The presence of the SMA in Ireland goes back to 1876 when the then SMA Superior General, Fr Augustin Planque, sent Fr James O’Haire (a priest working with Irish immigrants in South Africa) to recruit English-speaking priests from Ireland to join the Society. In 1878 Fr Francis Devoucoux SMA came to Mayfield, Cork to take charge of the Apostolic school founded by Fr O’Haire.
SMA presence in the west of Ireland
In 1883 he was replaced by Fr Joseph Zimmerman SMA “who may rightfully be hailed as the father of the Irish Province of the SMA.” (AM, Autumn 1978). But Fr Zimmerman needed willing and able supporters and, in the early years, few were as devoted as Llewellyn Joseph Blake of Cloughballymore, Co Galway who later inherited his father’s estate at Ballinafad, Belcarra, Co Mayo. The Blake family were one of the most prominent Catholic families in Mayo and Galway since the time they arrived from Wales in the twelfth century. Count Blake (the title was a Papal one which was bestowed on him at the request of the SMA in 1907) was impressed by Fr Zimmerman’s zeal and sincerity and when the time came for him to settle his affairs (his marriage not having produced any children) it was the young Society of African Missions that appealed most to him. What impressed him most was Fr Zimmerman’s concept of an independent Irish missionary force. And so the SMA received the gifts of his estates at Cloughballymore and Ballinafad and numerous financial donations for the education of students for the missionary priesthood. Count Llewellyn Blake died on 8 September 1916 and is buried beside the SMA Church, Wilton, Cork. The SMA owes an immesurable debt of gratitude to this promoter of the missions.
The Ballinafad property was turned into an Apostolic school for young men who needed their secondary education before going on for seminary studies. It closed as a Secondary School in 1975 and the property was sold. Cloughballymore was used as the SMA Novitiate.
A property at Kinury, near Westport, Co Mayo was given to the SMA in 1914 by Miss Sofia Crotty. It was used as a Novititate for Brothers and closed in 1924.
When the SMA left Ballinafad they maintained their ‘Connacht’ presence with a House near Knock, Co Mayo (1983 – 1994).
And now, with the opening of the SMA House in Claregalway a new chapter has opened in the rich tradition of the SMA presence in the west of Ireland. Long may it bear fruit!