitude.

Br Carroll will be affectionately remembered by the laity not only as an expert historian, but as a fervent patriotic nationalist, almost obsessively and vehemently opposed to what he considered to be the cancer of systemic imperialism, arguing for the cause of the free in his own native Ireland.

In fact, Ignatius admitted towards the end of his life that he made use of every possible opportunity to present the nationalist point of view in order to counter the pervasive propaganda of British governments past and present. This did not win the approval of ever listener, as many, including Irish Brothers, did not agree with his politics and would tell him so. If he could not bring them round to agree with him, for example on Michael Collins, he would be forthright in condemnation, claiming that they preferred to remain in ignorance than to know the true interpretation of past events. Late in life he regretted that in the recently published and much acclaimed 500-page Ireland 1912-1985, Politics and Society, by Professor Lee of Cork University, which he read carefully from cover to cover, lies were still being perpetuated.

At this time his pursuits were not merely intellectual. He would still take long walks around West Derby, a favourite one being through Croxteth Park, and he would use his little motor car for getting about. Eventually, the ageing process rnade life more difficult and he resigned himself in March 1994 to living in Nazareth House Residential Home, opposite the Brothers in Birkenhead, and run by the Sisters of Nazareth. He was pleased to be with our community on Sundays and contributed much to the crack before lunch. He was welcome also among the men of Nazareth House, joining in their repartee and supporting them by his good example and his attendance at daily Mass. The Sisters in charge, however, had to be firm with him in the matter of long walks, as they were sometimes worried by his absence from the evening meal. The nursing staff were very fond of him and under their care he seemed to fare better than when he had to spend weeks in the local National Health Service Hospital.

His departure from this life came suddenly about 3.00 a.m. on the morning of 29 July 1996. Sr Irene, who had attended to an unexpected caller, was minded to pop into his room to see how he was. When she did, she found him close to death, so she stayed with him until he passed away. His funeral Mass took place in Nazareth House Chapel, where the chief celebrant was his cousin, Monsignor Patrick Wallace from Greystones, Ireland. Concelebrants were Fr Pinnington and Canon Byrne, resident in Nazareth House. Among the mourners were Catherine Bogue from Callan and her daughter Nora Mary; Christian Brothers from England and Ireland, and many residents of Nazareth House.

With his passing a little of the old ways has passed too. No one who had dealings with Br Ignatius could fall to be touched by his thoughtfulness, or fail to be encouraged by his search for truth and his desire to pass it on to all. He was one of our links with the world of Edmund Ignatius Rice and the ancient Irish faith. May his reward be to share now in the joy of Blessed Edmund and of all the Saints in Heaven.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

(May his soul be at God's right hand.)

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