First Union Meeting
How it all started
Charles Russell, Baron Russell of Killowen, GCMG, Lord Chief Justice of England
First President of the Union
We all delight to go back in thought to the scenes of boyhood. The associations and friendships of youth and the events to which they were a setting make up our sweetest memories. We are interested in those who with us in youth lived the same life, formed one body. Even those not of our own day, who lived in olden times or who are of a more modern growth than ourselves are, have claims on our sympathetic regard by reason of their being subjected to similar influences, tinctured by the same spirit and tutored in the same moral atmosphere. Children of Alma Mater, sharing in memories of a common past, and inheriting the same noble traditions we feel as if the bond of fellowship uniting us had something sacred in it, and that to strengthen and perpetuate it is not only a pleasure but also a duty.
It often happens that circumstances beyond our control interfere: sometimes dividing seas, more often diverging lines of life, along with that atmosphere of reserve and exclusiveness which contact with the world gives rise to, combine to prevent that mutual support and encouragement which we should give each other.
Anything that would unite these scattered units; bring them together under the shadow of their Alma Mater; help to recall old days and memories was to be welcomed. It was for this end that the Union was formed. Its aim was to bring together the Alumni of Castleknock, to keep them in touch with one another, so that old time memories and associations might be kept alive to play a part in working out the destiny of each.
Castleknock College Union began life on 5th December 1896 when a representative body of past pupils met at Dr. Nedley's house, 4 Cavendish Row, Dublin. It has the distinction of being the oldest College Union in Ireland. The first President of the Union was Lord Russell of Killowen, G.C.M.G., Lord Chief Justice of England. His portrait will be familiar to past and present alike and still hangs in the College Refectory. The Vice Presidents of the Inaugural Committee were the Most Rev. Nicholas Donnelly, D.D., Bishop of Canea; Thomas Nedley, M.D.; Right Rev. Mgr. Molloy, D.D., D.Sc., Catholic University; Professor J.P. O'Reilly, C.E., M.R.I.A., Royal College of Science, Dublin. The Executive Committee were M.C. Macinerney Q.C. (Secretary); Henry J. Gill, M.A.; Stephen R. Cunningham (Secretary); Ambrose E. Birmingham, M.D., F.R.U.I.; Wm. R. Nolan (Treasurer) and Patrick J. Brady, Solicitor (Treasurer).
The Committee organised an Inaugural Banquet on 6th January, 1897 which was held in the Ancient Concert Rooms in Dublin. On that occasion we are told, the Committee had taken no chances. The menu was drawn up by a Doctor. It was, the chronicler observes, "an excellent dinner, admirably served and one could safely forget for the time that he had lost his juvenile powers of digestion." At that dinner Lord Russell spoke of the objects of the Union, of the work of the Vincentians and its results, and went on to speak of Higher education in Ireland and the need of a National University.
In his reply to the toast Mr. Macinerney spoke of the evolution and spirit of Castleknock and of the men it produced such as Capt. Kane V.C. and Surgeon Major Reynolds, V.C. of Rorkes Drift. He concluded:
Thus in flood or field, in science or literature, pulpit and press, Episcopal chair and judicial bench- in a word, wherever courage and devotion equipped by early training could prevail, past students of Castleknock have won the brightest laurels of successful effort.
There are hundreds of Castleknock men deserving of mention whose paths have not been along the heights of fame, but in the lowly valley, sometimes in the valley of death, where pale duty, offering no earthly honour, pointed the way. They have done and dared and often died, with the courage of heroes and the devotion of martyrs. They are as well worthy of admiration, and reflect as much credit on the College which produced them as their more famous brethren.
Castleknock College Centenary Record, 1935.