Castleknock College Union

Centenary Union Day

1903 - 2003

May 25, 2003
Centenary Union Day -

John Loughran, Niall McGovern, Mannix McKenna, Maurice Davitt, Stewart Harrington, Frank O'Donnell, John Fitzpartick. FRONT ROW: Colman Healy, Anthony Hederman, John Kearney, Fr Sam Clyne CM, Liam Cosgrave, Alec Blayney



In 1903 began what has come to be known as 'Union Day'. There was, indeed a fluttering in the dovecote when for the first time since the opening of the College ladies were invited within the sacred precincts. It was a success. The past student who wrote the account of it and who modestly signed himself 'One of the Old Boys', had no doubt about it. He becomes lyrical:

They came in all the glory of summer frocks' and 'dreams of hats'. 'Even the stern old keep forgot its frowns and smiled through century-old furrows. The very air breathed gladness. Well! Well! It was a success. Luncheon to the strains of the band, theatricals, tea, and a deal of talk.

Castleknock College Union was founded in 1896, and its first President was Lord Russell of Killowen, whose portrait still hangs in the College Refectory. He was a Member of Parliament, and Attorney General in Gladstone's two Home Rule Ministries. In 1894, a life peerage was conferred on him and he was appointed Lord Chief Justice of England, a position he held until his death. Such was the regard in which he was held, that Queen Victoria included a visit to the College on her itinerary, during the royal visit to Ireland of 1900.

It was seven years later, on May 27th 1903, that Castleknock Union Day was established by Father Michael Brosnahan, the President of the College at that time. Interestingly, this was the first time that mothers and other relatives were invited. The following is an account of the day written by one of the students in the Chronicle of 1903:

But the day of days was Wednesday, May 27th, a record making day unequalled since Finn-ma-Cool roamed the fields or Edward Bruce dwelt in the Castle of Castleknock. For the first time in the annals of the College, our mothers and our cousins and our sisters and our aunts came down upon us in their might, and carried all before them. It was a glorious day that left nothing to be desired. The bright sun-light, the cloudless sky, and delicate green of the thick beech-foliage of the hill, the tasteful manner in which the grounds were laid out, and the bright and varied colours of the ladies dresses as they flitted here and there, formed a brilliant and animated picture not easily forgotten. The band of the RIC discoursed a highly artistic programme of music during the afternoon, and the luncheon to which nearly five hundred sat down in the refectory and large marquee erected on the crease, came off, we afterwards learned with satisfaction from our representative here, without even a shadow of a hitch.

Oh! If we could only have been Pastmen or our brothers or sisters, what a happiness it would have been! After the luncheon came the play, and the verdict upon it, though not precisely so expressed, was that it was a tip-topper and a stunner, and that the fellows engaged in it were downright bricks. The ladies did not exactly say this - they don't know how to do so - but what they did say they meant, and that was enough for us. The visitors were pleased, and the Vins were pleased, and we were pleased, and everyone was satisfied with everything.



100 years later, on 25th May 2003, there was a deep sense of history and tradition, as boys, parents, teachers, Vincentians, pastmen and friends, once again gathered in beautiful sunshine in front of the College, near the base of the famous castle hill, which features so prominently in the memories of many pastmen. It was as if destiny ordained that this special day should replicate that of 100 years before, with even Mother Nature again giving her blessing.

Among those who attended were Brian Lenehan, local TD, who spoke of the great contribution of the College to Castleknock and the locality. Mr Donal O'Brien, Chairman of the Governing Body, spoke of exciting new plans for the development of a College Campus. Most importantly, the day belonged to the students, and in particular to those in their final year, who were gathering together for the last time, before departing the College to set out on their separate journeys through life, following in the steps of those who have gone before them.

Along with the presentation of the many academic and sporting prizes, the Centenary of Union Day was marked by the inauguration of The Union Medal, commissioned in solid silver, depicting St. Vincent de Paul. The medal is to be presented annually to the student who is nominated by the teaching staff of the College as an individual who has made a special contribution to college life because of his character, spirit, commitment, and particularly the manner of his contact with staff and students alike. The popular recipient of the first Union Medal was Eoin McDonnell.

Castleknock College Union Day would not be the same without the traditional Benediction service in Latin, which was celebrated by Fr. Doyle. It was a moving experience to witness the singing of the boys in such a beautiful symbolic service that nowadays we so seldom see.

When the outdoor activities were completed, the Centenary was further celebrated in the College Concert Hall, where many Past Presidents of Castleknock College Union gathered to be presented with specially commissioned Centenary Union Medals.

John Kearney, President of the Union, spoke of the legacy of pastmen of Castleknock College in all walks of life, and of the pride in the Union of having so many distinguished Past Presidents. He commended the staff and students for keeping alive the proud traditions of the College, and more importantly the Christian ethos and commitment to producing well rounded individuals.

Responding on behalf of the College, Father Sam Clyne welcomed the Past Presidents of the Union, and spoke of the great contribution by Castleknock College Union in supporting the College. He spoke in particular of his appreciation for those who have been so generous with their time in giving back to the College.

When the celebrations ended, and I made my way through the grounds to the College gates, I was filled with nostalgia for the College and its history. I thought myself so fortunate to have been part of such a wonderful institution, which has been such an influence in the shaping of my life. It is as if Castleknock College continues to reach out to its pastmen to nurture and support them long after they have left.

Moreover, I also felt confident that notwithstanding the many changes and challenges ahead, both the College and the Union are in good hands, and perhaps the students who follow in our footsteps will feel as enriched when they come to celebrate the Bi-Centenary of Castleknock College Union Day in 2103.

John Loughran