Posted: 11th February 2016

Clongowes Wood College SJ

The Clongowes Union means the desire of Old Clongownians by coming together to be able to renew old memories [and] to see once again old familiar faces’. These words of John Redmond, M.P., (Vice-President) proposing the toast of the Clongowes Union at the second annual dinner, continue to ring true in the ears of Old Clongownians and were very much made flesh last Friday night in the Ballsbridge Hotel (Jury’s as was). Nigh on 300 past pupils turned up to celebrate the union, the college and one another on a night that fairly hummed with energy, affection and bonhomie as the years were rolled back and the hours rolled by into tomorrow.

As something of a veteran of these events we can safely inform our readers that this 120th sitting of the dinner was right up there with the best of its elder brethern as alumni from several decades (ten we would suggest). The feast of reason and flow of soul was added to by three very fine – dare we say inspirational – speeches from the President of the Union, Mr Owen Binchy, the Headmaster, Mr Chris Lumb and the worthy recipient of the Alumnus of the Year Award, Jim Costello (OC’60).

Owen Binchy, the third of that name to be president (following his grandfather and father) thanked all who made the evening possible and went on to pay tribute to the vibrant Union Committee. He instanced the ‘Next Step Series’ courtesy of new Junior Branch members Tommy Browne and Tom Kelly and also thanked the union members behind the success of the Union funded Peter McVerry Youth cafe on Berkeley Street – Conor Daly in particular. He highlighted the Clongowes Mentor Programme, which is an opportunity to pair younger alumni with experienced OC mentors and thanked the members of CUBA, the Clongowes Union Benevolent Association, headed up by Michael Moore and Tom Lane for the selfless work they do in helping out OCs who have fallen on hard times. (Full text of Owen’s speech here).

History was made, in this our 202nd year, as a layman, and an Englishman to boot, spoke at the Union Dinner for the first time as the College’s Headmaster. Mr Chris Lumb told how enjoyable his early months in Clongowes have been as he gains a sense of what makes the College just so special to so many. Chris noted how Clongowes is characterised by its friendly atmosphere and closeness of relationships, which become lifelong friendships as witnessed in events such as this union dinner. He spoke of the enormous sense of community in the college and how the way in which we work and live alongside one another is governed by our Jesuit values. He has long believed that a school is judged, above all, by the quality of its community life, by the values, which are practised by its members, and by the attitudes and principles of its past pupils and – in this essential respect – Clongowes, both past and present, can take great pride. (Full text of Chris’ speech here).

Owen Binchy then 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 more about James’ remarkable life as well as his full address here).

With the conclusion of the formalties the serious business of renewing old memories and seeing once again old familiar faces, referred to by John Redmond, continued well into the night and was ongoing when we made our excuses and left Ballsbridge in the wee hours of the morning after what can only be described as a thoroughly enjoyable reunion. It was heartening indeed to see so many of our 2,000+ past pupils (for we have been here since – whisper it – 1981) and to see them so sound in wind and limb.

Roll on 2017 agus go mbeirimid go léir beo ar an am seo arís!

Declan O’Keeffe, Head of Communications

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