Castleknock College Union

The College Buildings

1935 Centenary Record

Jul 1, 1935
The College Buildings -

When the first priests obtained possession of the property the only buildings of any consequence on the estate were two houses which came to be known as "The Old House" and "The Long Building". The former was the dwelling house, already described, built by John Warren early in the seventeenth century, the second had probably been a farm storehouse. Both of these have now completely gone; the present College buildings have been erected since 1835, m successive stages, and varying additions as the necessity arose and funds—collected with difficulty from friends of the College—permitted. It has sometimes been a matter of regret that the first building was not erected further back towards the North, thus allowing ample space for expansion, and keeping the two historic hills well in front of the College ; but it must be remembered that the original founders, perhaps, never suspected to what an extent the College was destined to expand, and in addition to this, they placed their first building in close proximity to and practically as an extension of the residence they had acquired, a substantial stone building which remained in use up to 1889.

As soon as the little band of pioneers entered into possession of their new home, their first care was to prepare the property for the purposes of a College. Fortunately, something had been already done in this direction, as for some years previously the buildings had been used as a school. Alterations and furnishing had to be undertaken: a year was spent in these necessary works, which cost the sum of £600—a large sum for those days, large also for a body of poor clerics. The work was finished and the College opened on the 28th August, 1835—exactly two years to a day after the opening of the school on Usher's Quay. The " Old House " was reserved for the accommodation of the priests—in addition to bedrooms, it provided a chapel, an oratory, an infirmary, refectory, and two visiting parlours. The " Long Building " —of two stories with a wing—contained a dormitory for thirty boys, a play/hall, two class halls and a priests' room, all on the front facing the road—the wing next to and facing the priests' house, contained a wash/hall on the ground floor and a small dormitory overhead. (This building was demolished in 1855, being no longer required.) The playground was a rectangular space in front of these two buildings, on the present front lawn—it was surrounded by a walk, kept well withdrawn from the public road; it was divided into two plots by another walk running east and west through the centre; two ball alleys facing the road, and some distance in front of the present rockery, completed the arrangement. This playground remained in use till about 1865, when the space on the North of the College at the back, between the present rows of beech trees—and which had for long years been an orchard— took the place of the playground on the front. A wall, having a ball alley at each end, formed the northern boundary of this new ground.

It was soon evident that more accommodation was needed and that new buildings should be added. In 1837, therefore, the first block was erected, this was a two-story building consisting of the Senior Play Hall and Physics Hall of to-day with the rooms overhead. In 1846 another block of two stories was added to the east of the first—this included on the ground floor, the present No. II class hall and the Library—which was first used as a chapel, and later as a Physics Hall. A third block—also two stories—was added in 1849, containing the present visiting parlours, and the wing towards the playground; two years later it was found necessary to add a third story to the first building—and the present Refectory and St. Mary's Dormitory—used as a study hall up to 1890—were added. Five years elapsed and then the main building was completed by the addition of a third story to the buildings of 1846 and 1849, and the Irish Cross was erected on the parapet.


It will be noticed that owing to the manner in which the various additions were built that the halls were used for different purposes as more accommodation became available. In order to provide for sixty students in 1837 the first block was erected, this consisted of a chapel and sacristy—now the Physics Hall—a Study Hall, now the Senior Play Hall—two small dormitories and a Dean's room. It was only in 1849 that the present chapel was built. It is Grecian in style and has been much admired—especially the beautiful stucco ceiling (the work of Horgan & Connolly of 168 Great Brunswick St.). The fittings were the gifts of friends of the College. The two side chapels of Our Lady and St. Vincent, as well as the chapel of St. Patrick added laterally, were the generous donation of Father Nicholas Barlow, who later presented the three Roman paintings over the altars of these chapels. The oak stalls were the gift of two pious Newry ladies, the Misses O'Reilly, friends of Father Dowley. In the early fifties the organ was installed. It was built specially for the chapel under the supervision of Mr. Charles Gerard, brother of Lord Gerard. This saintly man lived in the neighbourhood, at Mount Sackville, now pan of the Convent of the Nuns of St. Joseph of Cluny. He was a gifted organist and played at all the services in the chapel, High Masses as well as Benediction, and continued to do so till his death in 1860. He was in other ways also a great benefactor to the College. His gentlemanly ways, his exemplary piety, his attractive manners, made everyone revere and love him. He was a welcome guest at all functions in the College, and his death was much deplored.

The large painting of the Coronation over the High Altar was erected in 1858. It was executed by Barff, who is perhaps better known as a chemist than a painter, but the drawing was done on a zinc foundation by what seems to have been at the time a new process due to a recent chemical discovery. The painting itself is a copy of an altar piece in mosaic in the King's Court church, Munich. It is mentioned elsewhere in this RECORD that some years later, as the colours were fading, it was retouched by James Moran, a past student of the College, who had acquired some reputation as an artist.

The niches on the east wall were filled in by five large paintings presented by several benefactors. These have been replaced in recent years by seven scenes from the Life of Our Lord. (These paintings and the Stations are fully described in chapter xviii). The High Altar was the gift of Mr. Francis O'Beirne, and was consecrated on 8th September, 1880, by the Bishop of Ardagh, Most Rev. Dr. Woodlock. In the previous year, however, the chapel was solemnly blessed and dedicated to St. Vincent de Paul by the Most Rev. John Lynch, CM, Archbishop of Toronto. His Grace preached, and the celebrant of the Solemn Mass was Father Malachy O'Callaghan. This is a remarkable fact, as both of these were fellow students in the College in 1839, the Archbishop being the first boy to arrive in the College, four years previously.

Since that time improvements have been made. Father Brosnahan, when President, had the chapel decorated, which served to bring out in detail the beautiful ornamentation; and Father Paul Cullen extended the building. The present Stations of the Cross were the gift of the Meehan family, in memory of Father Edward Meehan, who died President of the College in 1919. The extension of the building necessitated the removal of the original painting of the Coronation over the High Altar, but by the generosity of the late Mr. Dan Garry, it was possible to replace it by a copy of the original.


The east wing of the College having been completed in 1849, no further building was undertaken until 1865, when the plans for the west wing were formed and the building begun. This wing was designed to equal in extent all the buildings already in existence; about three-fourths was erected at that time, but the extreme western end was not finally completed until 1899—this portion contained an extensive Infirmary which, while part of the building, is separated from the rest of the house. The whole front of the College was thus finished ; but in the meantime other projects had been put into execution. In 1889 a new and larger Study Hall and Theatre were built on the site of the " Old House" which had been nearly two hundred years in existence. The older play hall, known as the Stone Corridor, being converted into what is now St. Vincent's Hall. About the same time other improvements were made—a large outdoor swimming bath, erected as a memorial to Father O'Callaghan on his leaving for Australia some years earlier, was opened. Electric light had been installed, and most of the students' portion of the building was fitted up. This installation replaced the gazometer which was erected in 1854; before this time oil was used for lighting purposes, and at the time the College was opened only candles were in use. Additional class halls were added shortly afterwards. Since these buildings were completed almost every year has seen improvements made both inside and outside the College.

The Playing Fields have received a good deal of attention. In the beginning these were small, but just as extensive as were to be found elsewhere. The same plot was used all the year round for different games; but in course of time and to keep pace with improving ideas separate fields had to be utilised for different purposes; this led to an enormous extension in the College grounds. Boys of to-day would never understand how those of forty or fifty years back could have enjoyed recreation and and games. A cycle track became a necessity in the early nineties; a new cricket crease, and new football fields followed. The Cricket Pavilion was erected in 1900, the gift of Mr. Dan Garry, then a student in the College.

The interior of the College has received special attention, everything has been done to render the corridors and halls as unlike a monastic institution as possible, the decorations and furnishing are exceptionally attractive; the beautiful series of paintings and coloured engravings collected by the late Father Bodkin have given a unique educational value to the material buildings. Successive presidents in recent years have made improvements which have added much to the welfare and comfort of the students. Father O'Connor was responsible for the up-to-date indoor shower baths and lavatories, as well as for the new gate lodge and gates which replaced those erected in 1857. It is not necessary to detail the progress of the buildings in recent years, as these have been described fully as they were carried out in the College Chronicle.

In January, 1848, Father Peter Lydon died. His health broke down under the strenuous work of the Missions. He was the first of the young band of priests to die after being affiliated to the Congregation of the Mission, and the question arose about acquiring a burial ground for the Province. As Castleknock was the Central House, it seemed to be appropriate the resting place of the confreres should be within its grounds, and the happy thought came that the bailey of the old Castle should be convened into a cemetery. The sanction of Dr. Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, was obtained; the spot was duly blessed by Father James Lynch, in the presence of Father O'Callaghan and the rest of the Community on the 14th January, 1848 ; Father Lydon was interred on the following day. Nine years later the large Irish cross was erected.

It is not considered desirable or necessary to enter into more detail here about the College buildings, various references will be found to changes and additions in other pans of our RECORD, especially in the ' Recollections of Past Students'; but one point of importance cannot be overlooked. It will be noted from the account already given that the erection of the various buildings were only undertaken when funds were available, and these funds in every case had to be sought for from outside. Some times the generosity of members of the society, out of private means, sometimes the liberality of benefactors of the Community, enabled works to be undertaken which otherwise would have been impossible.

When the little band of pioneers had gained possession of the estate in 1834, their money was gone; or rather Father McCann's private means had been exhausted in the purchase of the property. Feverish exertions amongst the clergy of the Dublin diocese provided what was required to fit up the buildings. The generosity of the members of one family, the Cullens of Clounstown, built the block erected in 1849. As already explained the chapel and its fittings were personal gifts from various sources; the west wing of the College, begun in 1865, was undertaken because of two donations received by Father MacNamara from personal friends. Over thirty years elapsed before this wing, containing the Infirmary, could be completed: the work being at length accomplished owing to the generosity of the late Father George Campbell, to whom the Community is indebted for many other favours.

If the College has been improved and brought up-to-date in its internal fittings, the praise is due in every case to generous friends to whom the Community would wish to render public thanks. In several cases not even the names of benefactors have been permitted to be made public. In the course of this RECORD, the names of many donors have been mentioned, to whom a special debt of gratitude is due. Without the help of this long line of generous contributors, from 1834 to the present day, the College could never have attained its present proportions or provided so well for its students.

It may seem, indeed, strange to many who read this account at the present day that a great Catholic College should of necessity, expand, bit by bit and only slowly, in successive stages. Yet nothing can serve better to explain the position of Catholic education even long after the so-called Catholic Emancipation. While non Catholic institutions were in possession of copious funds from various sources, the higher education of Catholics was left totally dependent upon private and charitable donations, raked in as best could be. No Government grants were available, and even money that should have been forthcoming to Catholics was locked up from them, or handed over to others.