A proud institution located in protected green belt land in North Dublin, Castleknock College has been one of the country’s premier private schools since its foundation in 1835. The school was traditionally a boarding school but began accepting day students in 1987 before closing the boarding section in 2004. The school has a national reputation for sports and academic performance, particularly in the sciences, and is considered to be one of the major independent schools in the Republic of Ireland.
Castleknock occupies a sprawling leafy 70-acre site in the affluent neighbourhood of Castleknock where its neighbours include various ancient Guinness family estates and the Farmleigh Estate (the official Irish state guest house for visiting dignitaries and Heads of State and where state dinners are often hosted). Situated at the top of Knockmaroon Hill on the edge of the Phoenix Park, the College looks out across the River Liffey, facing rival school, The King’s Hospital. The school’s campus contains the ruins of the Castle for which the neighbourhood takes its name, which sits atop an ancient man-made hill, said to be the ancient burial site of Cumhal, father to Finn Mac Cumal, and haunted by the ghost of the White Lady of Castleknock. The hill and the castle ruins feature heavily in some of the school’s rituals. The college maintains the largest library of any secondary school in the country (the Alton Library) and has vast sports facilities and fields contained within the grounds.
Castleknock College has discerned itself as one of the nation’s leading institutions for Catholic boys. Historically, the school was the preferred Irish boarding school for upper-middle-class and upper-class Catholics in Ireland, alongside English schools such as Ampleforth College, Downside, and Stonyhurst. In this respect, the school was disparagingly referred to by some as a “Castle Catholic” school alongside peers Clongowes Wood College and Mount Anville (and, to a lesser extent, Belvedere College). For many years, the school was home to the sons of Irish chieftains, various minor royals from Spain and Germany, and, more recently, a number of tribal princes from various African dynasties. However, as boarding is no longer offered at the school, Clongowes Wood College is Ireland’s premier boarding school for such families whilst Blackrock College is the preferred choice for the professional classes. Castleknock was the model for the establishment of St Stanislaus’ College in Bathurst, Australia and the two schools maintain a close relationship to this day. The school also maintains a close informal relationship with the neighbouring girls’ school, Mount Sackville Secondary School. The school has, historically, been considered a breeding ground for officer-class gentlemen in both the British and Irish armies, being one of the few Irish schools to have had an old boy awarded the Victoria Cross.
The school’s excellent standing is, in part, due to the Vincentian reputation for providing an excellent education (as had been evidenced through the creation of various schools, seminaries, and missions in the New World). Particularly, Vincentians were considered capable of shaping excellent young men for leading roles in foreign and imperial service (particularly within the French and Spanish empires) and for missionary success. Other religious orders, such as the Jesuits, focused to a greater degree on preparing young men for entry into the clergy or civil service.
The school was founded in 1833 as St Vincent’s College by a select group of priests from Maynooth who sought to rebuild and repair Catholic life in Ireland following Catholic Emancipation. Moreover, they wished to ensure an education for young men preparing for the priesthood. They sought to affiliate with the Vincentian Congregation of the Mission. Under the direction of Fathers Philip Dowley and Thomas MacNamara, the school began life as a day school at Usher’s Quay. From the outset, the school was established as a fee-paying school catering to wealthy Catholic families.
In 1834 the opportunity came up to take over the site of a former Church of Ireland school in Castleknock and it was acquired by St. Vincent’s College at the behest of the Archbishop of Dublin who had asked the group to establish a seminary. The day school was transferred to the new location and renamed Castleknock College – now a boarding school and Seminary.
Despite the school’s initial role as a seminary and its sponsorship by the Archdiocese of Dublin to perform such a function, the many fee-paying pupils who were sent to the school were not all that interested in entering the priesthood and engaging in a life of mission. Rather, the school had established itself as one of the few quality schools available to Catholic families where boys could be sent as boarders to receive a classical education preparing them for a life in estate management, military or imperial service, the law, or other such professions. Indeed, few boys would enter the clergy following their time at Castleknock, even in the school’s infancy. So too was this conflict in mission evident in the views of the two founding fathers, with Fr. Dooley recognising the school’s future as a secondary school for boys whilst Fr. MacNamara believed the institution’s primary purpose should continue to be the third-level Seminary providing a supply of young priests.
The school flourished immediately, quickly expanding and taking pupils from across Ireland and despite the debate regarding the school’s primary purpose, it maintained both functions as a secondary boarding school and seminary for many decades with a number of notable pupils entering public life and ordained life. Amongst its earliest pupils were a number of notable figures, most famously Lord Russell of Killowen, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales an accomplished lawyer and politician who also founded the past pupils union. A number of early pupils did enter the clergy, including John Lynch, the school’s first pupil, who emigrated to the United States where he founded the seminary that would become Niagara University and would later become the Archbishop of Toronto. Another early pupil was Father John Bannon, chaplain to the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. At the First Vatican Council in 1859, five of the Bishops on the council had attended Castleknock.
The school would undergo a period of change in the 1860s as part of the wider educational reforms of the Victorian era. The review of the role and purpose of the ancient “Public Schools” of England was underway with many new schools having been established, challenging the existing supremacy of religiously affiliated schools. Under British rule, Irish schools were subject to the same challenges and investigation with many new schools being opened to cater to a wider range of pupils, of varying means and to offer a greater technical and scientific education to prepare for the commercial and administrative needs of modern society and the wider British Empire. The case for reform was perhaps best demonstrated at Rugby School in England under headmaster Thomas Arnold who is credited with developing what is now regarded as the English Public School model.
Castleknock College, a peer school to the Public Schools of England and Ireland would align heavily with this movement adopting many of the initiatives instituted at Rugby, including embracing sports and introducing a Prefect system. One pupil who was present at the time of these reforms was Richard Bodkin of a well-known Limerick family who made their wealth in the grocery and wine trade. He would enter the clergy and return to Castleknock as a teacher in 1870 where he gained a reputation as one of Ireland’s most renowned educators. He taught at Castleknock for more than fifty years and came to represent the spiritual heart of the school and the Vincentian ethos embodied there. He extolled the values of a scientific mind and the study of technical subjects alongside spiritual and faith exploration. As such, he funded the purchase of scientific texts and helped to develop a scientific curriculum of his own volition to augment the classics programme taught at the school. He is credited with helping to rejuvenate Castleknock’s status as the Catholic secondary school in Ireland with many boys under his tutelage having gone on to successful careers. This included JJoseph Patrick Slattery who would develop radiography and the use of X-Ray for medical appliances in Australia where he also had a role in the management of St. Stanislaus’ College in Bathurst (Caastleknock’s brother school, where he sought to implement similar initiatives in the public school tradition).
On the visit of Queen Victoria to Ireland in 1900, Castleknock College had the honour of playing host to the royal party marking the occasion of the first visit by a British monarch to a Catholic educational institution in the Republic of Ireland and was celebrated with a week’s leave for boys at the school. For many, this visit underlined the school’s (and the families who chose to send their sons there) ambivalence to the Irish nationalist cause despite many past pupils, including Baron Russell, having been keen proponents and defenders of nationalist politics.
Despite this reputation, Castleknock boasts of having had two senior figures in Ireland’s struggle for independence having been on its teaching staff, including Éamon De Valera who would later become the 2nd Taoiseach (Prime Minster of Ireland) and 3rd Irish President. He is considered by many to be the founding father of the Irish Republic.
De Valera founded the Fianna Fáil political party alongside his closest friend, Robert Farnan (himself a past pupil of Castleknock College). During De Valera’s time at Castleknock, he worked alongside another critical figure in the Easter Rising and the foundation of Fianna Fáil, Frank Fahy, who taught at Castleknock between 1906 and 1921. Fahy would serve as a Fianna Fáil TD and later become Ceann Comhairle (Speaker of the House). As a TD he would vote to support a motion of no confidence in the 1st President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, W.T. Cosgrave. Cosgrave founded the political party that would become Fine Gael, the second-largest party in Irish politics. His own son, Liam Cosgrave, would later attend Castleknock College before a career in politics culminating in his service as Ireland’s 6th Taoiseach. As Taoiseach, he would appoint two other former Castleknock boys to his cabinet as Ministers of Justice and Defence. Another former member of faculty at Castleknock, Mary Harney, would serve as the leader of the Progressive Democrats party and as the Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) of Ireland. She is still involved with the College’s debating society today.
Castleknock would continue to operate as Ireland’s pre-eminent boarding school for boys, attracting pupils from across Ireland, the United Kingdom, and further afield (indeed, prior to the closing of the boarding programme, the school had pupils attending from across Europe, Africa, Asia, Australasia, North America, and South America). The school had such an international community that it was impacting negatively its ranking in the Irish school league tables which afford places based on matriculation at Irish universities only. Some 40% of Castleknock boarders would not attend Irish universities but would win places at some of the best universities in North America and continental Europe.
Boarding ended at Castleknock in 2006 due to a downturn in demand for boarding places in Ireland generally, particularly at schools still under the direct management of religious orders. The school transferred to lay management shortly thereafter. Both moves reflect a growing trend amongst faith-based fee-paying schools. This marks a significant new direction for the school which continues to be amongst the leading academic schools in Ireland and regularly features at the very top of Irish school rankings.
Castleknock College borrows heavily from the English public school model, operating a house system named for famous personalities associated with the school, having prefects taking senior roles in the school, and adopting unique traditions and customs. The school traditionally maintained a close relationship with the Jesuit-founded St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg (known as “Tullabeg”), which acted as a preparatory school for both Castleknock and Clongowes. The school has its own unique sport, known as stilts, that was traditionally played by boys on the grounds before Rugby Union became the dominant pursuit. Stilts is not played today. Similarly, a variant of Fives has been known to have been played at the school but the school’s original handball courts where the game was played have since been demolished. The school has a proud rugby tradition and has won many Leinster Senior Cup trophies and has played in more finals than any other school. The school has similarly attained great success in the Leinster Junior Cup and League, with the Junior Team winning the league in 2023. It is recognised as one of the Super Seven schools – powerhouse rugby schools that produce a disproportionately high number of professional players. Many old Knockmen continue to play after school with the local Coolmine RFC or Lansdowne FC being the preferred clubs. The school has strong athletics, soccer, tennis, and golf programs and Castleknock boys have distinguished themselves at national and international levels in sports including rowing, cricket, lacrosse, and show jumping. The school’s choir has won national awards and produced and published its own commercially available material.
THE HOUSES OF CASTLEKNOCK COLLEGE
Named for Fr. Richard Bodkin, CM – a significant figure in the history of Castleknock College. Fr. Bodkin had been a pupil at Castleknock in the 1860s before returning in 1870 to join the school staff. He became a celebrated educational and spiritual leader at the school and developed a national reputation as an excellent teacher. He taught at the school for more than fifty years.
Father Edward Ferris was a seminal figure in the early Vincentian movement in Ireland and was a key founder of Maynooth University. He was a great inspiration to Fathers Dowley and MacNamara who founded Castleknock College and this House is named in his honour.
A House named in memory of Father Malachy O’Callaghan, the fourth President of Castleknock College.
The newest House at Castleknock College, it is named for Father Kevin O’Shea who served as Dean and President of Castleknock and is credited with many of the changes in the 1980s that saw Castleknock modernising its campus and ethos and becoming an academic powerhouse.
Co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are a major part of school life with clubs having been established for skiing, climbing, SCUBA diving, chess, and various Transition Year Societies. The school regularly fields candidates for the Young Scientist awards and pupils are afforded opportunities to take part in national debating championships or undertake the Gaisce President’s Award (Duke of Edinburgh International Award). In keeping with the Vincentian charitable ethos, Castleknock boys are heavily involved in charitable works, particularly through the Society of Vincent de Paul. Regular trips to Ambo in Ethiopia under the school’s long-term development initiative – the Ambo Project. The school regularly plays host to visiting groups from other leading private schools from around the world and rugby tours and has even been the base camp for the New Zealand All Blacks.
Castleknock regularly places at the top of Irish school rankings with high scores in both Junior and Leaving Certificate results and 100 per cent success in placing pupils into the Irish university system (according it a 1st place ranking in some years). Many pupils also attend universities overseas, particularly the Russell Group universities in the United Kingdom. Castleknock College has a long tradition of literature and arts, having produced many famous authors, musicians, and actors. The college grounds have featured heavily in both works of art and works of literature and have been a popular choice as a film location for various television and film productions. The school has served as the inspiration for the notable literary character Ross O’Carroll-Kelly (a caricature of the D4 stereotype – Ireland’s answer to the preppy subculture) with the character’s school being Castlerock College (a portmanteau of Castleknock College and Blackrock College that has also been used in other works of fiction) and many Castleknock boys who attended from the mid-90s and early 00s believe that a certain senior figure may also have been the inspiration for Father Fehily, another character that features in the Ross O’Carrroll-Kelly series.
Whilst the school maintains a conservative Catholic ethos, boys of all faiths and none are welcome to attend, albeit admissions priority will be given to Catholic boys and legacy applicants. Today, many of the pupils at Castleknock come from Church of Ireland, Methodist, Muslim, and non-faith backgrounds. Life at Castleknock begins daily with a service in the school’s beautifully ornate chapel and, for most boys, ends in the study hall where pupils undertake prep (homework and exam revision for the most part). The school was famously one of the last schools in Ireland to require pupils (including day boys) to attend lessons on Saturdays, with Wednesday and Saturday afternoons being reserved for sports (typically rugby).
THE UNIQUE SLANG, JARGON, AND TERMINOLOGY OF CASTLEKNOCK COLLEGE
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The school maintains a number of traditions including “Grads” (graduation day in which the departing class typically performs an outrageous prank on the remaining student body); annual debutante balls; VDP days; and an occasional unique memorial service on the castle mount to pay tribute to departed priests associated with the school.
Campus and Facilities
Castleknock occupies a leafy campus bordering Phoenix Park and the Strawberry Beds Special Amenity Area (protected natural greenspace), overlooking the River Liffey. Despite the school’s suburban location, its grounds are decidedly rural feeling, boasting forested land, cattle fields, and the odd roaming deer.
The school is spread across centred on two primary connected buildings named for the school’s co-founders, Dowley House and MacNamara House. The school also has two newer buildings which house many of the day-to-day classrooms and the prep study room. The school has a large library – the largest of any school in the country. It also has a celebrated and very ornate chapel with a choral gallery and pipe organ. Castleknock also has a number of large halls including a fully-equipped Concert Hall and performing arts theatre, a music studio (with recording and production equipment), art and design studios, science labs, and computer labs. As a school with a strong and proud sporting tradition, Castleknock has enviable athletic facilities including a dedicated weights room and gym, sports recovery suites, floodlit all-weather tennis courts, a floodlit all-weather rugby pitch, various additional rugby pitches, a soccer pitch and cricket pitch with pavilion. The school also has a swimming pool and an athletics track and grounds.
Castleknock operates an open admissions policy and is non-selective. That being said, the school is academically rigorous and boys will be expected to meet the school’s high standards. Prospective pupils are invited to apply demonstrating academic transcripts. Successful applicants will be invited to attend an assessment to determine any special needs. Preference is given to pupils sympathetic to the Vincentian Roman Catholic ethos of the school, however, pupils of different faith backgrounds are invited to apply.
Whilst the school is in the voluntary sector, it is a fee-paying school and all pupils are expected to meet the fee requirements and additional charges. Scholarship places exist for pupils of limited means who may not otherwise be able to afford the fees.
The school’s alumni include one Taoiseach, one German Prince, several clan chieftains and tribal princes, several Cabinet Members, one Lord Chief Justice, several Supreme Justices and Attorney Generals, several Archbishops and Bishops, various MPs, TDs and Senators, one Lord Mayor of Dublin, several distinguished military officers and colonial administrators and a host of international sports stars. In addition, school faculty include a former Taoiseach and President of Ireland, Ceann Comhairle, and Tánaiste.
Old boys are known as Knock Pastmen, Knockers, or Old Knockmen and are entitled to join the Castleknock College Union (Knock Union) – the oldest alumni association in Ireland and one of the most active. The College hosts Union Day each year whereupon the President of the Union welcomes the graduating class to join and a prize-giving ceremony takes place with a valedictory address by the school captain. Similarly, the Union organises regular outings and occasions including a retreat for old boys; the prestigious golf day, and the annual business lunch which features many of Irelands’s most high-profile business and sports speakers.
The Pastmen of Castleknock College are often known as Knockmen (sometimes also Old Knockmen). The Castleknock College Union (the College’s Pastmen union / alumni association) is the oldest in Ireland and was founded by a distinguished Pastman: Charles Russell, Baron Russell, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. It is also one of the most active in the country organising a host of events for old boys and current pupils alike, including the annual business lunch, golf outing, tennis competitions, and a spiritual retreat. The Union also maintains a benevolent fund in aid of Pastmen and their families. In addition, the Knock Union (as it is commonly called) administers a mentoring scheme to support recent graduates of the College finding their feet in their preferred career with specific guidance from established Knockmen.
Accreditations and Affiliations
ST. VINCENT’S CASTLEKNOCK COLLEGE
DAY (FORMERLY BOARDING)
12 – 18
1ST YEAR – 6TH YEAR
NON-SELECTIVE SUBJECT TO ENTRANCE ASSESSMENT. PRIORITY GIVEN TO CATHOLIC PUPILS
SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS
IN ACCORDANCE WITH NATIONAL GUIDELINES
TRANSITION YEAR PROGRAMME
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
ROLL NO.: 60100Q
LANGUAGE OF INSTRUCTION
FAITH / ETHOS
PEDAGOGY / PHILOSOPHY
COUNTRY / RIVERSIDE / RURAL / SUBURBAN
BODKIN | FERRIS | O’CALLAGHAN | O’SHEA
SOCIETY OF VINCENT DE PAUL
VARIOUS ACADEMIC SOCIETIES AND SOCIAL CLUBS
ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL (SOCCER)
ATHLETICS (TRACK & FIELD)
PATRON / VISITOR
VERY REV’D FR. PASCHAL SCANLON CM
HEAD OF SCHOOL
CHRISTOPHER KINDER (HEADMASTER)
AVERAGE CLASS SIZE
EUR €6,214 PER ANNUM
ADDITIONAL FEES AND CHARGES MAY BE APPLICABLE
SCHOLARSHIPS, BURSARIES & FINANCIAL AID
SCHOLARSHIP SCHEME AVAILABLE
ST BRIGID’S NATIONAL SCHOOL, CASTLEKNOCK
ST STANISLAUS COLLEGE, TULLABEG (CLOSED)
BOAT CLUB COLOURS
ACCREDITATIONS, ASSOCIATIONS AND AFFILIATIONS
ATHLETIC CONFERENCES & SPORTS LEAGUES
SISTER SCHOOLS & PARTNER SCHOOLS
NOS AUTEM IN NOMINE DOMINI (WE, HOWEVER, IN THE NAME OF THE LORD / WE TRUST IN THE NAME OF THE LORD)
“NOS AUTEM, ABIDE WITH ME”
CELEBRATED ALUMNI & FACULTY
BOBBY KERR; CHARLES RUSSELL, BARON RUSSELL OF KILOWEN; COLIN FARRELL; DEVIN TONER; ÉAMON DE VALERA; EUGENE MCCABE; FRANK FAHY; LIAM COSGRAVE; MARY HARNEY; MIKE RUDDOCK; PATRICK COONEY; VINCENT BROWNE
KNOCK / ST. VINCENT’S CASTLEKNOCK COLLEGE
COLLEGE ROAD, CASTLEKNOCK, DUBLIN 15, D15 PD95, IRELAND