The It was an early start on Sunday 5th March for nineteen 6th Form students, accompanied by Mrs Sally Rees, Mrs Janet Goodall, and Dean Kenny Hall, as they made their way to Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare.
Clongowes Wood College is a Jesuit Catholic boarding school outside Dublin, that counts, James Joyce, among others, as one of its past pupils. In 1979, at the height of the troubles, the Clongowes President Fr Philip Fogarty SJ sought Christian understanding and fellowship and so reached out to form the partnership with Portora Royal School, mainly due to the connection with the recently beatified, Fr John Sullivan SJ who was an Old Portoran who taught at Clongowes. Since then the friendship between the two schools has grown and deepened, affording many opportunities to experience the richness and diversity of cultures between the two schools.
On this occasion 3 of the boys on the bus were following in their father’s footsteps as Angus Keys, Alex Holder and Conor Goodall’s fathers had all gone on the same trip as 6th Form students at Portora.
On arrival the students were given a warm welcome by Mr Tom Carroll and Fr Michael Shields, rector of Clongowes Wood College and were invited to attend the weekly Sunday Mass service. A reflective service, befitting of Lent, Richard Pendry did the reading and Mrs Goodall, lead the post communion reflection. Mrs Goodall asked the congregation to reflect on ‘how we can be better’. This particularly resonated with the Rugby players and their supporters who were facing their arch rivals Belvedere in the semi -final of the Leinster Schools cup the following day.
After a hearty lunch and some time to experience a variety of sports, including a quick dip in the swimming pool, the boys formed teams with their host students to debate the motion; ‘This house believes that Brexit will benefit the whole island of Ireland.’ With the usual reliance on off the cuff remarks and friendly banter, the most memorable contribution was from Callum McClements, who ensured his team defeated the motion, with very worthy arguments despite frequent calls to explain ‘What Gibraltar has to do with it?’
The night’s activities were rounded off with pizza and cheer practice for the big game at Donnybrook the next day. Mrs Goodall’s comments in her reflection that ‘there are no supporters better than at Clongowes, not just the volume and chants, but the utter pride, passion and magnanimous support for the team, win or lose’ proved true indeed as the whole school gathered on the concourse to practice their chants (including a few hymns!). Lead by ‘cheer leaders’ in boiler suits with mega phones, it was awe inspiring and watched on by none other than Irish fullback Rob Kearney. Watch out next year as Mrs Rees will be on a mission to instil a similar tradition in the Enniskillen Royal Grammar School supporters!
On Monday, students went to lessons with their hosts and to morning reflection. This was a particularly moving experience as one of their students who had been diagnosed with cancer two years previously to the day, asked his fellow students to reflect on gratitude. Following lunch, the party from Enniskillen Royal Grammar School joined the whole school and departed en- masse to Donnybrook to watch the Rugby. Unfortunately, a place in the final was not to be, with Clongowes being defeated 17-12 by Belvedere.
A tired, well fed, thoroughly entertained group made the long journey home, buoyed by the warmth of a friendship, which flourished between Portora and Clongowes staff and students, secure in the knowledge that it will continue to do so with Enniskillen Royal Grammar School.
Watch out for details of more events with Clongowes this year including the Year 8 Rugby Bliss next week.