Erected in 1775 as home to a large Irish collegiate community, the building, including the Old Library and St Patrick’s Chapel, was completely restored between 1997 and 2002.
In 1769, the prefect of the Irish collegiate community in Paris, Laurence Kelly, acquired a town house on the rue du Cheval Vert and transferred ownership of the building to the community of students. The prominent architect François Joseph Bélanger oversaw the demolition of part of the existing town house to make way for an imposing college building - a fifteen bay, four-storey structure with two wings on the garden front. It opened as the Collège des Irlandais in 1775. After the tumultuous period of the Revolution, the College was reopened under the auspices of the Fondation Irlandaise and the superior, Jean-Baptiste Walsh, persuaded Napoleon to change the name of the road to rue des Irlandais by a prefectural decree of 1807.
In a state of disrepair by the end of the twentieth century, the Irish government funded the complete restoration of the building in order to launch the Centre Culturel Irlandais in 2002.
Dedicated to Ireland’s patron saint St. Patrick, the chapel was built for the religious needs of the collegial community – the pews are thus facing each other rather than towards the altar. The original paintwork was replaced c. 1860 with the highly decorative interior that has survived up to the present day. The acoustics lend themselves particularly to concerts and the spoken word.
The chapel is open to visitors from Monday to Friday from 2pm to 6pm (Wednesday until 8pm) and on Sunday from 12.30pm to 2.30pm.
Mass is on Sunday at 11.30am.
For further information regarding religious celebrations and to contact the chaplain to the Irish Catholic community in Paris, please visit the website of the Irish chaplaincy.
The Old Library, located in a vaulted room above the Chapel, allies sobriety and elegance. It was the working library of the community of lay students and seminarians. A treasure from the manuscripts collection of Ireland, the Great Book of Lecan, written between 1390 and 1418, was brought to the College for safe-keeping; it remained there for most of the 18th century before being returned safely to the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin in 1787. The original library collection of the Collège des Irlandais was entirely lost during the Revolution. Its current collection of nearly 8,000 items, of which almost half date from the 15th to the 18th centuries, largely consists of books and manuscripts from suppressed religious establishments, inherited or bought in literary depots after the Revolution, and works of Irish interest acquired in the 19th century. The treasures of the collection are its three exquisite illuminated manuscripts.
The Old Library can be visited by appointment or as part of a scheduled guided visit. For further details, consult the dedicated page on the website: Old Library
Formerly the refectory of the Collège des Irlandais, the present day Exhibition Room underwent major renovation in order to fit the requirements of presenting international exhibitions, theatre, concerts and debates.
In 1802, Napoleon issued an edict whereby the College des Irlandais was amalgamated with the English and Scots seminaries thus acquiring items such as the 17th century painting of the martyrdom of the English saint Edmund that now hangs in the Conference Room.
The large and welcoming proportions of the courtyard are perfect for open-air cultural events organised in the summer months. These include Fête de la Musique and other concerts, poetry readings, dance and theatre evenings. Two studios for the artists in residence are also located in the courtyard.
The names of the 30 Irish dioceses of the 18th century figure around the edge of the gallery.
A number of plaques commemorate different moments when the Collège de Irlandais became a refuge for those in need: the building was converted into a hospital to accommodate three hundred French soldiers during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71; it served the United States army in 1945 as a shelter for displaced persons claiming American citizenship; the Polish seminary in Paris established itself in the Collège in 1945 and remained there until 1997, one of its most illustrious students being the future Pope John-Paul II.
Bust of John Lee
Father John Lee of Waterford is credited with the founding of the first collegiate community abroad in 1578 when six students under his tutelage entered the Collège de Montaigu in the University of Paris
The Flame of Human Dignity by Imogen Stuart
This winged sculpture was commissioned by the Columban Fathers, the Fondation Irlandaise and the Bishops’ Conference to celebrate the legacy of the 7th century Irish saint St. Columbanus.
Carved out of Portugese limestone and installed in the courtyard of the CCI in 2007, Imogen Stuart’s sculpture represents the wings of two birds touching, symbolising peace and unity. The Flame of Human Dignity celebrates Europe as conceived by the European visionary St. Columbanus, the Irishman who arguably had the greatest impact on European history.