How It All Began…..


A Short History of Rugby in Terenure College


First steps

When Patrick O’Brien walked up the avenue on 6 February 1860 to become the first pupil to be enrolled in Terenure College he could hardly have envisaged that 160 years later the College would have grown to what it is today. A young boy from Rathgar, O’Brien was soon joined by a small number of other boys to form the first classes in Terenure College or to be precise The College of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Terenure, as it was known on its foundation in 1860.

By 1861 the College had established itself and marked day pupils and boarders among its registers. Boys coming locally from Rathgar, Rathmines, Rathfarnham swelled numbers quickly and boarders are recorded as coming from as far afield as Donegal and Kerry. From overseas and recorded in the registers from 1866 came one boy from New Zealand, James Simpson and from Cape Town in South Africa came five boys – the three Begley’s, Joseph, Arthur, and John; together with Edward Keating and Denis McAuliffe. James Carey from South America, likely Argentina, entered the school in 1867. Quite how or why these boys travelled such distance to be schooled in Terenure remains a mystery. It was unlikely due to rugby connections as rugby hadn’t established itself in the College at this time. We cannot claim an All Black or Springbok!

It is likely they arrived in Terenure due to Carmelite connections in their own countries and the promise of a Catholic education.

Denis McAuliffe during his time in Terenure, was not unknown for getting into mischief and frequently according to records was reprimanded. For all of that, Denis survived his time in Terenure and became a priest in the 1870’s and the first South African to be ordained in the Catholic Church. According to accounts he loved his time in Terenure College and often recounted his experiences with great affection and fondness. He is known to have written with great joy about playing rugby in the early years of the school. Interestingly when Fr McAuliffe passed away in 1938 at 87 years of age he was then recognised as the oldest past pupil of Terenure College and – the oldest priest in Africa.

Classes and sports

The curriculum in the early days of the College was extensive: it included Christian doctrine, English, elocution, Latin, Greek, French, history, geography, mathematics and science, together with drawing, music, and dancing. Yes- dancing! The number of sports catered for appears limited with little evidence of an extensive sports programme during the early years of the College. The sports that we know were prominent in early life of the College were handball and cricket. Cricket was very popular in the College in the 1860’S and 1870’s. This isn’t particularly surprising as in Ireland during this period cricket was played in every village and town and was hugely popular. Some villages claimed more than one cricket team such was the popularity of the sport.

Rugby was gaining popularity in Ireland but not many schools have recorded playing rugby during the 1800’s. Rugby clubs were forming, and the game was beginning to grow in playing numbers, but slowly. Football and Tennis are noted in College records as sports offered and played among pupils. It should be remembered that the GAA were formally structured only in 1884 and so many of the so-called ‘garrison’ games were commonplace across Ireland.


Between the years of 1860-80 there are a few press reports of competitive sporting fixtures between Terenure College and other schools. Most of these reports relate to cricket matches. Once such report dated May 1871 details a cricket match between Terenure College and French College, Blackrock (later to become Blackrock College). Terenure are recorded as winners by 27 runs. It of course was a rivalry that was set to continue to grow over the next 100 years but not on the cricket crease but on the rugby pitch.

Rugby Formation

The first recorded games of rugby appear in the College records from about February 1882. Matches are recorded against St. Galls College and against Academy, Dominick Street. St. Galls College is believed to have been based in Belfast. What is clear from the records is that rugby was gaining in popularity year by year. This is in some measure due to dedicated Carmelites prepared to promote sporting activities among the growing number of pupils in the College. One such Carmelite was Fr Edward Romaeus Stone. He appears as very popular with boys and staff alike and showed a clear passion for sport and recreation. No further reference to rugby appears in the archives or in the press until November 1907. The Irish Times records a match between Terenure College and Mornington, with the college victorious in a tough match by three points. Further reports appear in December 1907 of a victory of Kings Hospital by three tries to one.

It is worth noting that quite a few of the Terenure players went on to join the Carmelite Order and had links to the College for many years as teachers and Priors respectively. Many of these dedicated priests carried the love of rugby with them and were advocates for the game in the College for years to come.

Crush Hall 1958. Cup Presentation in 1958 SCT Winners

Official School Game

Ironically it is a Kilkenny man, Fr Peter Elias O’Dwyer that is noted as having ‘introduced Rugby as the official school game’. This was noted by Fr Robert Heaslip writing in 1958. Coaching took place on a Sunday with a match every Wednesday. Despite a successful run of wins in so called friendly matches Terenure fell to Wesley in the first round of the Cup in 1908. Presumably the Leinster Schools Senior Cup. One of those who played in the 1908 Cup team was Bob Metcalfe. He was later ordained a Carmelite and lived to see the famous Junior and Senior Cup double in 1958. A moment recorded in correspondence between Fr Metcalfe and the Prior. Fr Metcalfe almost overcome in his writings with sheer delight on securing the ‘Double’.

In those early years of rugby in the College the teams played in an all-white jersey with white shorts and white socks. The crest was a simple motif of T and a C on the left side of the jersey. There was no evidence of the Carmelite crest are the heraldic symbols of the hand holding the flaming sword that would adorn the Terenure jerseys in later years. Some pictures of teams in this original white stripe remain today and can be viewed in the College. The jerseys are almost as white as the ghostly faces wearing them. The jersey worn by Terenure teams in the 1920’S and early 1930’s was black with a purple stripe. It was generally agreed that it was very dour, and a white stripe was added sometime in the 1930’s to create the now famous Purple, White and Black.

Setbacks & Resurgence

Just as the College was beginning to flourish and grow in numbers the decision was taken to close its doors in 1909. The decision seems to have been based on crippling debts and a lack of interest in support of the school coming from the curia in Rome. It is well documented that the closing caused sadness and disappointment among many. But happily, the College thanks to strenuous efforts of the Carmelite Order in Ireland re-opened its doors in 1917.

On the re-opening in 1917 GAA seems to have taken a foothold in the College. With the political turmoil being experienced in Ireland at the time it is no surprise that games such as rugby and cricket became less popular and were seen more aligned to Britain and empire then to a new Ireland that was taking shape. It does appear however that the College stopped playing competitive GAA sometime around 1924. In 1926 the College again took to the rugby pitch and were described as ‘playing with a spirit and enthusiasm rarely seen amongst its peers’. Rugby in the College never looked back and was once again the ‘official school game’.

Forming A Bridgehead

Performances on the field were mixed during the 1930’s and 1940’s. While Blackrock College were ruling school’s rugby in Leinster Terenure College were struggling to make an impact. There is no doubt that the desire and intent was in abundance but unfortunately the results showed little progress. During the 1940’s the Senior team made some progress, but no cups returned to the College. It would be the 1950’s until Terenure really became a force in schools rugby. The Juniors however made steady progress, in the cup campaign of 1944 Terenure drew a game with Blackrock but eventually lost a replay narrowly 0-6. Fr Dunstan O’Connor remarked at the time following the narrow loss to Rock ‘we felt we had definitely established a bridgehead’, but had to add ruefully: ‘We had, too, but it took almost ten years before it was fully exploited’.

It should be noted that the JCT of 1949 made it to a semi-final against Blackrock. It took four replays to decide a winner with Rock finally prevailing 3-0. It was a defining moment though. It showed that a Terenure team could go toe to toe with the very best.

History Makers

22 March 1952 should be remembered as probably the most important day in the history of rugby in Terenure College. After many years of competing and failing to secure a title Terenure finally won the coveted Leinster Schools Senior Cup lead by team captain John O’Connor. A hard fought 9-3 victory was secured against Castleknock College at Lansdowne Road. Finally, after many years of countless heart break and near misses the cup arrived at the College. To the great delight of pupils, staff and many past pupils there was something to celebrate. Various newspapers recorded the victory and aftermath – ‘ Terenure has rarely seen such celebrations’ , ‘The residents of Rathgar and Terenure were left in no doubt as to who the winners were of the 1952 Leinster School Cup as they walked triumphantly singing songs all the way from Lansdowne Road’, ‘Watching the Cup being walked up the avenue in Terenure College was one of pure delight for all supporters of Terenure College’. The win in 1952 shouldn’t be underestimated. It was a breakthrough moment for rugby in the College. It paved the way for future teams and proved that a Cup could be won.

Double Delight

Defeat in the Senior finals of 1956 and 1957 followed along with a Junior loss in the final of 1957. All these defeats were against Blackrock. 1958 proved an all-together different year. It was the year that Terenure secured the elusive Senior and Junior double. The Irish Press reporter at the Senior final recorded: ’Seldom have I seen such a display of lion-hearted courage and sustained endeavour as Terenure displayed in winning this Leinster Senior Schools Cup Final at Lansdowne Road’

The Juniors lead by Gerry Martin completed the double by securing the Junior Cup against Blackrock 13-9. What a year for rugby in Terenure College. 1958 defined the true spirit of rugby in Terenure, and qualities that endured for many future generations of rugby players in Terenure. ‘Fight and don’t give up’


After the breakthrough years of the 1950’s the 1960’s laid further foundations for later success. The belief that the teams had created in the 1950’s fostered a much more confident rugby school in Terenure. From confidence grew competitiveness and from that grew success. While silverware was frustratingly limited in the era of the 60’s there in no question that Terenure College rugby teams were feared and respected in equal measure by all challengers. However, that key attribute of winning finals was alluding Terenure teams of the 60’s and early 70’s. The exact reason is hard to fathom. Terenure teams although competitive and skilful found getting the ‘deal done’ on final day at times difficult. Cups that should have been won were lost, often against the odds. Things were about to change and change forever.

The Purple Patch

The Purple Patch is a term often used to describe the amazing success generated by Terenure teams from 1976 to 1984. During this time Terenure won 3 Senior Cup titles and 4 Junior Cup titles. All but one of these titles was against old rivals Blackrock College. We also contested one other Senior final losing narrowly to Clongowes and another Junior Final to Blackrock. 3 of the 4 Junior titles came in consecutive years – a remarkable achievement. What changed to bring this bounty of success? Likely the depth of talent available across many different year groups, better coaching and a sheer will to win that was infectious across all Terenure teams. We simply refused to be beaten. The tenacity of the players and the desire to achieve something special lived throughout the school. Defeat in the purple, white and black simply wasn’t an option anymore.

There was a unified approach to rugby in the school that allowed it to prosper and grow. At times during the 70’s and 80’s it wasn’t uncommon to have 5 senior teams competing in a range of Senior competitions. Such was the interest and strength in depth that it was often said that the Terenure second Senior team could have adequately competed in the Senior Cup itself.

Sustained success

Great success followed throughout the 80’s and 90’s. There were of course days that were heartbreaking for teams and coaches alike but overall, success came regularly, and competitiveness was guaranteed. There are so many players, captains and coaches who have contributed to the history of rugby in Terenure College. Too many to mention here but their success and influence is well documented in many quarters. All played a part, and many contributed to future success. Today many more carry this baton and recent developments in the College show that rugby is now on a sound footing with excellent structures and a real vision to continue to grow the game and the numbers playing each year. A new history awaits. The giant is awakening.

Many of these Terenure teams and coaches are legendary but we must ensure that in the future that their achievements and hard work does not just become legend. We should learn from our history and deploy the same ‘lion-hearted courage and sustained endeavour’ shown by the 1958 team and so brilliantly displayed by many Terenure College teams over many generations.

The young Patrick O’Brien that walked up the avenue in 1860 would expect nothing less from the ‘Terenure men’.

Onwards Terenure.

Written & Submitted by Colin McKeon
Past Pupil 1975 – 1986.


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