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The North Monastery was founded on 9 November 1811 when Brother Jerome O'Connor and Brother John Baptist Leonard were given charge of a school in Chapel Lane by the Bishop of Cork, Rev. Dr. Moylan. Seventeen students attended on the first day.
In 1814, a 14-acre sloping site was acquired from a wealthy catholic businessman, Sir George Gould Bart, and a new school was built. The North Monastery had found its permanent home. An outbreak of typhus fever in the city in 1816 saw the school being used as a temporary hospital.
Brother Griffin, a poet and novelist, became a member of the North Monastery in 1839. He died on 12 June 1840 in his 37th year. His remains are interred in the cemetery in the grounds of the school. It was shortly after the death of Griffin that Daniel O'Connell visited with the Founder of the Order, Edmund Ignatius Rice.
In 1857, Brother James Burke arrived at the North Monastery and under his guidance the students began the study of natural philosophy (science). At this time Br. John P. Holland (inventor of the submarine) studied under the guidance of Br. Burke. In 1879, Patrick J. Kennedy, a past pupil, was installed as Lord Mayor of Cork, the first of a long and distinguished list of past pupils to hold this office. In 1901 the Mayor of Cork, Edward Fitzgerald organised an Industrial Exhibition. The school represented the Department of Education and Br. Burke and his students built an electric tramway which was the high point of the exhibition. Burke died on 23 March 1904 as the result of an accident and was accorded a public funeral with a procession through the streets of Cork city. He was buried in the cemetery at the North Monastery.
In 1911 the school celebrated its centenary and the Br. Burke Memorial Extension, was formally opened in 1913. On the advent of the First World War the British army confiscated lathes, drilling machines and other machinery from the school. They closed and sealed the wireless room and cut down the aerial mast. These precautions were carried out under the Defence of the Realm Act.
In March 1920 the Lord Mayor Thomas MacCurtin, a past pupil paid an official visit to the school and addressed the boys in Irish. Shortly afterwards he was murdered at midnight by a gang of armed assassins. He was given a public funeral at which nearly 2,000 North Monastery boys marched in procession. Terence McSwiney, who was also a past pupil, was his successor. He died in Brixton prison after 74 days hunger strike in October 1920.
The school continued to flourish and produced many more past pupils who distinguished themselves in all walks of life including business, politics, sport, the arts and academia, among whom is former Taoiseach and renowned sportsman Jack Lynch who formally opened a new secondary school building in 1967. Lynch is but one of a long list of hurlers and footballers who distinguished themselves in the blue and white jersey of the North Mon and who progressed to winning All-Ireland medals for Cork. The school has long been acknowledged as a nursery of hurling and football. Many other sports are played in the school with athletics and basketball coming to prominence in recent times with several students having won athletic scholarships to universities in the USA.
Notable former pupils
- John Philip Holland, inventor of the submarine
- Jonathan Rhys Meyers, actor (expelled)
- Edward Mulhare, actor
- Jack Lynch, former Taoiseach
- Mark Carroll, athlete
- Thomas MacCurtain, former Lord Mayor of Cork
- Terence McSwiney, former Lord Mayor of Cork
- Frank O'Connor, short story writer
- Rory Gallagher, Irish blues rock guitarist
- Matt Cooper, journalist and radio presenter
- Niall Tobin, actor