Having been, for several centuries, the seat of British power in Ireland, it is unsurprising that there is a glut of private schools in and around Dublin. These are a reflection of both the riches of the area and the importance placed on education, by the Irish ruling classes and results in a smorgasbord of options for the new Dubliner, although genuinely, international schools are thin on the ground.
In and around Dublin
Given the large international population of Dublin, it is surprising that there are not more international schools, although perhaps not so surprising given how internationally vaunted the Irish education system is. Of the four in evidence, the longest-running is Spanish-run SEK International School Dublin, which actually sits a bit down the road in Co. Wicklow and would benefit southside Dublin residents with a desire for an International Baccalaureate for their child. It has offered its own style of education for almost 40 years in Ireland.
There is also the Lycée Francais d'Irlande near the University College Dublin campus in Belfield for Francophone-leaning parents which takes on the French curriculum with great aplomb from infants through to 18 in an activity-packed and facility-rich (though architecturally uninspiring) campus. Nord Anglia, who appear in a panoply of cities worldwide now, have their Dublin educational base (Nord Anglia International School Dublin) in the south Dublin suburb of Leopardstown, just next to the racecourse, and has accreditation to offer the prestigious IB Diploma. For smaller international persons, the International School of Dublin is a very well regarded day primary school close to the City Centre.
For the most part, the major private schools in Ireland offer both day and boarding options so where you choose to live in Ireland need not affect your choices for your child to have a quality education in or near the capital.
The oldest of these is The King’s Hospital School, an Anglican establishment since 1669, sitting on its own grounds in Palmerstown, near Phoenix Park, on the outer edges of the city centre, and has a fine reputation for both educational quality and sportsmanship. St. Andrew’s College is often ranked alongside King’s Hospital as another impressive Protestant-run school for boys and girls of academic bent, and sits in Booterstown, just set back from the south Dublin coastline.
For the girls, there is Anglican offering Alexandra College in Milltown, on the southside. Home to the oldest field-hockey club in Ireland, it still turns out international players, as well as young ladies who go on to the very best universities.
The major Catholic-run schools tend towards the single sex and, in the case of the boys’ schools, the only thing more rigorous than the academic programme is the approach to rugby as being second only to the sacraments in terms of the health of the soul. The common thread to all of them is an exceptional reputation for academic, artistic and sporting excellence and the production of well-rounded young people with the confidence to both lead and create. They also all teach the Irish curriculum up to Leaving Certificate.
For the boys, Belvedere College and Gonzaga College are run by the Jesuits – Belvedere sitting bang in the city centre, Gonzaga sitting where villagey Ranelagh and Rathmines meet. Belvedere has a great track record for the arts and graduates disperse to some of the world’s leading universities, especially those in the US. Gonzaga has a religion and residence requirement, necessitating all boys to be Catholic and living south of the Liffey.
The Vincentians have control of Castleknock College which sits in the diplomatic heart of Dublin, near Phoenix Park, however, they accept boys of all Christian faiths into one of the oldest of the boys’ schools. Blackrock College, in the heart of Southside Suburbia, gave us Eamon de Valera and Bob Geldof as well as a slew of Irish rugby internationals. It is run by a trust including representatives of the Holy Ghost Fathers and local laity and has a reputation of being pretty near the top of the tree for its type of school.
On the female Catholic side, Loreto College sits smack on St Stephen’s Green in the city centre, has a solid reputation, and does heroic work in helping to stock the two principal universities in Dublin – UCD and Trinity, as does Mount Anville Secondary School, sitting between the southern suburbs of Mount Merrion and Dundrum, which also has its own Montessori Junior School.
There is an array of non-fee-paying options for those moving to Dublin, generally day schools. Of these, Coláiste Íosagáin, a state girls’ school in Stillorgan, to the south of the city centre, comes firmly top of the tree while, for the boys, Catholic University School in Lower Leeson Street, near St Stephen’s Green in the heart of Dublin, is the one to beat.
Co-ed options include the venerable Wesley College, in the gracious southside suburb of Ballinteer, which is run by the Methodist Church in Ireland and has a redoubtable music and theatre department, as well as a formidable sporting record and the highest of academic standards, while, for the more vocationally-minded, Kylemore College in Northside Ballyfermot still offers a lot of vocational courses, especially in terms of music, in honour of its foundation, while also continuing on a steep upward curve with broader academics. Another school dating back to the 19th century and offering boarding is St Columba's College in Whitechurch, whilst.
Should you wish to send your child to board outside Dublin, or are considering living in other parts of Ireland, there are also some excellent options in the private sector outside of the capital. Kilkenny College – the oldest continuously-running private school in Ireland in the city of Kilkenny, in the southeast – is a mixed-religion (though mainly Protestant) establishment with a firm academic record and good sporting prowess, as well as about a 50/50 boy/girl ratio. Very healthy number going to top universities in Ireland and elsewhere.
Newtown School – on the south coast, in Waterford, this Quaker school caters for all talents and sends a large quantity to top Irish universities, 35% to IT colleges and offers the Leaving Cert vocational programme as well as its academic partner. Limerick, in the southwest, plays host to Villiers School – a Protestant school with a large proportion of expat students from across Europe and Asia mainly. Just outside the city is Glenstal Abbey, run by the Benedictines. It is Ireland’s Ampleforth, with an emphasis on excellence almost as firm as its Benedictine ethos. It sends a large proportion to the Dublin universities as well as top universities abroad.
Middleton College in County Cork has been running for over 300 years but has only had 17 headmasters in that time. Co-ed since the 1970s, it is housed in a grand villa a short drive from Ireland’s second city. Clongowes Wood College is the closest to Dublin without being Dublin. It gave us James Joyce and the smack of Jesuit academe for boys in the gladed countryside of County Kildare, west of Dublin. It has a vastly above-average record in the Irish Leaving Certificate.
These are usually left to the schools to decide in terms of programmes, but expect a variety of sports, from the usual hockey, football and rugby to their Gaelic counterparts, along with a lot of artistic options – Ireland’s creative reputation doesn’t come from nowhere.
Headfort and Aravan, the two prep schools to beat, are now no longer with us, and the primary tier is not well represented in the private sector, but Castle Park School in Dalkey and the aforementioned International School of Dublin make sure the smaller people are well catered for, while some of the bigger schools, such as St Andrew’s, the Lycée, Nord Anglia and Sutton Park School (this last in the northside suburb of Sutton) offer taught-through options from primary all the way to Leaving Cert or equivalent.
For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in Dublin & the rest of Ireland considered by expats'.
For the expat seeking a top-quality, well rounded private education for their child, Dublin has an embarrassment of riches and, depending on where you are looking, any parents shaky in their belief in the hereafter should not be put off by the religious ethos of most of the schools. Mass education came to Ireland through the churches, and Ireland’s reluctance to completely shelve its religious image has meant that secular alternatives are not as abundant, but most schools worth their salt do not put a heavy pedal on religious affiliation for consideration for entry.
Outside of the capital, your options continue, albeit more sparsely spread. But with a desire to train more young minds to be international leaders in their field, the now-resurgent Ireland is keen to point out that, whether state or private, their education system is lauded as one of the best in the west.