The old boys' club: Ireland's most influential privately educated men and the elite schools that spawned them
It comes as no surprise that private schools still have quite a grip on Irish public life. With almost a third of the current cabinet a product of private education, our reporter looks at 50 of Ireland's most prominent old boys - with some of them shining brightly abroad
Published 24/10/2016 | 02:30
What is it about a private education that still gives such a distinct advantage in Irish life? We pride ourselves on having greater social mobility than the class-obsessed English, on having a more egalitarian school system than the Americans and their Ivy League, and, yet, still the value of an old-boy background shows itself, with a quick glance at any of the major power centres in our society.
It reveals that, despite our stated revulsion for all things rugby-school, we're still suckers for the competence and character that is subtly conveyed by floppy hair, ruddy cheeks and southside drawls. TDs are more than twice as likely to have gone to a private school than the average Irish person (18 of the male TDs in the current Dail are privately educated - a slight increase from the last Dail).
In business, nearly half of leaders of Irish publicly listed companies went to private school. Elite colleges such as Blackrock, Belvedere and Clongowes Wood (which has an especially high CEO count - including Michael O'Leary) made up 40pc of Irish company leaders. The current governor of the Central Bank is an old Blackrock boy. Even the arts sector, long the province of working-class talents, has lately become colonised by private schoolboys, with all the hallmarks of their ilk: entitled, dapper, and with an iron ambition concealed by velvet manners.
The manners are crucial, because, in Ireland, the most ferocious snobbery is always inverse. Privilege is only an advantage up to a point, and can quickly turn into a liability. If a private schoolboy commits a crime, the school's name is generally emblazoned in the newspaper headline, along with the crime itself and some tutting about the lawyers that he can afford; the Annabel's trials were most memorable in this regard.
In politics, 'D4' is still a slur, and while private schoolboys have an advantage in our corridors of power, they are still vastly outnumbered by the unwashed mass of publicans, auctioneers and teachers who stuff Leinster House. It was telling that when the heave against Enda Kenny gathered pace in 2010, his perceived-as-posh adversaries - among them, Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney - were quickly dubbed "the Cappuccino Plotters". The moniker stuck, and may have been decisive, despite the fact that cappuccinos are now available and consumed throughout the land. And yet, privilege found a way of bursting through; nearly a third of the current cabinet are privately educated - compared with just 7pc of the population generally. Perhaps less surprisingly, the judiciary and legal profession are stuffed to the gills with privately educated people.
In sport, the disproportionate clout of private schoolboys can be seen in the successful proselytising of their chosen religion - rugby - and the now settled law that BOD is God. This is a bit weird when you think about it. Not that Brian O'Driscoll isn't great, but only a handful of (mostly private) schools throughout the country play the gentleman's game, nowhere near the number that play soccer or Gaelic.
Rugby is actually only slightly less niche than those other private-school pastimes, tennis or hockey. And yet it has mysteriously been elevated to a national sport, and its muddied oafs are icons, who make Lillie's groupies of all of us. More than any other game, it seems to cross-pollinate the worlds of business and politics.
The arts, here as elsewhere, has become notably more middle class since the invention of the internet. The web seemed like it levelled the playing pitch by allowing everyone to steal content, but, in fact, it did the opposite. Poor kids, quite simply, cannot hang around for years hoping that enough people consume their music or writing for free, meaning that they eventually might get paid for their work.
The result has been that pop music has seen an influx of supposed former rugger buggers. Hozier, who went to St Gerard's in Bray, finds a place on our list, joining the privately educated elder statesman of Irish rock, Boomtown Rat Bob Geldof, a Blackrock boy - who grew up in a theocracy and so needed to be urbane, articulate and defiant in that private-school way.
Lenny Abrahamson, currently our most successful director, is an alumnus of The High School, which sounded American even before its students did.
When it comes to the upper echelons of Ireland's wealth hierarchy, college-educated old boys - such as founder of CyBerCorp, Philip Berber - are the exception. Ireland's Rich List is dominated by those who received their post-school education at that other eminent college - the University of Life. These include financier Dermot Desmond, who joined Citibank on leaving school; and John Magnier and JP McManus, who both went straight to work directly from secondary school. There are some privately educated women studded through the power centres of Irish society, but it is still predominantly an old boys' club, in the most literal sense.
A private-school education has become increasingly popular in Ireland. Even through the recession, the top schools increased their numbers - and their fees. Elite education has been described as "more affordable" here than in other developed economies, meaning a greater spread of the middle class have access to prestigious schools, if they so wish. Part of this is the usual striving for the best possible results. But snobbery and the hope that their offspring might meet more 'suitable life partners' in private schools seem to be main reasons for the surge in attendance, the former President of the Teachers' Union of Ireland, Paddy Healy, has suggested.
Underlying all of this marvelling at the great and the good who have been to private schools, is a debate about who pays for this structure of privilege. Rich people run the show in every country, but the huge difference between our private system and, say, that of the one in the UK, is that the wages of teachers in private schools in this country are funded by the taxpayer (although some private schools use a portion of their fee income to pay for extra staff) and not solely by school fees.
So, in Ireland, those who cannot afford to send their children to a private school must pay for the education of those who can. In this sense, we are, perhaps, even more elitist than the Brits, or Americans, who at least leave the upper classes to consolidate power on their own.
We aid and abet the formation of a ruling class, and the list on these pages looks at exactly who the members of it are.
Actor - Gormanston and Castleknock
The image he cultivated was 'loveable yob from the streets', but they don't come much more privileged than the Farreller, who attended not one, but two, private schools. One of these was the spectacular Gormanston, once the seat of the aristocratic Preston family. The college boasts a swimming pool, a vast sports complex and a golf course. Sounds like a pretty good preparation for Hollywood luxury.
CEO of Bank of Ireland - Rockwell
He's been described as 'the last banker standing' and he displayed some serious resolve and steeliness at the Banking Inquiry. This old Rockwell boy presented his stewardship of Bank of Ireland as kind of atonement for the horrors of the previous few years. We're not sure where all those cheap bank shares he nabbed in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum fit into this, but he is only being paid nearly a million quid a year, so whatever it takes.
Supreme Court Justice - Terenure
The Gick (as Terenure is known), but certainly not thick. John McMenamin SC was chairman of the Bar Council from 1997 to 1999. As a barrister, he took on many commercial, insurance and defamation cases and represented the Sunday Independent in the De Rossa libel trial. He was appointed to the High Court in 2004, and to the Supreme Court four years ago.
Chat-show host - Bandon Grammar School
The young Graham was already a bit of a card in the 1980s, according to his former teachers at Bandon Grammar School. He showed up to present the prizes at a ceremony in the school a few years ago, and with typically refreshing honesty, told reporters, "Friends are going, 'Oh, you must tell us funny stories about things that happened to you in school'. But either nothing very funny happened for six years, or it was 30 years ago and I don't remember any more".
We can relate.
Barrister, former Attorney General, European Commissioner - Gonzaga
Peter Sutherland is one of many Gonzaga old boys who have done well. He has ascended the peaks of private industry and the public service - presidents, prime ministers and popes have him on their Christmas-card lists.
He was Attorney General for the first Garret FitzGerald government, and proved highly prescient when he predicted that the 1983 abortion amendment would lead to "confusion and uncertainty". He also has a building named after him at UCD.
Solicitor and former Minister for Justice - The High School
When he was minister, Alan Shatter sort of gave us the creeps - what with his "steamy novel" and the sense that he might change into a bat at dusk - but now we totally miss him and his weird sci-fi jokes. Here's hoping there is another political act for our most multi-talented former justice minister.
Businessman - Presentation Cork
It feels fitting that a man whose fortune was partially founded on people needing 'a few bits and bobs' for kids going back to school, had the luxury of a private education. Ben wasn't especially academic at Pres Cork, and left at 16 to join his family business. What did the Brothers make of the coke story, you wonder? Ben's brother, Frank Dunne - the largest shareholder in Dunnes - also went to Pres Cork.
JOHN L MURRAY
Former Chief Justice, former Judge of the European Court of Justice, former Attorney General of Ireland - Rockwell
This Rockwell old boy represented David Norris in one of his legal actions aimed at decriminalising homosexuality in Ireland. Murray served as Attorney General three different times during the 1980s and 1990s, and also also drafted the wording of the 1983 anti-abortion amendment to the Constitution. He retired from the Supreme Court last year.
CEO of Ryanair - Clongowes
In some ways it’s difficult to imagine the country’s foremost politician-baiter and aerosexual rocking a scarf and deck shoes, but Clongowes Wood, where he spent his salad days, is fairly renowned for churning out business brains. According to his biographer, being around kids who were going to inherit zillions no matter what they did — the likes of the O’Reilly heirs — formed the basis of O’Leary’s huge ambition.
Singer - St Gerard’s
All private schoolboys know that it’s not the schoolwork that counts so much as the extra-curricular stuff. For most this is rugby; for Hozier, it was music. While poor people might have to put their stuff online for free or make up some sob-story for Simon Cowell, St Gerard's voice of his generation was discovered at a school concert.
Minister for Transport - Rugby School (UK)
Shane Ross has spoken about crying when he learned he was being sent away to boarding school, and by the time he entered public life — first as a journalist, senator, TD and now minister — he had his emotions well in check. EM Forster once wrote that the average public schoolboy has been taught “that feeling is bad form. He must not express great joy or sorrow, or even open his mouth too wide when he talks — his pipe might fall out if he did.” How much of Ross’s maturation was down to the years at Rugby School in England, we’ll never know, but the limited aperture of the lips is notable.
CEO of Greencoren - Clongowes
Yet another entry for a school that is known as the Eton of Ireland. Strangely, Patrick was actually the ‘good’ Coveney brother in Clongowes (Simon also went there, so that is saying a lot) and marked out as the future politician. Patrick would go on to earn more than 40 times Simon’s ministerial salary, so perhaps those early predictors of success were onto something.
CEO of An Post, former CEO of TV3 — Gonzaga
On leaving school at Gonzaga, David McRedmond harboured ambitions of being a journalist with the BBC or the Guardian, but instead he worked his way up the career ladder, through Waterstones, eventually becoming head of TV3 at a crucial time for the channel. He was recently appointed CEO of An Post.
Property developer — Blackrock
Derek Quinlan’s family had very little money, he’s said in an interview with Vanity Fair, but they still somehow had enough to send him to Blackrock College, where, importantly, he impressed at rugby. Success in the Leaving Cert saw him qualify to study medicine at UCD, but he switched to commerce and went on to qualify as a chartered accountant.
He became known to the wider public in Ireland after the acquisition of the Four Seasons Hotel in Ballsbridge, Dublin 4, in 2000. The property assets of Quinlan Private under management grew to €4.2bn in 2005. However, things began to unravel in 2009 with the economic crash and banking meltdown.
Former Minister for Justice, former Attorney General, currently a barrister — Gonzaga
Four years ago, Michael McDowell, former government minister and Attorney General, appeared in a debate at his alma mater, Gonzaga, to speak against the motion, “That fee-paying schools should receive no financial support from the State”.
We’re not sure who won that night, but a few months later, the motion, “That a Gonzaga education would have prevented the financial crisis” was soundly defeated. Whether the fact that McDowell was a cabinet minister during Bertie’s era had any bearing on the result is unclear.
Former Minister for Health -Gormanston
It’s possible that James Reilly doesn’t miss having to abandon his car due to being surrounded by protesters, or having Coke cans thrown at him, but we miss watching that kind of thing happening to him. We’re sick like that. Perhaps we could convince him that these were just private-school-type ritual hazings, carried out by angry poor people? This millionaire doctor went to Gormanston.
Business mogul - Glenstal Abbey
Magnier was a 16-year-old schoolboy at Glenstal Abbey when his father died in 1964 and he got the call to return to the family’s Grange Stud near Fermoy, Co Cork, to help his mother. Life would improve after that, and, thanks to three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cup wins, he became a legend in the horse-racing world. Magnier is a regular on the Rich List, and his gaff is so big, its nickname is Gatwick.
Author and journalist - Blackrock
David McWilliams grew up in Monkstown and Dalkey but is “more of a Dun Laoghaire person” really, he says. He went to Blackrock College, where he wasn’t bookish, but did a good Leaving and played rugby. With his flop of hair, hot-potato accent and delightful blitheness, he seems to epitomise all the best and worst of private-school education.
Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government - Clongowes
In some ways, Simon Coveney seems like the embodiment of private-school privilege. He went to not one, but two, of our fee-paying institutions, played rugby and looks like money right down to his regal jawbone. He was “expelled’ from one of the schools — Clongowes — for drinking and running away a couple of times. He had a word with a few of the teachers and says he was asked to come back, though. The rich are different from you and me.
DAVE AND ROB KEARNEY
Rugby players - Clongowes
Stephen Fry once said that when you put Benedict Cumberbatch’s name through the Enigma codebreaker, you get “red-hot public-school totty”. The same is surely true for Rob and Dave Kearney, except, of course, the Brits mean private when they say public, we mean Dave when we say Rob, and vice versa. Rugby is the origin story for the brothers, of course, but that’s deep background by now, as both have since graduated to full-time objects of desire.
Fashion designer - Blackrock
Costelloe has an interesting bluntness — he once said that Irish women “wouldn’t know style if it tottered up to them in 10-inch heels” (which rather made it sound like Paul’s own idea of style was Panti, which is fine). He has a soft side, too — he once told an interviewer that the one thing that would cheer up his day would be a call from his old Blackrock College friends.
Broadcaster - Presentation Cork
Acerbic, cantankerous and sometimes brilliant, George Hook showed that it’s never too late in life to make a name for yourself. His parents were “essentially educated”, he once said, by the Cork lending library, but they scrimped and saved to give George a better education.
Developer - Castleknock
‘The buccaneer’, as he’s called, adds a splash of colour to a fairly grey palette of developers, and regular sightings of his distinctive hair seems to represent proof of the resurgent economy. He’s depicted as having a Dublin accent (have we ever heard him speak?) but he went to the decidedly posh Castleknock College. Renowned for being a good poker player at school, it was also at Castleknock that he met Richard Barrett, with whom he set up Treasury Holdings.
Co-founder of The Web Summit — Glenstal
If Romy and Michele’s High School Renunion had been set in Glenstal, Paddy would be the Alan Cumming character — the recovered geek who rocks up looking strangely more successful and attractive. And, just like Romy and Michele, we would totally leave in the helicopter with him. Getting into the Old Boys’ Club.
Oscar-winning actor - Sevenoaks and Bedales (UK)
Sevenoaks School is among several leading UK schools that now charge annual boarding fees in excess of £30,000, making it one of the most expensive schools in the country. Bedales charges fees similar to Harrow or Eton. Suffice it to say that the acting legend got the best possible start in life. And probably considered it a huge pain at the time.
TD and Minister of State for Financial Services, eGovernment and Public Procurement - St Michael’s
The son of a barrister and the brother of actor Killian Scott, Eoghan Murphy attended the exclusive St Michael’s on Ailsebury Road, where the most expensive houses in the capital are found. He’s said that his number-one issue is choice in education: if schools are happy to take State funding, they should be happy to take local kids - irrespective of religion. Presumably he feels it should also be irrespective of money and background.
Former Attorney General and former chairman of AIB - Blackrock
We’ve already covered that a Gonzaga education wasn’t much good when financial armageddon hit, but, to be fair, it seems that a Rock one wasn’t either. Dermot Gleeson told last year’s Banking Inquiry that a bank guarantee covering just the two pillar banks was the only option he discussed with government representatives on the night the blanket guarantee covering all Irish banks was issued, in September 2008. When any good private education should have taught him to swiftly blame someone else.
Former Minister for Education - St Michael’s and Blackrock
Not one but two private schools for Ruairi. He was generally academically successful, was an outstanding athlete and a member of the Senior Cup rugby team at Rock. He was interested in art, and, when he was 10, he won the all-Ireland Caltex (now Texaco) Children’s Art competition. Hopefully there was some behind-the-bikeshed stuff to balance all this wholesomeness out.
Former manager of U2 - Clongowes
Paul McGuinness once recalled how, as a child, he was “so devastated with loneliness” at Kildare’s Clongowes Wood College, that, for days, long after his dad had driven away, he revisited the place where his father had dropped him off. McGuinness also remembered how, as a boarder at the private school, “there were boys at the school whose families had more money than mine. I resented that”.
It’s probably safe to say McGuinness had the last laugh, though.
Designer - Blackrock
He’s been described as “the Donegal dandy”, which seems like a pure oxymoron, but there can be no doubt that Pauric Sweeney has been one of the country’s most influential designers of the last few decades. Sweeney opened his flagship store in the posh Mayfair district of London in December 2011, was name-checked in an Anne Enright novel — The Forgotten Waltz — and now seems perilously close to becoming a one-man lifestyle brand.
Rugby player and deity - Blackrock
What else is there to say about BOD? If there isn’t a statue to him in Rock (we tried looking over the wall, but they released the hounds), there should be. He’s the son every father might want and the alpha hunk for whom every Alex girl would have mitched school. His school uniform alone would crash eBay these days.
Governor of the Central Bank - Blackrock
Philip Lane came out of school in 1987, when people were advised to “get the boat straight away”, so bleak was the jobs market. He clearly misheard this as “rule the world.” He responded by getting a first from Trinity, a Phd from Harvard and serving as an academic consultant to the IMF, the European Commission, World Bank and OECD, and he’s now the governor of the Central Bank, the second old Rock boy in succession to hold the post.
Minister for Education and Skills - Belvedere and Clongowes
Richard Bruton might be our most boring minister, but he knows where he came from and how to keep his constituents happy. Which is why when this old Belvedere boy became Minister for Education, he scrapped a bill which would have limited the ‘old school tie’ network — the priority that private schools give to those with family links to past pupils. The School Admission Bill was vehemently opposed by Rock and Belvo, and, after it was dropped, Labour senator Aodhan O Riordain said it was a “sad day” for the education system. But he would say that — he’s from the Northside.
Singer and philanthropist — Blackrock
Some countries, like England and America, only got middle-class rock stars recently. We always had them. And, like Bob, they stood up to authority the way they might have given lip to a marauding Dean of Studies.
Bob started out as a rock star, but he came into his own as a secular saint — one with an honorary knighthood. He provides a very important counterbalance to Blackrock’s drier alumni. And you get the impression that Geldof still reads — which is the best sign of a good education.
Anti Austerity Alliance TD — St Kilian’s German School and The Institute of Education
When accused last year of being a “Champagne socialist”, Paul Murphy said that the reaction to his privileged upbringing — he attended St Kilian’s German school — showed that the “establishment’s” discomfort with him stems from the fact that “one of their own has gone over to the other side”. He also said, “it’s not where you come from, it’s where you went to school.” Which is what the Germans might call Wahnsinn (absolute madness).
RICHARD BOYD BARRETT
People Before Profit Alliance TD - St Michael’s
Richard Boyd Barrett had a difficult start to life. The biological son of Sinead Cusack and theatre supremo Vincent Dowling, the young Richard was adopted by architect David Boyd Barrett and his wife, Valerie. They sent him to St Michael’s, where he learned many life skills, including, possibly, how to dab — he debuted the dance move in the Dail in July.
Fianna Fail TD - Belvedere
We include Jack to show that Belvedere hasn’t stopped churning them out. On balance, we’re going to quote the Simpsons: “The children are right to laugh.”
Broadcaster — Blackrock
If there’s anyone who you’re not surprised to see on this list, it’s Craig. He is such a heavily distilled and purified version of the particular strain of private schoolboy we’re profiling here, that we couldn’t leave him out. Craig did the next best thing to actually playing rugby for a living — talking about rugby — and he’s way ahead of the southside naming trends, by having sons with names like Quinn (American?) and Milo (Italian?).
Visual artist - Blackrock
Like any sensible person, Robert Ballagh packed in rugby at the age of 13. He was tiny, short-sighted, and convinced he was going to make it in rock ’n’ roll. That didn’t pan out, but Ballagh made his name as one of Ireland’s most respected living painters.
Technology entrepreneur - Wesley
This technology titan and philanthropist last year announced plans to give away €100m of his hard-earned money. The founder of the online trading firm CyBerCorp, which he sold to Charles Schwab in 2000 for $488m, received his entrepreneurial spirit from his father while he was growing up in Dublin, where he also attended Wesley College. Based in Austin, Texas, Berber is fairly private compared to other Rich List regulars, but perhaps, as he continues to spread the wealth, we’ll hear more about it.
Former Taoiseach- Clongowes
Even before he became Taoiseach, this Clongowes old boy was being described as “not a typical example of a private education”. He grew up in Meath, but didn’t attend a local national school and went on to Clongowes for secondary. He comes from a family who own, one interviewer guess-timated, “over a thousand acres in Co Meath?” “No, no, not that much”, Bruton interrupts. “How much then?” He scratches his head and dithers and then says quietly: “Three hundred acres. At the moment my family run it for me. It’s beef and tillage”. Bruton gave a speech a few years ago in which he hoped modern Clongowes wasn’t all about spending and getting.
Non-executive Chairman of Grafton Group — Sutton Park
Grafton has been at the forefront of the resurgent building industry and Michael Chadwick, who joined the Grafton Group in 1975, served as chairman from 1985 to 2012, and then became a non-executive chairman. He will step down later this year. He attended Sutton Park, which is one of Ireland’s most expensive schools.
Entrepreneur and businessman - Clongowes
Michael O’Leary had the good fortune of having gone to Clongowes Wood, which is also where Tony Ryan sent his sons. VivaAerobus, the Mexican airline that’s almost 50pc-owned by Declan’s Irelandia Aviation, is drafting a fresh plan for a stock-market flotation. Together, he and his brother Shane are now worth about €650 mil. Which makes them upper-middle class at a Clongowes reunion do.
Minister for Social Protection — King’s Hospital
The man who would be Taoiseach was a young fogey right out of the gate. Private schools are meant to teach entitlement, but Leo already had it, telling his mother’s friends that he would one day be minister for health — he was just seven years old at the time. He has been described, variously, as “a swot” at school, and “intelligent and unafraid to show it”.
Actor — Presentation Cork
Cillian Murphy has said he was traumatised for life by the Leaving Cert. By the time he did it, he had already been bitten by the acting bug. It happened in transition year in Presentation Brothers Cork, when his “imagination was first fired” by a visit to the school by Pat Kiernan of Corcadorca Theatre Group. It was Kiernan who, after some pestering, gave him his first big break on stage in Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs.
Businessman — Clongowes
Michael Smurfit further burnishes Clongowes’ reputation for churning out terrific business brains with humongous egos. Typically, as with many Rich List stalwarts, he left school early and got his further education in the University of Life. And then graduated to Monte Carlo.
Broadcaster — Blackrock
Ryan’s young-fogeydom was evident early as he bonded with a group of friends, who remain close to him to this day, over a love of Elvis Presley. He is often mentioned as one of the most famous alumnus of Blackrock College, and his father Pat was on the Senior Cup-winning team of 1954.
Former adviser to the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, current Vice-President of the European Investment Bank — St Conleth’s
McDowell, who was educated at St Conleth’s in Ballsbridge, had been Mr Kenny’s chief economic adviser since entering Government, and was Fine Gael’s economic adviser in opposition before that.
His appointment as vice-president of the European Investment Bank earlier this year followed a row between Kenny and Transport Minister Shane Ross over earlier attempts to install former Taoiseach John Bruton to the post, without a proper selection process being undertaken.
The point is — either way, we were getting a private schoolboy. Deal with it.
Sometimes called the Eton of Ireland, Clongowes is basically an MBA for spotty teenagers. It has proven to be an assembly line for business brains. Currently three of Ireland’s most senior CEOs — Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary, Greencore’s Patrick Coveney and Providence Resources’ Tony O’Reilly Junior — went here, the highest number of any of the rugby schools. The fact that it has a proper religious order running it — the Jesuits — can’t be completely unrelated. Traditionally, a Clongowes jersey would serve as a VIP Pass to any school disco, such as Wesley (the Studio 54 of rugby discos).
CISTERCIAN COLLEGE ROSCREA
It's been called The Great Rugby Schools Mystery: why does Roscrea not play in Munster? Turns out the school is actually in Offaly, but it's unlikely anyone in the rest of the rugby-school belt knows where that is, either. An RTE documentary on the school asked if an education there could be worth €75k. The answer, a resounding yes, was backed up by the school's historic Senior Cup win last year and the social-media antics afterward. The cup was pictured in a sheep pen, with the caption, "What would Blackrock think of that?" It was the rugby schools' equivalent of a Black Power salute, and the answer to the question was obvious: round up the perpetrators and force them into some sort of namby-pamby etiquette course. The cup has since been scoured of farmer's prints, but players from Blackrock - the school that's won the cup more than any other - still look at the sheep photo to get fired up. Willie Mullins and Brian Cowen both went here, and Enda has sung carols with the school choir.
Gonzaga is the bookish, probably virginal, younger brother of Rock and Michael’s, and has a correspondingly low count of rugger-bugger alma mater. Bushy-browed Zagans clean up at things like international chess competitions. After their wonderfully grandiose debate motion a few years ago, “That a Gonzaga education would have prevented the financial crisis” was defeated, many are still waiting for the follow-up: “Did a Gonzaga education cause the financial crisis?”
Like a Ranelagh bedsit, Gonzaga is small, expensive, fairly impossible to get into and almost always a stepping stone to something bigger: it generally sends more students to university than any other of the rugby schools. Which isn’t hard, because they only allow southsiders in.
If Clongowes is Eton, Glenstal is Harrow. Or maybe Hogwarts. There actually might be a bit of magic in the air, what with the chanting and religious mysticism. Glenstal is one of the most expensive private boys’ school in the state, with fees of €18,650 per year for 7-day boarders — and it’s probably value for money, just for the connections your kid would make.
The then Abbot of Glenstal, Mark Patrick Hederman, debated Oliver Callan a few years ago on whether a LIFE magazine cover poking fun at the President of Ireland was in poor taste. The Abbot debated with assurance — class all over it. But, given the type of things that most teachers see written on walls, his indignation did raise the suspicion that not only private schoolboys, but also private teachers, are a little sheltered.
Rock is basically prep school for cabinet ministers, captains of industry and minor royals. It’s the Manchester United of rugby schools — the biggest, best and vainest (on the rugby pitch, they were at the forefront of the blond-tipped hair trend of the 1990s). Like all great private schools, it teaches entitlement — which is not a bad thing. Live Aid would not have happened without Bob Geldof’s entitlement. U2 would not have happened without Paul McGuinness’ entitlement. It’s the self-esteem to know what’s possible. But there is, of course, some resentment of this. Rock stars sometimes get a hard time in the media — almost as if attending Rock was a crime in itself.
So, for instance, several years ago, it was reported that two former Rock boys competed in a “spend off” during a skiing trip. According to the University Times, Tactics included “throwing a BlackBerry down a mountain, buying 10 pints and emptying them immediately, smoking a €50 note, using a €20 note as a cigarette paper, and paying a barman €50 to fasten ski boots.” Twitter was appalled. Cabinet awaits.
Ross O’Carroll-Kelly freaked out when he encountered the dystopian nightmare that is Terenure, and indeed, to some, this is too far-flung and proximate to The Square to really count as part of the rugby-school belt. On the other hand, locally the students at the school are regarded (by non fee-paying Derby rivals Our Lady’s and Templeogue) as entitled enough to take its place in the Irish rugger-bugger tradition.
Its nickname, The Gick, comes from the days when the school used to have fencing dividing its agricultural land from its playing pitches, resulting in organic fertiliser from their sheep being described as “gick” on its pitches. Zero to do with it rhyming with thick.
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