The school's current headmaster is Chris Lumb (2015–present). He is the first lay headmaster of Clongowes in its 204-year history. Leonard Maloney was the previous headmaster (2004–2015) Michael Sheil retired as headmaster in 2006 and Bruce Bradley (headmaster 1992–2000) was his successor. In September 2011 Michael Sheil returned as rector.
The school is a secondary boarding school for boys from Ireland and other parts of the world. The school is divided into three groups, known as "lines". The Third Line is for first and second year students, the Lower Line for third and fourth years, and the Higher Line for fifth and sixth years. Each year is known by a name, drawn from the Jesuit Ratio Studiorum: Elements (first year), Rudiments (second), Grammar (third), Syntax (fourth), Poetry (fifth), and Rhetoric (sixth).
The medieval castle was originally built in the 13th century by Stuart Cullen, an early Anglo-Norman warrior and landowner in northern Kildare. He had been given extensive lands in the area of Kill, Celbridge, and Mainham by his brother, Rurai Blaney, who had come to Ireland with Strongbow, the Earl of Pembroke.
The castle is the residence of the religious community and was improved by a "chocolate box" type restoration in the 18th century. It was rebuilt in 1718 by Stephen Fitzwilliam Browne and extended in 1788 by Thomas Wogan Browne. It is situated beside a ditch and wall – known as ramparts – constructed for the defence of the Pale in the 14th century. The building was completely refurbished in 2004 and the reception area was moved back there from the "1999 building."
The castle is connected to the modern buildings by an elevated corridor hung with portraits, the Serpentine Gallery referred to by James Joyce. This gallery was completely demolished and rebuilt in 2004 as part of a redevelopment programme for the school buildings.
The Serpentine Gallery – a portrait corridor connecting Clongowes castle to modern buildings
The Jesuit Community Library at Clongowes Wood College SJ
The College coat of arms in the Community Reception Room at Clongowes Wood College SJ
The Jesuit Community Reception Room at Clongowes Wood College SJ
In 1929 another wing was built at a cost of £135,000, presenting the rear façade of the school. It houses the main classrooms and the Elements, Rudiments, Grammar and Syntax dormitories.
An expansion and modernisation was completed in 2000; the €4.8m project added another residential wing that included a 500-seat dining hall, kitchen, entrance hall, offices, and study/bedrooms for sixth year ("Rhetoric") students.
The Boys' Chapel has an elaborate reredos, a large pipe-organ in the gallery, and a sequence of Stations of the Cross painted by Sean Keating. School tradition has it that the portrait of Pontius Pilate in the twelfth station was based on the school rector, who had refused to pay the artist his asking price.
The moat that outlines the nearby forest of the college is the old border of The Pale, with the Wogan-Browne castle (now the residence of the Jesuit community) landmarking its edge.
The Boys' Chapel at Clongowes Wood College SJ
The altar in the Boys' Chapel at Clongowes
The school traces its history back to a 799-acre (3.23 km2) estate owned by the Wogan family in 1418 under the reign of Henry IV. The name "Clongowes" comes from the Irish for "meadow" (cluain) and for "blacksmith" (gobha). The estate was originally known as "Clongowes de Silva" (de Silva meaning "of the wood" in Latin). The estate later passed to the Eustace family and became part of the fortified border of the Pale in 1494. The Eustaces lost their estates during the Restoration (1660). The estate was sold by the Wogan-Brownes to the Jesuits in March 1814 for £16,000.
Plaque outside reception, commemorating its 1st pupil James McLornan on 18 May 1814
The school accepted its first pupil, James McLornan, on 18 May 1814.
As of 2018, there were two Jesuits living at the school.
One early history of the school is The Clongowes Record 1814-1932 by Fr Timothy Corcoran, S.J. (Browne and Nolan, Dublin, 1932). A half-century later, a history was written by Fr Roland Burke Savage, S.J., and published in The Clongownian school magazine during the 1980s; that same decade, Peter Costello wrote Clongowes Wood: a History of Clongowes Wood College 1814-1989, published by Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1989).
Statue of Ignatius of Loyola in reception area
Clongowes is known for its strong pedigree in rugby union. Despite a relatively small size, Clongowes has won the Leinster Schools Rugby Senior Cup on eight occasions, winning its first final in 1926. Following this there was a gap of 52 years until the next title in 1978. Beginning with a 3rd title in 1988 and up until 2011, Clongowes has appeared in 13 finals, more than any other school in the competition during this period. Clongowes secured a first set of back-to-back titles with wins in 2010 and 2011.
More recently a promotional video was published on the school's Youtube channel, entitled "Sixth Year Speeches: Our Message to You," a high-budget short film funded by the school. In this video they premiere the establishment of a new secondary slogan for the school: "Go forth, and set the world on fire," which aims to encourage their students to make a difference in the world.
^A Short History of Clongowes Wood College by Brendan Cullen, 2011, p. 2
^A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce. Chapter 5, 25 March, Morning: "A long curving gallery. From the floor ascend pillars of dark vapours. It is peopled by the images of fabulous kings, set in stone. Their hands are folded upon their knees in token of weariness and their eyes are darkened for the errors of men go up before them for ever as dark vapours."