News on our 175th Anniversary Celebrations and associated building projects.

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July 3rd 2018

Somewhere way back, when we were first putting together the plans to celebrate 175 years since the foundation of St. Columba’s College, I had the idea that after all the balls and receptions and drinking and partying we should finish it all off with something that reminded us of our very beginnings back in 1843 and take a pilgrimage to Iona, the place most closely associated with Columba himself, after whom the College is named. It all seemed like a good idea at the time!

Some people will know all about Columba, one of the three patron saints of Ireland, along with St. Patrick and St. Brigid. Many will not. Born into a royal family in 6thcentury Ireland, he gave up his royal position in order to become a monk at a time when Ireland was, for the only time in its history, the centre of scholarship, learning and spirituality in Europe, following the collapse of the Roman Empire. However, in 563 AD, a battle was fought following a copyright dispute over the ownership of a Bible, and Columba, ashamed that he had not prevented the bloodshed, imposed on himself a penance, to go into exile from his beloved Ireland and take the gospel to Scotland, then inhabited by the pagan Picts.

The story goes that he set off in a leather coracle from the north coast, probably from somewhere near Derry, where he had established a monastery, accompanied by a band of fellow-monks. He landed initially either on Islay or the Mull of Kintyre but as he could still see Ireland he decided to carry on and reached Iona, a tiny island off the shore of Mull. Here he was granted land to establish a new monastery, which became the epicentre of outreach into Scotland, where the monks travelled to convert the Picts and ultimately brought their faith right down into the north of England, where they founded settlements such as that on Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumberland. As they say, the rest is history.

The plan therefore is to retrace the exile of Columba and sail from Ireland to Iona, where we will celebrate our heritage with a service in the Abbey, tour the island and experience a tiny slice of what inspired Columba and his early followers. As it happens, before anyone tells me that our voyage is not following the original route, we are sailing directly to Iona from Tory Island, on the northernmost tip of Donegal, a distance of about 100 miles and 24 hours, weather dependant…it could be shorter or a lot longer! When we arrive we will be met by a group of 25 fellow pilgrims, a mixture of staff, Fellows, Old Columbans and parents, who will be travelling by the land route, leaving on the following morning: fly to Glasgow, bus to Oban, ferry to Mull, bus to Fionnphort, ferry to Iona.

I am grateful to a few people as mad as myself for making this trip possible. My wife Cathy for planning the overland trip and the stay on Iona; Ted Sherwood, who has been just as enthusiastic about this caper as I am; and Dr. Michael Brogan, a wild-eyed doctor from Donegal, whose boat, the MacDuagh (named after Saint Colman MacDuagh – a contemporary and apparent friend of Columba), a 40 foot Galway hooker, is our own leather coracle for our exile. Luckily he is skippering the boat and bringing his own crew to guide us across the Atlantic.

Let me introduce my merry band of monks, 2018 style:

  • Ted Sherwood (Former Head of Geography at SCC)
  • Jenny Bulbulia (Old Columban and Current Fellow)
  • Trish Dunlop (Current Parent)
  • Ian Dunlop (Current Parent)
  • Jane Caldwell (Wife of the Chairman of the Fellows)

We meet tomorrow morning, Wednesday 4thJuly, at 9.30 a.m. to drive up to Donegal to meet the MacDuagh. In my luggage I will have three items: a bottle of whiskey to present to the King of Tory Island, who will then bless our voyage, a leg of lamb, to be roasted on the journey (don’t ask me how…), and the Mioseach. This last one needs an explanation.

In 1843, when the College was founded, one of the founding Fellows presented the College with the Mioseach, a very early Celtic Christian artefact, a book shrine, for holding a Bible or psalter. This box was so valuable that it was loaned to the National Archaeological Museum, where it still sits, while a perfect copy was made, which sits in the Warden’s study at the College. The original was sold to the Museum in 2004 for 1.5 million euros! The copy will be on board, not the original!

So there we are. I will send updates whenever possible and a few photos.

July 6th 2018

We meet at 9.30 a.m. by the sports hall for the off. Wonderful to be presented with a pennant by Terry and Rosie Johnson, with SCC 1843 on it, to be attached to the mast of the Mac Duagh. The drive through Donegal is glorious and we arrived at the Tory Island ferry in good time. We are met on Tory not only by the Mac Duagh and its crew but by the King of Tory himself. He does not disappoint. He has been King for 50 years and regales us with endless tales. He is delighted with his bottle of whiskey but disappointed that we are not staying for the craic in the evening, which is due to start at 10.00 p.m.

The Mac Duagh is a fantastic boat. Originally built about 140 years ago it was fully restored in the 1970’s by Dr. Michael Brogan and is one of the small remaining class of Galway hookers. He and the older two of his companions have negotiated the north west and the north east passages together so we are not in the hands of amateurs! As it turns out that is a good thing.

We set off at 7.00 p.m. and are soon joined a school of porpoises, who have come to check us out. At that point I begin to feel distinctly nauseous and continued to do so for the next 15 hours! My visions of sipping a cool drink on deck, while watching the sun set were dashed! It was not a happy night. Those early Irish monks must have been made of stern stuff and I am delighted that I did not follow through on my early plan to row a leather coracle across the Atlantic. In the morning I am told that the crossing has been surprisingly rough and I am not the only one to have been struggling. Perhaps everyone is trying to make me feel better! By the time I am feeling vaguely human again we are approaching Iona and for the last two hours it is a sheer joy to sit on deck watching the islands slide by and cruising gently into Iona. We arrive at about 1.00 p.m. but stay on board for a further three hours cooking the lamb and snacking on crabs claws and lobster. Thankfully they stay down.

Meanwhile the larger party meet at Dublin Airport in the wee hours and everything goes like clockwork. They arrive at about 4.45 p.m. on Iona and we are there to welcome them. We are staying in the St. Columba Hotel just by the Abbey, a hotel with a fantastic view of the sound. What a place this is! A lovely dinner, then an introduction to Columba himself from our very own Adomnan (Columba’s biographer), Richard Brett, who has set the scene for the two days ahead.  Then impromptu music for a couple of hours in the lounge, with Michael Brogan on the fiddle, another of the crew on the squeeze box and one of the waiters joining in with his fiddle! A few contributions from the floor are also added. A great night and much to look forward to in the days ahead.

July 7th 2018

We meet mid-morning for a tour of the island, strolling off to the other side of the island. Some then choose to carry on to the far south to St. Columba’s Bay, where the saint is said to have first landed back in 563. Small green stones on the beach are said to be the tears of Columba, weeping for his beloved Ireland. Others return to the pier to have a ride out in the MacDuagh. A great day with lots of leisure time too. One of the dinghies coming in from the boat is accompanied by dolphins at touching distance. Another good dinner and then a singing competition between the tables. We rope in a couple of visitors to act as judges, much to their own astonishment and good humour. My table was definitely the best but some misses out on the big prize. The evening then turns quite lively and noisy and goes on and on…I am not sure when or if everyone gets to bed. Happily with a group of adults that is not my problem.

The next morning we meet early and get the boat to Staffa, a small island about 30 minutes up the coast, the home of the extraordinary Fingal’s Cave, immortalised by Mendelssohn. Again we are investigated by dolphins. The island has the most amazing basalt columns and massive caves, with nesting puffins as well. I hate to say it but it is much more spectacular than the Giants’ Causeway! A truly memorable visit in the most serene conditions. Wow, this place is beautiful! We can see north to Skye and south to Islay, west to Tiree and Coll, while everything to the east is Mull. But we could return a hundred times and never get the same benign conditions. We are truly blessed. In case one gets the impression that being a monk in the 6thcentury was a piece of cake in an idyllic paradise, it is worth remembering that for much of the year this place is bleak in the extreme and not for the faint-hearted. For now we are not complaining.

After lunch we all traipse off to the Abbey for a service of thanksgiving. The Abbey dominates the community, watching over the sound, while on the way one passes the graveyard which supposedly contains the graves of many of the kings of Scotland as well as some of the Norse kings. Macbeth is said to be buried there although it is impossible to know. A simple service, magical, simple, profound, a really special time, led by Daniel Owen, a short talk by Ninian Falkiner, lovely hymns. It has been good to remind ourselves of our spiritual heritage and our spirits have been uplifted and fed.

A few of us slope off to watch England beat Sweden in the World Cup quarter final…another spiritual experience.

During the recent 175th Anniversary Weekend a collection of paintings & sculpture were on display in the College. Some items in this collection are for sale, with a percentage of the proceeds going towards the College Development Fund. Below is an album of the displayed work. For any questions or to enquire about purchasing a piece contact Mrs. Cathy Boobbyer by email: cboobbyer@staff.stcolumbas.ie. See the attached leaflet for full details on the pieces and their creators.

A spectacular weekend’s activities concluded last night with a lovely Chapel service at 6pm. Old Columbans from around the world, parents, staff and pupils took part in a huge variety of events blessed with perfect weather.

It all kicked off with the Old Columban Society drinks party in the Dining Hall of Trinity College, Dublin, with almost 300 attending. President of the Society Ian Fraser welcomed everyone, and the Chairman of the Fellows Gavin Caldwell also spoke. Simultaneously a large gathering of Sixth Formers and their parents were in the College at the traditional Leavers’ dinner. See an album of photos here.

The next day marked the annual St Columba’s Day celebrations, with the Chapel service followed by prize-giving in the Sports Hall. The speakers were Gavin Caldwell, the Warden, and Senior Prefect Kitty Morris, while there were presentations of various kinds by pupils such as Tiernan Mullane (drama), Grace Goulding, Isabelle Townshend and Orla Conlon-Batey (poetry), André Stokes, Tania Stokes, Sam Lawrence, Alex Lawrence and the Junior Choir under Mr McDonald (all music), and science pupils. Former Wardens Tim Macey and Lindsay Haslett were in attendance, and there was a filmed greeting from David Gibbs.

A fine lunch was had on Chapel Square, the BSR and Dining Hall in the sunshine.

Then the weekend really got going for Old Columbans and other visitors, with 400 people attending the Ball in the Sports Hall, preceded by a lovely drinks gathering in the Warden’s Garden. The Warden welcomed all at the Ball, asking OCs to stand according to the Warden of their time. A splendid meal was capped by a male-voice choir staff appearance by Barry Finn, Julian Girdham, Tristan Clarke, Eunan McDonald, Fraser Morris and John Fanagan, who performed two songs with familiar tunes but unfamiliar lyrics (adapted to the College traditions). The band Duvet played until 1.30pm, and eventually all drifted off in the small hours.

Sunday was much more informal, but equally enjoyable. Cricket, golf and hiking went on in the continuing sunshine, there were tours by the Sub-Warden, an art exhibition in Whitehall by Old Columbans, bouncy castles for smaller family members, and then a delicious barbeque on Chapel Square produced by surely-exhausted caterers.

The Chapel service was the perfect end. Mrs Malone-Brady had been rehearsing earlier with the choir, who sang several pieces, including Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’ and Holst’s ‘Turn Back O Man’. The former Chaplain, Reverend Michael Heaney, read the first lesson and Gavin Caldwell the second. Prayers were said for all parts of the College community by the Chaplain, the Sub-Warden Julian Girdham, Christopher Hone, Sinéad Clarkin and Alex Owens, and traditional hymns were rousingly sung.

The sun was still shining strongly as the campus settled into peacefulness.

Particular thanks are due to the 175 Committee under chair Rosie Johnson, and organisers on-the-ground Sonia Young and Cathy Boobbyer as well as many many other helpers. Our thanks also go to Patrick Hugh Lynch for generously being at all events and photographing them; albums are here (TCD) and here (SCC).

Check out a Twitter timeline of weekend events here.

Old Columbans are currently travelling from all over the world for our special 175th anniversary weekend, which coincides with the annual St Columba’s Day Celebrations. We have already welcomed visitors from places such as Singapore and Bangkok who have been seeing the school, and tonight 300 OCs and their guests attend a drinks party in the Dining Hall of Trinity College, Dublin.

Tomorrow sees the prize day marked by a Chapel service at 11am and the prize-giving itself in the Sports Hall at 12pm, followed by a lunch for parents and their guests. Then the Sports Hall will be readied for the evening Ball, with drinks starting at 7pm and the Ball itself at 8.30pm. 400 people have booked places.

Sunday sees a variety of sporting and more informal social activities on the campus, including cricket, golf and hiking, and a barbeque, with everything being rounded off by a Chapel Service at 6pm.

The College is looking at its best and we are excited to welcome so many old friends. Follow #scc175 on Twitter over the coming days.

The 25th annual TY English Evening was held in the BSR last night to round off the pupils’ course. As usual the formula consisted of pupils reading out interesting pieces from their Work Portfolios, and a guest commenting on these and then on ‘matters English’.

The guest speaker last night was the first ‘graduate’ of the TY programme itself, Sophie Grenham, journalist and Old Columban. She has an excellent series in The Glossmagazine called “Writers’ Block“, having interviewed writers such as Louise O’Neill, Dave Rudden, Sebastian Barry and Sarah Webb. The presenter, Mr Girdham, mentioned the many other guests who have spoken at the evening over the years, including: academics Professor Colin Graham of Maynooth (last year), Professor Terry Dolan, Professor Kevin Barry; English teachers John Fanagan, Colin Polden and Mary Milne; and journalists Trevor White and Tom Doorley.

Shannon Dent started, with a reading of her evocative piece ‘My Secret Place of Wonder’, about the lush nature of Ecuador. Sam Lawrence gave us ‘Being Underwater’, another but rather different world. Charlotte Klingmann, who the previous night had performed several pieces at the TY Music Concert, read out ‘The Greatest Pleasure of My Life’ (music, of course). Andrew Kim’s piece was vivid about the early morning urban sprawl of Seoul in South Korea. Kathryn Kelly struck a recent note, since ‘The Big Snow’ was her most memorable event of the last 12 months, as she took the chance to reconnect with old friends. Frances Wilkinson was the only person to read a poem, “You”, delicately examining the difficulty of saying those three words “I love you”. Tania Stokes’s garden piece about a day in the sunshine was fine with detail. Finally, Andrew Pollock ended things entertainingly with his quirkly essay ‘Is Donald Trump Bald?’

Sophie Grenham then gave an account of her writing life, and of how well the College had prepared her for this. She said it was particularly important for young writers to ‘find their own voice’, and she made attentive comments about each piece she had heard.

She then made the annual announcement of Premier Awards winners. Congratulations go to Shannon Dent, Charlotte Klingmann, Sam Lawrence, Songyon Oh, Eliza Somerville and Tania Stokes.

Yesterday we celebrated the 175th anniversary of the day when St. Columba’s College actually opened in 1843. At the time there was a Warden and a few Fellows, but there were no pupils at all and the College was located in Stackallan House in County Meath. Things have changed. We had a relaxed and fun day, with a late rising, a special chapel service and the creation of a ‘175’ figure by the pupils on the cricket pitch, photographed by drone. Despite chilly conditions the arrival of an ice cream van after lunch was a major highlight! We finished off with a barbecue and a dance in the evening. (A collection of photos from the day’s activities are below). In the morning I and a group of Columbans, together with Mr. McCarthy and the Chaplain, buried a time capsule behind the chapel, to be opened on 25th April 2118. In it I enclosed a letter to those future Columbans:

Dear Columbans of 2118

I earnestly hope that this letter is being read for the first time on 25th April 2118 and that the box has not been opened in advance of that date.

Greetings to you from April 25th 2018, the year that Ireland won the Grand Slam in the 6 nations rugby and the country was brought to a standstill by extraordinary snow in early March. It has been a long, cold, wet winter and we are longing for the warmth of spring.

St. Columba’s is currently a school of 320 pupils, 75% of whom are boarding, 60% are from Ireland and 40% from overseas. While we have very high academic standards and expectations of our pupils we prefer to be known as a school which has the highest standards of pastoral care, where young people are nurtured and encouraged and where they learn to live together in a caring and supportive environment. Everyone here matters.

As the Warden of this College I have a vision of producing young people who aspire to be successful, while remembering that they are privileged and blessed to be receiving such a good education. They should always try to be servants to those around them at school, at university, in their families and in the jobs they get in the future. The world of 2018 needs unselfish and servant-hearted young people, who will make a positive difference in a troubled world. I am sure your world will be no different.

The Columbans of 2018 are special young people and I believe in them and their future. As the Warden I send my greetings to you, the Columbans of 2118, and urge you all to be true to the Christian values of this great College.

Floreat Columba et floreant Columbanenses!

On Wednesday 25th April the College will celebrate the 175th anniversary of its Foundation. It was on St. Mark’s Day in 1843 that the most active Founders (Adare, Monsell, Sewell and Todd), together with Warden Singleton and others gathered in Stackallan, County Meath, and founded the school.

175 years later, the pupils and staff of the College will mark this occasion by altering the normal course of the working day. A late rising will be followed by a special commemorate Chapel service at 10am. Following three classes and lunch, there will be a full outdoors programme of sport and activities, followed by a barbeque for the whole school from 5.30pm. A time capsule will be buried in the College grounds for a future generation to discover. A drone video will be made of the number ‘175’ created by pupils. Festivities will conclude with a dance in the Big Schoolroom in the evening.

In the words of the traditional toast, Floreat Columba et Floreant Columbanenses.

The launch of the College’s Development Office and 175th Anniversary Celebrations took place on Thursday evening in Whitehall, with details of the activities and projects which will commemorate the 175 years of excellence in education. The newly formed Development Office, headed up by Sonia Young, will focus on garnering philanthropic support for the College’s future growth. It will manage a series of funds including the Old Columban Society Bursary Fund (which provides financial assistance to sons and daughters of former pupils to attend the College), the College Bursary Fund (proving financial bursaries to pupils with no previous connection to the College), the Annual Fund (which will direct money to various capital projects within the College) and, finally, the 175th Anniversary Fund (which will support the College’s ambitious plans for 2018 – the new Social Hub, pictured below). For more information on the Development Office please visit the new dedicated webpage here.

The new Social Hub will be located in the Warden’s Garden (opposite the library) and will transform Whispering House into a vibrant social space for pupils.

In addition to the launch of the Development Office the College’s 175th Anniversary Microsite went live last night. The new site details the all the various events taking place during the year, more detailed plans and images of the Social Hub, 175th anniversary news, articles on the evolution of the College since its 150th anniversary and a detailed history of the College in the earlier years. The 175th Anniversary celebrations will centre around the June Bank Holiday weekend in 2018, traditionally the St. Columba’s Day celebrations, and will include a gala ball, invitational cricket & hockey fixtures, a family barbecue, a golf outing and much much more. Visit the microsite here (175.stcolumbas.ie).

A new year, new plans, new expectations, new teachers…lots to look forward to. I always look forward to a new school year and this one is full of promise. It is our 175th anniversary, we are hoping to start a new building project and the school is bulging. And we have a handful of new, eager young teachers who will bring fresh ideas and energy.

There are many topics I could choose to look at in my first ‘Warden’s Blog’ of the year, but the one most on my mind right now is student leadership, because this coming Friday we are hosting an all-Ireland senior prefects’ conference, for schools north and south of the border. It is the first such conference to be held so I am very keen for it to have an impact and be seen as worthwhile by all those who come. About 45 delegates will be coming to discuss what it means to be a leader at school, what it means to take on responsibility and how to face some of the inevitable challenges that they will undoubtedly face. I will welcome them all and then disappear along with any other adults who may be hanging around and for the rest of the day they will be on their own, facilitated by an external team. After all what they don’t need is a principal or a crowd of well-meaning teachers telling them how to be good prefects. Apart from anything else it would be very dull.

It seems to me that heads like me choose fine young people to act as senior prefects each year but they get precious little training or preparation in how to fulfil the role. Then when they are disappointing or let us down we complain that they are not as good as they should be. The question ought to be asked ‘what tools were they given to carry out what can be a difficult and confusing role?’ Let’s hope that at the very least Friday’s conference will help them to think things through and perhaps find a support network of other students who are undertaking similar positions in other schools.

So what is leadership at that level? Is it just making a fine speech on the odd occasion, organising the lunch queue and sitting in the seats of honour in chapel. No, it has to be more than that. It is surely about being the right sort of role model for the younger children in the school, exemplifying the values of the school, looking out for those who are weak and struggling and bringing various issues to the attention of the school management. I would never expect a senior prefect to be seen as a sort of snitch, looking out for trouble and immediately reporting it to me. On the other hand there are bound to be occasions when the office-holder could be caught in a dilemma, expected to act in a certain way by the management and yet not wanting to isolate themselves from their friends and peers. And yes, there could be tough and brave decisions to make from time to time…and that is not easy. What I don’t expect is perfection and if mistakes are made then I can deal with that, as long as there is not a deliberate attempt to undermine the values of the school or turn a blind eye to things that are blatantly unacceptable.

I believe strongly that school is a crucible for creating leaders, at least in embryo. It is the time of life when one develops character, which is formed by making tough personal choices and standing up strongly for the things that one believes to be right. We are often made to think that young people are irresponsible and that we should not expect anything sensible out of them until they have wasted their time their teenage years in frivolities. I don’t believe that at all. On the contrary I think they are full of idealism and respond eagerly to a challenge, even a difficult one. I have a book on my shelf called ‘Do Hard Things,’ a decent title in itself, but it has a better subtitle: ‘a teenage rebellion against low expectations.’ I love that and it is also a challenge to me and other school leaders not to set the bar too low. Far from being mere window-dressing for the schools they come from I am sure that the young leaders who are coming on Friday are capable of extraordinary things and showing genuine leadership.