On 16 May 1844, a gathering of men met in Belfast and agreed to form a Wesleyan Proprietary Grammar School in Ireland "for the purpose of affording a thorough literary, scientific and commercial education, with a sound, religious, and moral training, in strict accordance with the principles of Wesleyan Methodism".
The committee originally proposed a boarding and day school for boys, in the vicinity of Belfast but later decided that the Wesleyan Connexional School should be established in Dublin which was the hub of Ireland's transport system and had a far greater population. A large dilapidated dwelling house, No. 79 St. Stephen's Green, sited on what is now part of the Department of Foreign Affairs, was leased from the trustees of The King's Hospital.
The Wesleyan Connexional School was founded in 1845 in St. Stephen's Green, Dublin by a group of Methodist Ministers and other men for the Methodist Community in Ireland. In 1879 the Methodist Conference granted the request of the School's Trustees that it would be named Wesley College.
In June 1911 the Wesley College Trustees put the following proposal to the Methodist Conference, "This committee, having had the fact brought under their notice that at the present time there is no school in the three southern provinces under the Methodist Management offering to girls the advantages of an Intermediate education, suggests to the Conference that the present is a suitable occasion for opening Wesley College to girls who desire to secure such training as will fit them for professional and business careers". The Conference responded favourably and the Trustees purchased No. 110 St. Stephen's Green as a girls' hostel. It had formerly been known as "The Epworth Club", a boarding house for young Epworth business men coming to Dublin, which had ceased to serve its purposes. The hostel was called Epworth House.
Six boarder girls and fifteen day-girls, together with the new boys, joined the 175 (approximately) boys already in the College in September 1911.
Right up to the 1940s co-education was narrowly interpreted and strictly supervised. The boys were always called by their surnames, while the girls had their surnames prefixed by "Miss". Casual conversation between the boys and girls was discouraged and they did not have meals together until the 1950s.
In 1969 Wesley College moved to its present 50 acres (200,000 m2) site in Ballinteer, a suburb of Dublin, at the foothills of the Dublin mountains. The final school activity on the old College site was the end-of-year service in the Large Schoolroom on 14 June 1969, followed by a celebration of Holy Communion in the Chapel. The official opening and dedication of the new buildings at Ludford Park took place at 3.00 p.m. on Saturday, 7 June 1969, opened by Éamon de Valera, President of Ireland.
The 1969 campus was added to in 1980, 1987, and 1991, a state of the art library and Information Technology building was added in 1999 and a new modern music and arts centre as well as a Materials Technology suite were opened in 2005.
In 1959 the College obtained from the Chief Herald an official grant of arms, which replaced that previously used. The upper part of the shield has a red ground, and bears the Bible, surmounted by a Maltese cross, an old Wesley College symbol. To the right is an escallop shell from the arms of John Wesley's family. The lower part of the shield has a blue ground and on it a flaming castle from the Dublin City arms. The scroll below the shield contains the College motto in Greek, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (I Thessalonians 5.21)
Extracurricular activities include drama, debating (where speakers have recently achieved international honours), Amnesty International, Christian Union, and many others.
In 2010 Carin Hunt, a fifth year, travelled to Qatar as part of the Irish debating team for the World's Debating. Former student Mark Haughton was the Irish Team's debating coach, and had achieved second as part of the Irish team, in the World's Debating while at Wesley. Carin went on to captain the team in the School's finals in Dundee the following year, taking them to the semi-finals.
Wesley has won the All Ireland hockey trophy as well as the Leinster Schools Senior Cup for rugby in 1898. Wesley not only places an emphasis on activities which solely help students themselves but also to move children is highly important for the teaching staff. Students in Transition year are able to reach out in various ways such as classroom assistance, helping children with special needs and music teaching. In recent years a team from Wesley's Transition year has embarked on a Habitat for Humanity house building trip annually.
The students of the college also produce a monthly newspaper, Full Stop which has been providing a voice for students through the medium of the media since December 9, 2003.
Each year Wesley hosts one of the largest interschools music festivals in the country. Hundreds of students from many schools, both primary and secondary level, compete in individual and choral singing as well as individual instrumental and orchestral. The College is very famous for its commitment to, and success in, musical endeavours. In recent years this has been greatly added to with the building of a dedicated Music and Arts Centre. Included in this centre is the purpose built G. B. Shaw Auditorium, named after one of Wesley's most famous past pupils.
In 1992 the College published its fourth, and final, instalment of the Lifelines anthology. The earlier instalments were published in 1985, 1988 and 1990 by The Underground Press Ltd, Wesley College. Under format of the anthologies, a panel of students within Wesley write to notable people, such as celebrities, sports people and world leaders, asking them to highlight their favourite poem with a brief explanation for their choosing. Thus far the anthology has raised over €140,000 for Irish charity Concern. The latest edition itself has raised €29,000 and was recently honoured as the Best Irish Published Book of the Year, in the 2007 Irish Book Awards. In 2010, The National Library of Ireland purchased the original letters that were included in the original 1985 edition of Lifelines. Subsequently Wesley College donated all correspondence, photographs and other related archival material to the Library. The Discover Lifelines exhibition in the Library's main hall showed letters from this archive from writers, poets, actors, artists, media personalities and politician and ran throughout 2010. A collective edition of the anthology was published by Town House, Dublin, in 1992.
In March 2012 the fifth annual Wesley College Dublin Model United Nations conference was held, and has grown to accommodate over 300 delegates from schools around the UK and Ireland. The Secretary General for WCDMUN12 was Matthew Nuding, with Jordan Boyd as Deputy-Secretary General. The school has achieved success recently at the George Watson's College MUN conference in Edinburgh. Also at the Terenure MUN conference the Wesley Delegation representing China achieved an Outstanding Delegation award and 7 outstanding delegate awards. WCDMUN11 will take place in the college from 11–12 March 2011.
The Senior Choir at Wesley College Dublin has received many awards during the term 2011/2012. These include winning the All Ireland School Choir Competition broadcast on live RTÉ television and also winning both of their competitions in the Feis Ceol in Dublin. They have appeared on the Late Late Show on RTÉ as well as on RTÉ Radio One on Pat Kenny's morning show.
Wesley, like many other schools in Ireland made a significant contribution to the effort of the two major world wars. Over 85 students of the college lost their lives in the First World War. Their names are listed on a grand memorial in the College concourse which reads "This building was erected to the honour of all old boys of this College who ventured their lives for defence of home and country in the Great War and especially in loving and grateful memory of those who fell". (The building mentioned was the old College Chapel, where the memorial was located before the move to Ballinteer.) 25 students of Wesley, including one German, died between 1939 and 1945 in the Second World War. These are also listed on a memorial in the main concourse. Remembrance Day is marked each year with the laying of a wreath on the memorial.Lionel Booth, TD
Sir Edward Carson, barrister and MP, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party 1910-21
Henry Flavelle Forbes, C.I.E., President of the Court of Appeal, Iraq, 1920/21
Sir Robert Henry Woods MP, ENT Surgeon
Sir Robert Hart, 1st Baronet, Inspector General of China's Imperial Maritime Custom Service (1863)
Chaim Herzog, sixth President of Israel
William McMillan, and Australian politician and businessman.
H. B. Higgins, Attorney General of the Australian Government in 1904
Sir Harold J. Maguire, Director-General of Intelligence at the British Ministry of Defence (1968–1972)
Mervyn Taylor, TD, Minister for Equality and Law Reform
Senator Gordon Wilson
Senator Neale Richmond
Harry Furniss, caricaturist
David Kitt and Robbie Kitt, members of the band Spilly Walker
Annie Mac, BBC Radio 1 DJ
Niall Morris, tenor, member of the Celtic Tenors
Eva O'Connor, theatre actress, most notably in Broken Croí, Heart Briste at the Dublin Fringe Festival. Nominated for Best Supporting Actress for the Irish Times Theatre Awards 2009
Stanley Townsend, television, film and stage actor (in the BBC's Rough Diamond and other dramas)
Philip Berber, former CEO of Cybercorp and multimillionaire philanthropist, Chairman of A Glimmer of Hope Foundation
Richard Burrows, Chairman of British American Tobacco, former Governor of the Bank of Ireland
Dermot FitzGerald, Irish businessman and philanthropist
Douglas Bennett, author The Encyclopaedia of Dublin
Michael Burrows, Bishop of Cashel and Ossory
Donald Caird, Archbishop of Dublin
Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of Ireland
Frank Johnston, head of the Royal Army Chaplains' Department, British Army.
George Bernard Shaw, playwright, Nobel Prize for Literature
Ernest Walton, Nobel Prize for Physics.
2016- Josh van der Flier - rugby player for Leinster Rugby and the Irish national rugby union team
1947-59 - L. C. Jacobson
1970-89 - Mike Halliday; played 93 times for Ireland and was Captain 25 times
1997-06; Eric Miller
2016- ; Josh van der Flier
1990–96; Sylvia Gee
2008, 2012, 2016: Scott Evans (badminton)