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Clongowes Wood College
Clongowes Wood College

Clongowes Wood College is an independent boarding school for boys, located near Clane in County Kildare, Ireland. The school was founded by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1814,[2] and featured prominently in James Joyce's semi-autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. One of five Jesuit schools in Ireland, it had 450 students in 2019.[3]

The school's current headmaster is Chris Lumb (2015–present). He is the first lay headmaster of Clongowes in its over 200-year history. Leonard Maloney was the previous headmaster (2004–2015)[4] Michael Sheil retired as headmaster in 2006 and Bruce Bradley[5] (headmaster 1992–2000) was his successor. In September 2011 Michael Sheil returned as rector.


The school is a secondary boarding school for boys from Ireland and other parts of the world.[6] The school is divided into three groups, known as "lines". The Third Line is for first and second year students, the Lower Line for third and fourth years, and the Higher Line for fifth and sixth years. Each year is known by a name, drawn from the Jesuit Ratio Studiorum: Elements (first year), Rudiments (second), Grammar (third), Syntax (fourth), Poetry (fifth), and Rhetoric (sixth).[7]


The medieval castle was originally built in the 13th century by Stuart Cullen, an early Anglo-Norman warrior and landowner in northern Kildare.[8] He had been given extensive lands in the area of Kill, Celbridge, and Mainham by his brother, Rurai Blaney, who had come to Ireland with Strongbow, the Earl of Pembroke.

The castle is the residence of the religious community and was improved by a "chocolate box" type restoration in the 18th century. It was rebuilt in 1718 by Stephen Fitzwilliam Browne and extended in 1788 by Thomas Wogan Browne.[9] It is situated beside a ditch and wall—known as ramparts—constructed for the defence of the Pale in the 14th century. The building was completely refurbished in 2004 and the reception area was moved back there from the "1999 building."

The castle is connected to the modern buildings by an elevated corridor hung with portraits, the Serpentine Gallery referred to by James Joyce.[10] This gallery was completely demolished and rebuilt in 2004 as part of a redevelopment programme for the school buildings.

In 1929 another wing was built at a cost of £135,000, presenting the rear façade of the school. It houses the main classrooms and the Elements, Rudiments, Grammar and Syntax dormitories.

An expansion and modernisation was completed in 2000; the €4.8m project added another residential wing that included a 500-seat dining hall, kitchen, entrance hall, offices, and study/bedrooms for sixth year ("Rhetoric") students.[11]

The Boys' Chapel has an elaborate reredos, a large pipe-organ in the gallery, and a sequence of Stations of the Cross painted by Sean Keating. School tradition has it that the portrait of Pontius Pilate in the 12th station was based on the school rector, who had refused to pay the artist his asking price.

The moat that outlines the nearby forest of the college is the old border of The Pale, with the Wogan-Browne castle (now the residence of the Jesuit community) landmarking its edge.


The school traces its history back to a 799-acre (3.23 km2) estate owned by the Wogan family in 1418 under the reign of Henry IV. The name "Clongowes" comes from the Irish for "meadow" (cluain) and for "blacksmith" (gobha). The estate was originally known as "Clongowes de Silva" (de Silva meaning "of the wood" in Latin).[12] The estate later passed to the Eustace family and became part of the fortified border of the Pale in 1494. The Eustaces lost their estates during the Restoration (1660).[13] The estate was sold by the Wogan-Brownes to the Jesuits in March 1814 for £16,000.

The school accepted its first pupil, James McLornan, on 18 May 1814.[14]

In 1886 the Jesuit-run St Stanislaus College in Tullabeg, County Offaly, was amalgamated with Clongowes Wood College.[15]

As of 2019, there are six Jesuits living at the school.[5]

Historical accounts

One early history of the school is The Clongowes Record 1814–1932 by Fr Timothy Corcoran, S.J. (Browne and Nolan, Dublin, 1932). A half-century later, a history was written by Fr Roland Burke Savage, S.J., and published in The Clongownian school magazine during the 1980s; that same decade, Peter Costello wrote Clongowes Wood: a History of Clongowes Wood College 1814–1989, published by Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1989).


Clongowes is known for its strong pedigree in rugby union. Despite a relatively small size, Clongowes has won the Leinster Schools Rugby Senior Cup on eight occasions, winning its first final in 1926. Following this there was a gap of 52 years until the next title in 1978. Beginning with a 3rd title in 1988 and up until 2011, Clongowes has appeared in 13 finals, more than any other school in the competition during this period. Clongowes secured a first set of back-to-back titles with wins in 2010 and 2011.

Cultural associations

The school featured prominently in James Joyce's semi-autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. A documentary depicting a year in the life in the school was screened in 2001 as part of RTÉ's True Lives series.[16] The popular fictional series of Ross O'Carroll Kelly has mentioned Clongowes Wood on a number of occasions in the book and Irish Times column.

More recently a promotional video was published on the school's YouTube channel, entitled "Sixth Year Speeches: Our Message to You," a high-budget short film funded by the school. In this video they premiere the establishment of a new secondary slogan for the school: "Go forth, and set the world on fire," which aims to encourage their students to make a difference in the world. The video revolves around a first year student joining the school and going through the daily activities.

Selected notable past pupils

  • Francis Clery, British Army General who commanded 2nd Division during the Second Boer War
  • Eugene Esmonde, Second World War pilot and posthumous recipient of the Victoria Cross
  • Aidan MacCarthy OBE GM, Air Commodore RAF, Doctor, author of 'A Doctor's War'
  • Pat Reid, MBE, MC, British Army officer who escaped from Colditz and noted nonfiction and historical author
  • Joseph Dalton S.J., Jesuit who founded a number of schools and churches in Australia
  • John Charles McQuaid, Catholic Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland between 1940–1972
  • The O'Conor Don, Charles O'Conor, S.J.
  • Tadhg Beirne, Irish rugby union international, Munster rugby player.
  • Brian Carney, Irish rugby league player
  • Thomas Crean, Irish rugby union player, British Army soldier and doctor
  • Gordon D'Arcy, Irish rugby union international, British & Irish Lion, Leinster rugby player
  • Paddy Hopkirk, International Rally driver, winner of Monte Carlo Rally
  • David Kearney, Irish rugby union international, Leinster rugby player
  • Rob Kearney, Irish rugby union international, British & Irish Lion, Leinster rugby player
  • James Magee, Irish cricketer and rugby union player
  • Fergus McFadden, Irish rugby union international, Leinster rugby player.
  • Max McFarland, Scotland rugby sevens international
  • Noel Purcell, Irish rugby union player, Irish & GB water polo Olympian, the first man to have represented two countries at the Olympics
  • Patrick Quinlan, Australian cricketer and lawyer
  • Arthur Robinson, Irish first-class cricketer

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