On May 18th 1814, in a country devoid of mechanized forms of transport, young Master James McLorinan from the Glens of Antrim made the long journey south to the plains of Kildare, just north of Clane…

There he was met by Fr Peter Kenney SJ, Rector of a fledgling Jesuit community, who escorted him through the doors of a castle and into the pages of history as the first student to enroll in the newly founded Clongowes Wood College. 
In the 200 years since McLorinan’s arrival, Clongowes has been producing an open, happy, stimulating, mutually respectful community in which young people are able to develop the full range of their talents and abilities in a balanced, integrated and generous way.  

While various elements of Clongowes life have had the opportunity to celebrate a truly historic year, it is now left to the students to pay homage to the eminent Jesuits, influential teachers and distinguished past-pupils that have left their mark on a prominent Irish institution and beyond.
Therefore, on October 24th and 25th Clongowes will welcome twenty of the finest schools teams from Ireland, England and Wales to partake in a unique Rugby Festival that will bring the stars of the past, present and future together for a memorable weekend. 
As the Headmaster, Fr Leonard Moloney SJ, suggests: “From the schools’ perspective, rugby is one of the best educative tools available in the formation of young men of character who learn skills, discipline and an ability to relate to others, teammates and opponents, in a manner that enriches life for all. And it is such an inclusive process: there is a place for every one on a team – big or small, fast or slow, strong or less strong – as the schools, and the Branch, really do try to provide an experience for all levels of ability.

While the rise to prominence of several Old Clongownians on the field allied to recent success in the Leinster Schools Senior Cup reinforces the image of Clongowes as an outstanding rugby-playing school, it was not always so.  Although the first ‘out-match’ (against external opposition) was played in the spring of 1889 against Lansdowne, rugby remained fragile in Clongowes until the turn of the century. Indeed for much of the school’s early history the boys would engage in a game of ‘gravelball’ which often comprised of 60 or more players who could kick or fist the ball but not carry or throw it – a far cry from our game today.
Although rugby games began to feature more prominently on the school calendar in the early 20th Century, Clongowes did not enter the Leinster Schools Senior Cup until the 1922-1923 season, almost fifty years after the competition was inaugurated in 1886-1887. Within three years Clongowes won their first title following a narrow 10-9 victory over Belvedere on 22 March 1926. However, it would be another 52 years before Clongowes could finally return to such glories.

 Remarkably, when Greg Dilger lifted the cup in 1978, it was the first time that Clongowes had graced a final since 1936. The triumph proved to be a watershed of sorts for the Kildare School and under the guidance of Fr. Michael Sheil SJ and Mr. Vincent Murray, a new dawn for the sport began to rise. In the 35 years since then, Clongowes have been consistently competitive, featuring in six semi-finals and contesting sixteen finals, returning to Clane victorious on 6 occasions (1988, 1991, 1998, 2000, 2010, 2011).

Though continuously blessed with much vaunted talent in the form of Louis Magee (who would travel with the Lions to South Africa in 1896 and captain Ireland to the Triple Crown in 1899), to the incumbent internationals, Gordon D’Arcy, Fergus McFadden and the Kearney brothers, what is seen in the RDS or the Aviva is no more than part of a greater story. Even when nature has bestowed great talent, it still takes countless hours of hard work to achieve excellence, an excellence that is honed in the dormitories and classrooms as much as on any one of Clongowes’ 12 playing fields.

As the former Irish Times rugby correspondent Edmund van Esbeck wrote in the aftermath of the D’Arcy inspired 1998 campaign: “Intensity in sport can have many manifestations and at times baser instincts assert themselves. Never by word or deed have I seen a Clongowes team soil the image of the game or their own proud tradition by resorting to the unsporting or unethical. The purple and white jersey has been a garment of grandeur through most of this century on the fields of Donnybrook, Lansdowne Road and elsewhere. I feel assured that it will ever be thus…”
With 77 matches set to take place over 48 hours (10am-4pm each day), it will be an action-packed weekend at Clongowes, with ample opportunity to cast your eyes over the stars of tomorrow. Admission is free and all are welcome. More information can be found on our new website: www.clongowes.eu.