Belfast Royal Academy

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Belfast Royal Academy
Belfast Royal Academy Crest January 2012.jpg
School Crest
5-17 Cliftonville Rd

BT14 6JL

Typeday grammar school
Mottoper vias sapientiae
(Latin "along the roads of wisdom")
Religious affiliation(s)non-denominational
FounderRev. Dr. James Crombie
Warden of the Board of GovernorsK.A.Knox Esq. MSc.
HeadmistressMrs Hilary Woods
GenderMale and Female
Age11 to 18
Enrolment1,200 (approx.)

Currie      Pottinger     

Colour(s)Maroon, Navy Blue
PublicationThe Owl

The Belfast Royal Adacemy (commonly shortened to B.R.A) is the oldest school in the city of Belfast, Northern Ireland.[1] It is a co-educational, non-denominational voluntary grammar school situated in north Belfast. The Academy is one of 8 schools in Northern Ireland whose Head is a member of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference


The Academy was founded in 1785 by Rev. Dr. James Crombie. Originally situated near St Anne's Parish Church in what is now Academy Street, it moved to its current location on the Cliftonville Road in 1880. For more than a century the school was named Belfast Academy. On 27 November 1887, Queen Victoria granted permission for the school to style itself Belfast Royal Academy, and its name was officially changed in November 1888.[citation needed]

"Barring out" incident[edit]

In 1867, a group of schoolboys (eight boarders and two day boys) barricaded themselves in the towers classroom. In doing so they “declared war against the masters until their requests should be granted[2]”. As they expected to be holed up for some time, they had taken a quantity of provisions from the academy kitchens; further they managed to arm themselves with 5 pistols and a large quantity of gunpowder and shot. A letter, headed “Liberty Hall”, was sent by the students to their masters in which they stated they would not surrender until their demands had been met. The academy authorities, in an attempt to break the siege, sent workmen to break down the door and pour water down the chimney, without success, as the boys opened fire on them. Finally the Sovereign of Belfast, Rev. William Bristow, was summoned, he “read the Riot Act” to the boys but failed to end the barring out, and one of the boys opened fire on him. Later that night the siege ended; the boys were later beaten and then expelled.[3]


  • Rev. James Crombie, DD, (Universities of St Andrews and Glasgow) (1785–1790)
  • Rev. William Bruce, DD, (Trinity College, Dublin and the University of Glasgow) (1790–1822)
  • Rev. James Gray, DD, (1822–1826)
  • Rev. Reuben John Bryce, MA, LLD, (University of Glasgow) (1826–1880)
  • Dr William Collier, LLD, (Trinity College, Dublin) (1880–1890)
  • Mr T. W. Foster, MA, (Trinity College, Dublin) (1890–1898)
  • Mr T. R. Collier, MA, (Queen's College, Belfast) (1898–1923)
  • Mr Alexander Foster (rugby player) MA, (Queen's University, Belfast) (1923–1942)
  • Mr John Darbyshire, MA, (University of Liverpool) (1943–1968)
  • Mr Louis Lord, MA, (Trinity College, Dublin) (1968–1980)
  • Mr William Sillery, MA, (St. Catharine's College, Cambridge) (1980–2000)
  • Mr William Young, MA, (Queen's University, Belfast) (2000–2008)
  • Mr Moore Dickson, MA, (Pembroke College, Cambridge) (2009–2017)
  • Mrs Hilary Woods, BSc, (Stranmillis College, Belfast and the University of Ulster) (2017- )

School crest[edit]

The school crest comprises the rose, the thistle and the shamrock, along with the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom, the Arms of the City of Belfast and those of the Province of Ulster. The three significant dates mark the foundation of the school in 1785, the transfer to the present site in 1880 and the approval by Queen Victoria of the designation Belfast Royal Academy in 1888.

Preparatory department[edit]

The school's preparatory department, Ben Madigan Preparatory School, is located on the Antrim Road in the shadow of Cave Hill. Originally opened in 1829, it moved to its current site in 1965. A pre-prep was opened in 1998.

House system[edit]

When a pupil enters the Academy he or she is placed into one of the four houses: Shaw, Currie, Pottinger or Cairns, named after distinguished past pupils: James Shaw, Donald Currie, Henry Pottinger, and Hugh Cairns, 1st Earl Cairns, for whom the house colours are yellow, green, red, and blue, respectively; each pupil must wear a tie with a stripe of his or her house colour on it.

Honours system[edit]

As a pupil progresses through the Academy, he or she can earn honours through excellence in sport and/or the arts. There are minor honours, allowing a pupil to wear a minor honours tie, (green owls) intermediate honours (blue owls) and major honours (gold owls). In addition, a pupil gaining intermediate honours is entitled to wear a black blazer with maroon braid surrounding a golden school badge. A pupil gaining major honours in sport is entitled to wear a distinctive maroon blazer with blue braid and a gold school badge. Pupils who receive major honours in the arts, be it for music, drama, or art & design are entitled to wear a blue blazer with maroon braid and a gold school badge. The honour, e.g. Cricket XI 2004 or Music 2002, is stitched in gold letters under the badge for both intermediate and major honours.

Notable alumni[edit]


Academia and Science




Media and Arts




  1. ^ Belfast Royal Academy: The First Century 1785–1885, by A. T. Q. Stewart
  2. ^ Early Education in Belfast
  3. ^ Belfast Royal Academy: 1785–1935, by Hugh Shearman


  • Belfast Royal Academy: 1785–1935, by Hugh Jackman
  • Belfast Royal Academy: The First Century 1785–1885, by A.T.Q. Stewart
  • Belfast Royal Academy: The Second Century 1885–1985, by Edward McCamley

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 54°36′54″N 5°56′20″W / 54.61500°N 5.93889°W / 54.61500; -5.93889