St Patrick's College

Counties Wicklow & Kildare

Part of NUI Maynooth, and turning out Catholic priests since 1795, St Patrick's College & Seminary is Ireland's second-oldest university (after Trinity College, Dublin). The college buildings are impressive – Gothic architect Augustus Pugin had a hand in designing them – and the grounds contain a number of lofty Georgian and neo-Gothic buildings, gardens and squares. It's worth taking the guided tour to see the College Chapel, the world's largest choir chapel, with stalls for more than 450 choristers.

The college was founded so that aspiring priests didn't have to skip off to seminary school in France – and so get infected with strains of republicanism and revolution. In 1898 it was made a Pontifical College (which meant that its curriculum was determined and controlled by the Holy See) and in 1910 it became part of the then recently established National University of Ireland. The college's student body remained exclusively clerical until 1966 when lay students were finally admitted, but even today, despite being part of the bigger university, it remains largely autonomous and its 80-odd male seminarians are distinct from the university's 8500 other students.

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