Keeper of the Woods

Tue, Dec 13, 2011, 00:00

MY EDUCATION WEEK:Fr Leonard Moloney headmaster Clongowes Wood College


A taoiseach in hiding, the country in chaos and half of Connacht being turned into a global graveyard to kick-start the economy again – did Brian Friel have a crystal ball in the 1960s when he wrote The Mundy Scheme? That’s what I’m wondering at the packed annual college play directed by Tom Carroll. Good fun at the end of a long day – Ben Fehily playing Taoiseach could make a great real one some day.

I had returned in the late afternoon from our sister school in Galway (Coláiste Iognáid) where I had been wearing a different hat, that of province consultor, which means a monthly meeting as one of four advisers to the head of the Jesuits in Ireland, Fr Tom Layden SJ.

While there it was great to meet up with Mary Joyce, principal of our sister college.


Fr Brian Grogan SJ arrives down for the 10.30am gathering of first year parents. They have been reading The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything – Spirituality for Real Life, by the American Jesuit James Martin. It’s a funny and practical book that makes Jesuit spirituality accessible and helps them understand the Jesuit ethos that is the bedrock of their sons’ education.

The boys join us for Mass later, and there is a good buzz at lunch, with the boys looking forward to heading off for the rest of the day with their families. For me it’s a second viewing of The Mundy Schemewhere the country is “on the threshold of a great new abyss” and I’ve had to miss Liverpool putting manners on Manchester City.

At 7.15pm the student reps on the student council meet, and the head of boarding, Frank Kelly, and I join them later and discuss the issues that came up at the meeting. I am chastened by the fact that the absence of a clock on the all-weather pitch comes up again: Frank and I promise to sort it via the school captain so that the boys will know when it’s time to go back into their “second home” at 9 o’clock of an evening. That’s easy – the opening of the library at weekends, and supervision in the sports hall outside school hours – well, that’s another story . . .


What gets you out of bed in the morning? That question is part of a reflection by the late and much-loved Pedro Arrupe SJ, former leader of the Jesuits, which is used by Conall O’Quinn SJ at morning assembly. Conall is spending a few days with the boys, giving them a better understanding of Jesuits and their work around the world.

Spent the body of the day writing up the minutes for the last board meeting, along with the usual diet of brief meetings that principals enjoy all over the country. Squeezed in a walk around the grounds – am yet again amazed at the commitment of teachers and prefects (or housemasters) to the co-curriculars that are an essential part of boarding school life, be it, as today, soccer, rugby or athletics.

The past pupils’ debating team arrives to take on the present pupils. “This house believes that social networks are having a positive effect on society” – nothing like Facebook and Twitter to get a good row going. Our present pupils team is proposing the motion. Two students from the floor really impress with their wit and enthusiasm, and the past team loses for the first time in four years. Wish I knew how to tweet that.

Hear the school orchestra rehearsing a James Bond medley as I retire to my room – reminds me I haven’t seen the inside of a cinema in ages.


Day begins with meeting of senior management at 8.45am. Martin (deputy), Frank (boarding), Ray (admin) and I plan for the upcoming finance committee meeting, and try to solve the problem of keys for the new gym.

My secretary, Irene, arrives in with The Irish Times’sschool league tables.

A bit of a puzzle this year – we achieved the third best set of results in the history of the school, but we seem to have disappeared from the ranks. What I learn later from our guidance counsellor, John Conway, is that the tables don’t take into account students who graduated from Clongowes last June and went to study abroad, and we have a good number in Germany, Austria and Britain. We also have nine students on gap programmes in other countries, mainly in our sister schools in Australia. I wonder if they’re left out of the reckoning too. Maybe other schools are in much the same position.

Just before lunch, I meet the new group of refugees from Portlaoise who’ve come to join our regular Tuesday group from Newbridge. They’re heading to the James Joyce Library, where a group of students will teach them English.

And Tuesday lunchtime is the usual lively affair as people with disability from the wider local community join the transition year students for lunch and socialising.

Off to a funeral in Wexford in the late afternoon with the Rector, Fr Michael Sheil SJ. Mary Murphy, the mother of our director of liturgy, has passed away. She was a great woman. May she rest in peace.


Early morning and the school annual, The Clongownian, for 2011, is hand-delivered by our esteemed editor, Declan O’Keeffe, a Hammers supporter. The cover photo, taken by then fifth year student, Michael Joy, pictures two of our students ambling in Lesotho last Easter with two young African children. They were part of a team of 15 students and four staff members who spent two weeks learning from the people they served there.

The magazine features articles on life in the school and beyond. I am particularly pleased with Conor Harper SJ’s article on John Sullivan SJ, former teacher and likely saint, who passed away in 1933. He was one of those rare creatures – a holy Jesuit. Son of a wealthy Protestant father and Catholic mother, he was reared in his father’s faith and attended Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, with which we are twinned today. He converted, joined the Jesuits and spent most of his time teaching in Clongowes – a task at which he really struggled, but he was much loved by the boys. He lived very frugally and spent all his free time cycling around praying with the poor and healing the sick. There is standing room only at the annual Mass here on the anniversary of his birthday every May.


Thanksgiving Day in America, and I’m picking up some of the spirit here. A teacher has just come in to see me with two concerns and – hallelujah – a proposed solution. She gives a lot of help to students on our bursary scheme, some of whom struggle with spoken and written English, and she’s worried about them. As well as that, she is a woman teaching in a predominantly male environment and feels that the feminine dimension can be a bit muted here at times. So she is volunteering herself for membership of the school ethos committee where issues like this can be raised and tackled. And then the phone rings.

Past pupils Karl, David and Harley are phoning from New York to celebrate the day that’s in it, and to tell me that there has been great feedback from those who attended the fundraising event for the school recently. A substantial amount of the money they’ve raised will go to the bursary scheme which funds schooling and boarding costs for almost 10 per cent of our students. It is not a scholarship programme, but it gives some disadvantaged families the opportunity to avail of a boarding school education.


Spent the morning interviewing sixth years for Ucas references that they’ll need if they decide to go through the British university system. I always find these annual interviews very moving. The young boys who came into the school five years ago sit in front of me now as young men. One, whom I had not known terribly well, turns out to be really focused and great fun. He knows that he’s not going to end up as a professor of mathematics, but you just know he’ll make an impression whatever he does.

In the afternoon I catch up on correspondence, but there’s a carrot dangling before me – spiced up with chicken chow mein, as Friday night is Chinese night. About 9.30pm I chase down to the takeaway in Clane and return with the orders for some second years. Chinese and chat – always good craic and I learn a lot about them, their year and the school.

Then, a bit of time for self as the weekend dawns, and I fall asleep over my bedtime book, AN Wilson’s Dante in Love– a shade more serious than The Mundy Scheme.

This week I was


Dante in Love, AN Wilson; The Island that Dared, Dervla Murphy; A History of the Popes,John W. O’Malley SJ.


Lyric; RTÉ 1; Newstalk; BBC World Service; NPR (US).


Apart from Irish Times, BBC, New York Times (on Sundays),, Boston Red Sox, Liverpool FC.


Liverpool’s matches (when free).