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What’s in a Name? The Houses of St Columba’s College

St Columba’s College, Whitechurch, Rathfarnham is named for St Columba, the feisty Donegal missionary best known who brought Christianity to Pictish Scotland, who I have written about here. But who are the houses at the school named for? What is the story behind Iona, Stackallan, Beresford, Clonard, Holly Park, Glen, Gwynne, Tibradden and Killmashogue.


Clonard House


Created on Mark Boobyer’s watch, the new day house derives its name from Clonard, County Meath, a monastic school where Columba went after his early education in Moville, County Down. Located between Enfield and Kinnegad, Clonard was regarded as the finest Christian school in Ireland in Columba’s day and reputedly had 3,000 pupils at its peak, including students from France and Germany.

It was also one of earliest schools that that arose during the Golden Age that gave Ireland its name as the island of saints and scholars.  These ancient boarding schools were the prototype of our universities, where boys – and I’m pretty sure they were only boys – were taught all the practical subjects – commerce, agriculture, Greek, Latin, science, theology and so. They also learned art, metalworking, calligraphy, manuscript illumination and such like.


Iona House


Named for the beautiful island off the west coast of Scotland to which Columba and twelve trusty companions sailed in a wicker currach from Ireland. Columba had gone into exile after triggering a brutal war in Ireland that left 3000 dead and he had vowed to go to Scotland where he would “gain as many souls to Christ as had been slain in the battle.” Thirteen years would pass before Columba returned to his native soil.

On Iona, Columba and his men built a monastic settlement, complete with church, refectory, and cells which they established as the epicentre for an early Christian renaissance. Monks and students alike began to churn out art and music and books like the Book of Kells. Iona also dispatched monks to spread the word of the Celtic Church across Pictish Scotland, whilst developing their links with the church in Ireland and Britain. This evangelizing came at a critical moment as Europe, still reeling from the collapse of the Roman Empire, was sinking into the Dark Ages. Columba managed to baptise the pagan king of Dalriada, or western Scotland, as well as a powerful Pictish King, near Inverness. When he died in 592, Columba was buried on Iona but his remains were removed in the wake of Viking attacks and are now reputedly buried in County Down.

A missagh that was said to have once contained Columba’s copy of the Gospels, or Psalms, was presented to St Columba’s College in 1843, having been tracked down by Viscount Adare, later the Earl of Dunraven, a co-founder of the school. [1]   I think the name may have been selected by James Henthorn Todd, another of the school’s founders, who was a liberal Protestant, archaeologist and librarian. [2]



When the college of St. Columba opened in 1843, it received £6,000 to furnish the gentry of Ireland with a school ‘on the model of Eton’ from Lord John George de la Poer Beresford, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland.  That said, he severed his connection in 1853, on account of a ‘misunderstanding’ with the then warden. Still, 6000 smackers was a considerable bequest, which is why the girl’s house was later named in his honour.

Incidentally, the term ‘paint the town red’ started in 1837 when the Archbishop’s  naughty nephew Henry Beresford and his fox-hunting pals arrived in Melton Mowbray with drinks taken, milord. One way or another, they ended up with pots of red paint in their hands, which they used to literally ‘paint the town red.’ Further details of the Beresford family can be found here.




When St Columba’s College started in 1844, it based in Stackallan House on the banks of the River Boyne, County Meath.

Erected by Gustavus Hamilton, a formidable warrior and supporter of King Billy who was made 1st Viscount Boyne. His grandson, Gustavus, 2nd Baron, was something of a dilettante.

Now owned by Martin Naughton, the Glen Dimplex owner, Stackallen is one of the earliest surviving examples of an unfortified classical house in Ireland, being constructed around 1715. St Columba’s was here until 1849 when it moved to its current location at Whitechurch, County Dublin.

Holly Park


The original building at Whitechurch where St Columba’s College was established is the Georgian house where the warden’s study is today. It is thought to have been built in the 1760s and was certainly called Hollypark by 1775. It was home of the Foot family who made their money from snuff. Lundy Foot, a tobacconist and snuff manufacturer, was known for a hugely popular brand called ‘Blackguard’, much fancied by Robbie Burns. Hollypark House was bought by the school in 1849.




Adam Clayton

Glen is short for Glensouthwell, an 18th century house built for William Southwell [pronounced suth-ill], who fought in King Billy’s army and ended up commanding the Battleaxe Guards in 1714, protecting the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. When St Columba’s College needed more beds in the 1890s, they rented Glensouthwell to accommodate boarders for 5 years. Eventually the school opted to build a new house on the grounds, which they called Glen.

Glensouthwell later became home to Adam Clayton, U2’s bass guitarist and an Old Columban, who renamed it Danesmote. The Joshua Tree album was recorded here.




The boy’s house was named for the amazing Gwynn family, who achieved distinction in so many fields – as professors, provosts, scholars, fellows, sportsmen, soldiers, surveyors and mathematicians. Lucy Gywnn, William Smith O’Brien’s daughter, was the First Lady Registrar of Trinity College. She married John Gwynn, a specialist in Syrian studies, who was appointed warden of St Columba’s College in 1856. Warden Gwynne expelled two of Anthony Trollope’s sons!

Robin Gwynne with his ear trumpet.

John and Lucy Gwynn’s son Robin Gwynne was born in Donegal and became a lecturer at Trinity in Divinity, Biblical Greek, Hebrew. He was twice acting warden of St Columba’s College and founded the Old Columban Society. As a young fellow, Robin and his brother Edward endeavoured to clean up the slums of Dublin and Belfast and were involved with missions to the Far East, a bit like Eric Liddell of ‘Chariots of Fire’ fame.  A pacificist at heart, Robin was horrified by police brutality during the pre-war strikes and, one way or another, the Irish Citizen Army was founded in his rooms at Trinity! He was all in favour on the basis that military discipline would keep unemployed men fit and give them self-respect. A tall, athletic man, he carried a large ear trumpet with him in later life to aid hearing.




The junior boys house was named Tibradden in 1974 in honour of the Guinness family of nearby Tibradden House up Mutton Lane. This house was built for Thomas Hosea Guinness, a great-grandson of Arthur the brewer, who cleverly married an heiress. When he died in 1888, the Warden of St Columba’s College (Rev Rice) attended his funeral in Whitechurch. [3]

Two generations later, Major Owen Guinness, who died in 1970, became a Fellow of St Columba’s in 1938 and fetched up as Chair of the Fellows. Charles Guinness, Selina’s uncle, taught at the school for a while. Selina Guinness, who took on Tibradden House after her Uncle Charles, penned a Costa-nominated memoir  ‘The Crocodile by the Door’ about the challenges of running a family home and sheep farming.  The name Tibradden derived from a hill to the south, with a fabulous cairn on the summit, and apparently means Tigh Bródáin,  ‘the house of Bródáin’. Nobody but the stones knows who Bródáin was.




Named for the fine mountain of that name in the Dublin mountains. Some say the name derives from ‘coile’ meaning wood of the ash or wood of the lark. I like the notion postulated by the Annals of the Four Masters for 917 who suggest there was a church up there belonging to a fellow whose name sounds a little like Mashogue.




With thanks to Julian Girdham, Selina Guinness, Jenny Pringle, Colin Graham and Emily Bainton.

Further Reading


  • Girdham, Julian, ‘The Columban – 100 Years of The Columban Magazine 1879 to 1979’ (2018)
  • White, G. K. White, ‘A History of St Columba’s College’ (Old Columban Society, 1981)
    Wyse-Jackson, Patrick, and Ninian Falkiner, ‘A Portrait of St Columba’s College, 1843-2013’ (Old Columban Society, 2013)




[1] Belfast Telegraph – Saturday 11 June 1938. See Dunraven connection here.

[2] G.K.White suggests that the name came into the mind of the very significant figure James Henthorn Todd, due to his interest in the ancient Irish church (of the other national saints, presumably St Patrick was everywhere else, and St Brigid not considered for a boys’ school). ‘Bedell College’ was considered, but not Irish enough. ‘The Irish College’ was also favoured, but eventually Todd had his way.

Todd was a big champion of Irish language. I found a report from 1844 that the school had employed John O’Donovan as an Irish grammar teacher and “it is incumbent on the students to learn the Irish language”.

[3] Dublin Daily Express – Wednesday 26 September 1888. I note that Tibradden House was sold at auction at one point through Dick’s Coffee House, a well-regarded auctioning house run by the charismatic Richard Pue, proprietor of a newspaper called Pue’s Occurrences.