« Co. Kildare Online Electronic History Journal Home »


Leinster Leader March 1st 1964
One hundred and fifty years ago this week, on 4th March, 1814, the Society of Jesus took legal possession of Castle Brown, now known as Clongowes Wood College.
The first Rector, Rev. Peter Kenney, dedicated exactly a month later, under the patronage of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, the great Jesuit patron of youth, the building just acquired.
The occasion was a historic one. Although Catholic education was no longer forbidden and churches could be built without breach of the law, there were no Catholic secondary schools in the country and the authorities were anxious to maintain this position. No sooner had the Jesuits bought Clongowes Wood than the ascendancy newspapers were denouncing “this daring act of Popery”, and the Chief Secretary of Ireland, Sir Robert Peel expressed his disapproval in public.
The mediaeval castle of Clongowes Wood was one of the border fortresses of the “Pale”. It was probably built in 1415 but there are no reliable records of it until 1493 when it was granted to the Eustaces, Viscounts of Baltinglass. In 1642 it was destroyed by General Monk in the Confederate War and lay in ruins until a wealthy Dublin merchant Thomas Wogan-Brown, bought it in 1718 and had it restored.
Napoleon’s General
The Wogan-Brownes later became a famous military family and it was General Michael Wogan-Browne, of the army of Saxony commander of a division in Napoleon’s march on Moscow, who sold it to the Irish Jesuits. Tradition says that the ghost of Marshal Wogan-Browne was seen on the stone steps leading up from the hall door on the day of the Battle of Prague (1737) in which he was killed.
The house and demesne were bought by Fr. Kennedy for £16,000. A further £2,700 was spent on furnishings, and it cost £3,820 to stock the farm and reconstruct the building for scholastic use. When Clongowes opened in 1814 it held the distinction of being the first college in the world to have been established by the restored Society of Jesus. The work of teaching began five weeks before the solemn restoration of the Society by Pope Pius VII, on August 7th 1814. About this time the population of Ireland was close on 4,500,000 and about 3,000,000 were Catholics. The majority of the Catholics were still labourers and tenant farmers, but, nevertheless, a new middle class was slowly emerging. Hence the great need for a Catholic secondary school.
Making Good Christians
The system of studies and the organisation of all teaching was strictly that of the Jesuit Ration Studiorum which became the law of the Society in 1599 and which declares “A master in the Society of Jesus is a person to whom Jesus Christ has entrusted a number of children purchased by his own precious blood, not merely for the purpose of being taught secular knowledge, but above all for the purpose of being made good Christians.”
In the school’s first prospectus, issued in the spring of 1814, there are two direct references to the course of study but neither of them goes into any great detail. “It does not seem necessary to outline the system here as it is already well known and highly esteemed” says the prospectus. An interesting feature of college life in those days is that parents were urged not to remove their children from the school during Christmas and Summer holidays. The prospectus asked parents to adhere to this rule with the greatest exactness.
Day of 16 Hours
The earliest Clongowes timetable show that in the summer the students put in a sixteen hour day. They arose at 5 a.m. and attended Mass at 5.45 and studied for two and quarter hours before breakfast. The next meal was at noon and consisted of bread and beer. Dinner was at 3.30 followed by an hour and a half of recreation. Supper was at 7.15 p.m. followed by another period of study, recreation and night prayers. Students retired at 8.45.
The success of the new college was apparent within a few months of the opening as the number of applications greatly exceeded the places available. It was obvious that parental approval of the Jesuit plan of studies in the liberal arts was widespread.
Among the letters of application was one from Daniel O’Connell seeking places for his two sons. “I intend the elder and indeed both, for the Irish Bar”, he wrote. “I wish them to acquire much classical learning and a solid formation in Greek."
His Hat Preserved
In later years Daniel O’Connell was to become a regular visitor to Clongowes Wood. He made retreats in the college and even contemplated ending his days there “in preparation for death”. One of his hats is preserved in the College museum.
When Clongowes Debating Society was founded in 1837, O’Connell came down to supervise the debates. Its first secretary was Thomas Francis Meagher, of whom the late President Kennedy said in his speech to the Dail; “He served with gallantry and distinction in some of the toughest battles of the American Civil War."
Today, Clongowes Wood is one of the best known Jesuit Colleges in Europe. The high ideals of Fr. Peter Kenney and his faithful little band have been maintained through the years, and the college which was founded in defiance has become a valued and essential institution in the Irish educational sphere.
Great Names Stand Out In College's Long History
The story of Clongowes Wood or indeed the story of any similar institution would be sadly incomplete without some account of the dedicated men who through the years moulded and influenced its policy.
Neither ample breadth of lands, nor fine material structures on them, constitutes a state. Man alone can provide that, and the same rule applies to a college. In this respect Clongowes Wood has been more than fortunate. The names of many of its devoted masters today shine forth as outstanding examples of truly great educationists. That first band of men who aided Father Kennedy in his undertaking and who settled those lines of work and tradition within the first decade, were all young Irishmen.
Died in Rome
The superior himself was only 35 when the college opened in 1814, and when he died in Rome in 1841 he was still a comparatively young man. Before the restoration of the Society, Father Kenney had served as Vice-President of Maynooth and during that time gave many retreats to members of the clergy from all over the country. He was a personal friend of Edmund Ignatius Rice founder of the Irish Christian Brothers and his advice to him on matters relating to the new Congregation was always accepted. He also played a big part in the foundation of the Irish Sisters of Charity.
Father Shine, who taught the first rhetoric class, 1817-1818, was an enthusiastic student of classical literature. Few masters have ever won so thoroughly as he the reverence of their classes. His early death, at Dublin in 1832, was due to service to the sick and dying during the great outbreak of cholera that year. An inspiring influence among the teaching staff in those days was Father James Butler, the professor of theology. His early death in 1820 was a severe blow to the college. The second Rector, Father Charles Aylmer, was of a great Norman family which originally came from Lyons and later settled in Kilkenny. His brother, William Aylmer, was a well known military man who served under Napoleon and died in the South American wars in 1821.
Outdoor recreations in the early days of the college were very different from what they are today. During the opening fifty years of the college, cross-country walks seemed to be the most popular outdoor recreation. Handball, played with a soft ball, was instituted early in the history of Clongowes and remained very much in favour until the alleys were taken down. Tops and marbles were in full use among junior pupils. Two very primitive forms of what later developed into cricket were occasionally used from 1814 onwards. “The wickets were two stones, broad and low in position. The ball was large and rough; the bat was shaped exactly like the caman of the hurler. There was no blocking, once you touched the ball you had to run as it was all swiping”, wrote a student.
Nature study was always encouraged and became very popular. One of the leading lights in the nature study club was Maurice Daniel O’Connell, eldest son of the Liberator. But perhaps the most unusual recreation of all, and it was by far the most popular among the students, was coursing. Senior students had the privilege of keeping their own hounds in the college, and the early records describe many an exciting chase over the Duke of Leinster’s land around Maynooth.
Skill in self-defence was elaborately provided for and officially regulated. On 17th October, 1820, Father Bartholomew Esmonde, then acting as Rector, arranged for “a competent teacher to give instruction in fencing, broadsword exercise, etc., to 60 young gentlemen, from 11.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. on one day each week”.
The production of plays, chiefly those of the great dramatists of Italy and France, was a distinctive feature of the school year in all decades down to 1880. After this all dramatic work undertaken by the students was purely recreational.
The world-famous Clongowes Union was founded in 1897. Its first President was the distinguished scholar and jurist, Christopher Palles, Chief Baron of the Exchequer in Ireland for over two score years.

The history of the founding of Clongowes Wood as a Catholic secondary school by the Jesuit Fathers in 1814, is outlined in the Leinster Leader of March 1st 1964.


Powered by
Movable Type 3.2