By Sheila O’Kelly


There are songs written in honour of Saint Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland. Two well-loved songs are Hail Glorious Saint Patrick and The Dear little Shamrock.


Hail glorious Saint Patrick, dear saint of our isle
On us thy poor children bestow a sweet smile;
And now thou art high in the mansions above,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love…

Sister Mary Agnes McSweeney composed Hail Glorious Saint Patrick circa 1850 after a time Ireland was devastated by the Famine. The hymn was composed in honour of Saint Patrick and combines religion and nationalism. It praises Saint Patrick. It asks for help for the ‘poor children’ of Ireland and it praises Ireland itself.

Sister Mary Agnes was born in Cobh, County Cork, on the 16th November, 1823, to Michael and Ellen McSweeney.
She was baptised Elizabeth by her uncle, Father Thomas Croke. Her father was a customs officer and this enabled Elizabeth to obtain a good education.

Elizabeth was nineteen years old in 1842 when she entered the Mercy Convent in Charleville, County Cork.
She was professed the following year and received the name, Sister Mary Agnes. She took care of the pension school set up by the Convent Sisters and she in charge of the secondary school for girls.

When a mission was being set up in Bathurst in Sydney, Australia, in 1865, Bishop Mathew Quinn, Bishop-elect of the Roman Catholic diocese in Bathurst appealed for help from nuns in Ireland.

Sister Mary Agnes was among the first seven nuns to go to Bathurst, along with her cousin, Sister Ignatius Croke. The nuns set sail on the 31st July, 1866. The voyage took three months. Sister Mary Agnes taught First Holy Communion class. She visited the sick and the poor in their homes, and she visited the prisoners in Bathurst jail. She was the Novice Mistress in the convent and first school principal.

She was appointed Mother Assistant to Mother Ignatius Croke. It is not known if Sister Mary Agnes McSweeney ever returned to Ireland for a visit.

She died on the 5th June, 1905, aged 81 and is buried in the convent cemetery in Bathurst, Australia.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own