St. Angela’s College was founded in 1887 from the Ursuline Convent in Blackrock. The school was founded at the request of the Bishop of the day, Bishop O’Callaghan, who wanted a day school for girls in the city.
Initially the school was based in a rented house, a former police station, at 29 St. Patrick’s Hill. The school opened its doors in August 1887 and the first student to cross the threshold was Mary Ryan, later the first woman to be appointed as university professor in Ireland or Great Britain. Within a few days of opening, the school was full and there was a waiting list for places. The nuns then bought the adjoining property called Richmond , which was owned by Jeremiah Murphy, one of the owners of Murphy’s Brewery, and moved the school and convent into the new premises. The space was still inadequate and building began immediately on the High School, which was opened in 1888.
The construction of St. Joseph’s, a single storey building (currently the PE Hall) and the subsequent addition of a second storey (nowadays the New Lab.) were to serve the third level section of the school – the teacher-training college and the degree course. Prior to the establishment of NUI, parents were reluctant to send their daughter to the Queen’s College. Instead female students could be prepared in places like St. Angela’s College and sit for the examinations of the Royal University. Other courses provided were in secretarial skills and Home Economics. The third-level phase of the school ended in 1908 with the establishment of UCC. The full name of the school – St. Angela’s College and High School– is the main reminder of those days.
The next event of note was the arrest during a maths class of one of the teachers, Mary MacSwiney, sister of Republican Lord Mayor, Terence MacSwiney, in May 1916. She had been told that she could no longer continue to teach in St. Angela’s after the summer holidays but in the event she was paid in full by the school authorities and did not return to the school fter her release from gaol.
In the 1950s the sides of the roofed space at the bottom of the site, which was used for drill and Irish dancing, were filled in and formed into classrooms. These rooms, now known as Iona, were used initially by the Junior School. Further space for the secondary school was created by the purchase of the adjoining house, Richmond House, to serve as a convent. Two prefabricated buildings were erected on the tennis court of Richmond House and provided four additional classrooms at the northern end of the site. In the 1970s the need for increased space led to the building of the St. Ursula’s wing, an l-shaped block of four pre-fabricated classrooms. In the 1980s 31 St. Patrick’s Hill was bought and after renovation was opened in 1986 as Arus Chriost, the 6 Year house. At the same time the top floor of St. Joseph’s was renovated and a second science laboratory was installed, henceforth known as the New Lab. The summer of 2003 saw the replacement of St. Ursula’s and Iona with new pre-fabricated classrooms. Four years later the Department of Education agreed to the replacement of one of the two pre-fabs at the back of the school. A final addition was the erection of a small meeting room for parents. This room was funded by the Parents’ Association and it was decided to dedicate it to the memory of St. Angela’s very first pupil, Mary Ryan, later the first woman to be appointed Professor of Modern Languages in the British Isles.