Times Old and New | Clongowes Wood College

Posted: 18th June 2020

Old Building

Ireland now stands in imminent danger. If Popery succeeds – our fairest plains will once more witness days worthy to rank with those of Bloody Mary – and the Walls of Derry shall again become the lamentable bulwark against Popish treachery and massacre! Strong words of alarm there!

Strong words indeed! …….. the tocsin was sounded,  I read in that article in the Hibernian Magazine” on 13th November 1813 –  written as Clongowes was about to come into being – over 50,000 school- days ago!

As I wandered through some archival material last week – daring to hope that that dire forecast has not come to pass! – I thought I would share some aspects of what has changed since Fr Kenney & Co. arrived in CWC.  What changes has the old Castle-on-the-Pale seen in the past 200+ years! What would he think to-day?!

Many years ago – when I was HLP – some senior Students made a request that beer be served at lunch – “just as had been the custom in the early days”, they said. I checked out “the early days” for myself – and, to their great surprise – said that I would be willing to go along with that …………  on condition that we all followed the full schedule of the time ………. and I began my research!

In the prospectus of the early days – c.1830 – I read that the school year stretched without a break from 7th  Sept. to 1st Aug.! [with non-emergency absences requiring a month’s notice by Parents!] In summer [April – July] the Call was at 5 a.m.[Yes! – 5a.m.!] – in winter [September – March] at 6 a.m. Morning Prayers and Mass were followed by 2 [Yes – 2!] hours of study before Breakfast [15 mins!] …… followed by 2½ hours of class – followed by more study – until Recreation for ¾ hour at mid-day with ….. and there it was! – Bread and BEER

The request was quickly withdrawn –  the 20th C. emissaries felt a beer wasn’t worth an early-bird rise!

The annual holidays were from 1st Aug. to 7th Sept. – but some years later, Christmas holidays came in – and  I remember my Father telling us that, in his final year [1914] Easter holidays also arrived.

Continuing my consultation of the daily timetable way back then, I found that Dinner was at 3.30 p.m. – followed by Recreation for an hour [including Games – on a full stomach!] – another 1½ hours’ Study – then Supper at 7.15 p.m. [15 mins!] – followed by an hour for Recreation …… and off to bed at 8.45 pm. Tuesdays and Thursdays were half-days – with Saturday a full class day. Visits from Families were few and far between.

There was a great variety of sports ……… from the very start in 1814 there was a “very primitive form of what developed into cricket – with the bat-shaped exactly like the camán of the hurler”(!) There was the unique Clongowes Gravel Football – handball  – hurling – soccer – hockey – athletics – fencing – boxing – fishing [in the Liffey] – tennis – rugby [1860s] – Gaelic football – greyhounds – cycling – dancing (!).  In all of these – according to a directive of a Rector of the 1830s – the Masters (i.e. Jesuits) were to “share in the recreations of the Scholars, out of doors and within – they should play cards with them (!)  – and be of service with greyhounds (!) and garden-lore”.

Up until modern times there was a special Clongowes-speak ……. Games were called Play-up written homework was themes toilets were squares free days were play-days [with class walks in the neighbourhood – unthinkable with today’s busy roads – and followed by a Full-feed and a film] no Late Study was sleepsa snack was frustulum  – corridors were galleries swimming pool was The Baths Recreation rooms were Playrooms.

In my own time in the Holiday Camp –  the call was at a less ungodly time of 6.50 a.m. – with daily Mass and breakfast followed by a compulsory walk around the HL track [cricket oval] before Morning Study. Dinner was moved to the more civilized time of 1 p.m. – with Supper at 7 p.m. We had weekly exams on a Sunday morning, after Mass – from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. – with the results given out by the Prefect of Studies in class during the week – with Place Cards for the top three – but often to the grave discomfort of those who did not make the pass mark!

This is a flavour of what life was like in times past … to us of the 21st century they may seem at least quaint – at worst draconian – but those times and the Masters and Students who lived in them have helped to make Clongowes what it is today. We may have more freedom but there are also more and greater challenges for all!

We can rightly say that today we stand on the shoulders of giants we give thanks for the legacy they have left us may our generation be inspired by their spirit to leave a worthwhile legacy to generations to come!


Fr Michael Sheil SJ


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