Alumnus of the Year - Clongowes Wood College

Posted: 6th February 2016

Last Friday, February 5th at the Clongowes Union Dinner President of the Union, Owen Binchy (OC’80) had the pleasure of awarding an extraordinary alumnus, James Costello OC’60 with the Clongowes Alumnus of the Year Award for 2015. James was a 15-year-old schoolboy in Clongowes when he contracted polio in 1958. He developed an upper-body paralysis, which severely compromised his lung function and left him without the use of his arms.

After he received the award James held the packed assembly spellbound as he remembered his time in Clongowes with affection (and not a little glee). One story concerning his erstwhile Prefect, Fr Paddy Crowe SJ, struck a chord with many of us and said a great deal about the Cura Personalis that is so much a part of the college. (Read the full address here).

Since leaving the school, James has spent much of his life in the polio unit of Cherry Orchard Fever Hospital in Dublin and is now, the last surviving patient in that unit. He is also the last man in Ireland to still be reliant on an iron lung to do his breathing for him.

Despite these massive challenges, James managed to run the family retail business, dabble in property speculation, co-own a restaurant and sustain both a successful relationship with his partner Delia for over 20 years and a passion for rugby as member of Greystones Rugby Club. Since his retirement, due to worsening health problems, James has worked tirelessly as a founding member of the Post Polio Support Group which supports survivors who are affected by the late effects of polio – a second and debilitating condition that is affecting people many years after their original polio diagnosis.

Although James’s condition is often more severe than those whom he supports and encourages, his incredible strength of character and positive attitude to life makes him an inspirational figure and the very embodiment of an iron will.

James Costello’s extraordinary story was the subject of a ‘Would You Believe?’ programme on RTÉ Television in 2005 and may be viewed here.

There was also a feature on him in ‘The Irish Times, which you may read here.



In September 2015 nominations were called for outstanding Old Clongownian candidates under one or all of the following categories:

  • Social Justice
  • Arts
  • Public Life
  • Business & Innovation
  • Sport
  • Courage & Determination.

In evaluating the nominations the committee sought alumni who have been at least one of the following in his life to date:

  • Inspirational
  • Transformational
  • Internationally Prominent
  • Socially Responsible
  • Innovative
  • Entrepreneurial

Evidence that the candidate has embraced the ‘Men for Others’ Jesuit ethos is a key focus. The vital aim of a Jesuit education is the full growth of the person, leading to action. The Ignatian vision is to form ‘Leaders in Service’, men and women of competence, conscience and compassionate commitment. The aim of the ‘Alumnus of the Year’ award is to acknowledge and celebrate those who have clearly and prominently followed this path.

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