Edmund Rice Heritage Centre, Westcourt
Edmund Rice was born in Westcourt, Callan,
County Kilkenny in 1762 to Robert rice and his wife Margaret (nee
Tierney). There were two boys and seven girls in the family: the girls
Joan and Jane were born of an earlier marriage of Margaret to a Mr.
Murphy. Edmund was the fourth son.
His farmer was a well to do tenant
farmer, managing 200 acres of good land for which he paid a yearly rent of
£300 to Lord Desart. He employed some men to help him with the farmwork.
He sent his children to a local
"hedge-school", a long shed hidden away behind houses. It had no
desks. The master taught reading, arithmetic and dancing, for which he was
paid by the parents. Most children could not attend any school.
As a boy, Edmund delighted to bring some
of his young neighbours to his home in order to teach them prayers and
catechism. When the lesson ended his mother gave the poor children food.
Margaret was an industrious housewife.
She and a local tailor made clothes for her family. Robert Rice grazed
many sheep and some of the wool was used to make cloth for his family.
All the family said prayers in the home
every morning and night and the children were taught to love and practice
Edmund was as fond of the game of
hurling (they called it loops) as any boy in Callan. There was a large
level field behind his home where he and his brothers and the boys of the
district played. By the Avonree (King’s River), the boys spent many
happy hours. There, Edmund fished, bathed, climbed trees and hunted.
Yet not all his memories of childhood
days were pleasant. Church bells had now been silent in Ireland for 125
years. When he was still young the good priest Fr. Sheehy was hanged not
far away in Clonmel, along with a man from Callan.
At 17, Edmund went to live and work with
his uncle in Waterford as a merchant. He married Mary Elliott in 1785, and
they had one daughter Mary, a handicapped child. A widower from the age of
27, he reared his daughter until she was 11, when she came to live with
her relatives in Callan.
Edmund became more and more interested
in making people realise their dignity and he did this principally by
educating boys. So, at the age of 40 he gave up his very successful
business and devoted himself to the religious life and education. At
first, those who joined him were called "Presentation Brothers",
but later most of he group became more centralised and became
"Christian Brothers". Both congregations still exist today.