St Columb's College

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St Columb's College
St Columb's College logo new.png
Buncrana Road

TypeGrammar school
MottoQuaerite Primum Regnum Dei
(Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God)
Religious affiliation(s)Roman Catholic
Established3 November 1879 (1879-11-03)
PrincipalFinbar J Madden
Age11 to 18
Colour(s)  [1]

St Columb's College is a Roman Catholic boys' grammar school in Derry, Northern Ireland and, since 2008, a specialist school in mathematics. It is named after Saint Columba, the missionary monk from County Donegal who founded a monastery in the area. The college was originally built to educate young people into the priesthood, but now educates young people in a variety of things.

St Columb's College was established in 1879 on Bishop Street (now the site of Lumen Christi College), but later moved to Buncrana Road in the suburbs of the city.

Early history[edit]

St Columb's College was preceded by several failed attempts to create such an institution in Derry. Repeated but sporadic efforts were made to maintain a seminary for almost a century; at Clady, near Strabane, in the late eighteenth century, at Ferguson's Lane in Derry in the early nineteenth century and at Pump Street (first reference to St Columb's College as such) in the city from 1841 to 1864.

St Columb's finally opened its doors on 3 November 1879 with two priest teachers, Dr Edward O'Brien and Dr John Hassan. The school was considered to be quite large at the time and was expected to accommodate 20–30 boarders. The school quickly gained a reputation for academic achievement. On 18 September 1931 the Derry Journal listed St Columb's College's academic results. They were as follows; Two University Scholarships, Three Exhibitions and Prizes, Six Calls in King's Scholarship Exam (calls to teacher training), Two Pupil Teacherships, Eight regional Committee Scholarships, 31 Passed Matriculation, 26 Passed Senior Leaving Cert. Exam, 52 Passed Junior Leaving Cert. Exam. The results were impressive for a young and regional school but they were testimony to the scholarship that was taking place at St Columb's.

The Education Act, 1947 and expansion[edit]

One of the most notable alumni of St Columb's College, John Hume, noted, "When the history of St. Columb's College in this century is written, it will be clear that one of its major transformations, if not its major transformation, took place as a result of the Eleven Plus examination." The Education Act, 1947, provided for free secondary education to all throughout the United Kingdom. Entry to St. Columb's College, a Grammar school, would be determined by one's performance in the 11-plus or Transfer Test. The immediate result was an explosion in pupil numbers, a shortfall in teaching staff and greater pressure on existing resources. In 1941 the student body numbered 263. By 1960 the number stood at 770 with a teaching staff of 35. In under twenty years the school's size had tripled. It was now clear that additional facilities would be needed. In September 1973 St. Columb's College opened a new campus on the Buncrana Road in the city. The new site would cater for the senior years; its initial enrolment was of 900. The new building was designed by Frank Corr of Corr & McCormick and constructed by J Kennedy & Co. The total cost was £762,000.[citation needed] This figure does not include the £56,000 spent employing W & J McMonagle Ltd to construct the playing fields.


The school has a long and successful sporting history, with its students competing in many events across the country. It has excelled in soccer, Gaelic football, basketball and has produced many athletes.

Nobel Prize winners[edit]

The school claims two Nobel laureates amongst its alumni. They are:

Notable former pupils[edit]

The college's former pupils association makes an annual award (the Alumnus Illustrissimus Award) to "a past-pupil who has achieved something of major significance or has made a considerable contribution in his own field". Notable winners of the award are as follows:

Other alumni and names associated with St Columb's include:

The Boys of St Columb's[edit]

St Columb's featured in the film The Boys of St.Columb's made by West Park Pictures and Maccana Teoranta for RTÉ. Following the lives of several great Irish figures including Nobel Laureates Seamus Heaney and John Hume who all attended the same small school in Derry in the 1950s and have helped transform modern Ireland. The Boys of St Columb's was released on DVD in early March 2010 by Digital Classics DVD.

Presidents of St Columb's College[edit]

Name Period of Presidency Notes
Edward O'Brien 1879–1880 Ordained in 1859 he became the first President of St. Columb's College in 1879. He formerly held the Chair of Rhetoric at St Patrick's College, Maynooth. Pope Leo XIII conferred on him the degree of D.D. and he was appointed Vicar General of the diocese.
John Hassan 1881–1888 Ordained in 1879, he took his D.D. the same year. Pope Leo XIII made him a domestic prelate and conferred on him the dignity of monsignor. Vice-rector of the Irish College from 1888 until his death in 1891.
Thomas McCloskey 1888–1890 Ordained in Rome in 1886
Charles MacHugh (bishop) 1890–1905 Ordained 1881. Bishop of Derry 1907–26. Figured prominently in campaign against conscription. He was one of 18 Catholic and 3 Protestant Bishops who signed manifesto against Irish partition on 7 May 1917. Led the first Irish national pilgrimage to Lourdes. As Bishop he preferred to live in the College and it was there that he died.
Bernard O'Kane 1905–1919 A graduate of the Royal University and ordained in 1891. A brilliant scientist, he was a regular contributor to technical journals on astronomy, light and radio waves and modern wireless, working in parallel with and sometimes anticipating the discoveries of Guglielmo Marconi. He was bishop from 1926–39.
John McShane 1919–1927 Ordained 1900. He was President during the troubles of 1920 when the College was at the centre of a small but deadly civil war. He was opposed to corporal punishment – a man before his time.
Neil Farren 1928–1939 Graduated from University College, Dublin with first class honours in 1914. He received a BCL and a BD from Maynooth in 1916 and 1918, respectively. Awarded the degree of DCL for his (later published) thesis Domicile and Quasi-Domicile. He became Ireland's youngest bishop in 1939. During the Second World War he was appointed "ordinary" of the American forces in Ireland, a kind of bishop away from home, and his services were recognized by the award of the United States Medal of Freedom.
Joseph O'Doherty 1939–1943 Ordained 1919. A talented ventriloquist and prestidigitator.
Eugene O'Doherty 1943–1944 Ordained 1921. He received a D.D. for his thesis, Doctrinal Process and its Laws. His is the shortest presidency on record as he was appointed Bishop of Dromore within months of his assuming the post.
Patrick McDowell 1944–1950 Ordained 1925. He received a D.D. for his postgraduate work on The Church and Economics at Dunboyne House. Appointed a domestic prelate with the rank of monsignor in 1966.
Anthony Columba McFeely 1950–1959 Ordained in Rome in 1932. Noted for his patronage of the school plays and musicals of the time. Consecrated as Bishop of Raphoe in 1965.
John Farren 1959–1969 Ordained 1941. Appointed immediately after ordination to the College staff he was to serve for almost thirty years, presiding over the planning for the move of the Senior School to Buncrana Road.
James Coulter 1969–1983 Ordained in 1943. Became official diocesan historian. Noted for his expansion of the curriculum to include German, Spanish, Economics and Accounts and for his careful management of the school through civil strife. He was made a Prelate of Honour but he refused the offer of an OBE.
Ignatius McQuillan 1983–1990 Studied at St Columb's College, St Patrick's College, Maynooth, and took sabbatical leave in 1983 at the University of Oxford. Noted for his successful introduction of the new GCSE system. He later helped found Lumen Christi College.
John R. Walsh 1990–1999 Author of A History of the Irish Church (500–700), Noble Story and Religion: The Irish Experience which is a necessary source book for the new RE syllabus in the Republic of Ireland. Noted for his consolidation of the school on the new Buncrana Road campus.
Eamon Martin 2000–2008 Studied at St Columb's College, St Patrick's College, Maynooth, Queen's University, Belfast, University of Cambridge and the Institute of Education in London. Secretary-General of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference 2008–10. Appointed Vicar General of the Diocese of Derry in 2010. Appointed Chaplain of His Holiness in 2011 and granted dignity of 'Monsignor'. Served as diocesan administrator following the retirement of Bishop Séamus Hegarty in 2011. Appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh in 2013.[2] Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland since 2014.[3]
Sean McGinty 2008–2012 First lay principal of St Columb's College.
Finbar Madden 2012–present


  1. ^ "Handbook for Parents and Pupils". St. Columb’s College, Derry. 2013. p. 24. The official College playing colours for athletic and sporting activities are: ... (royal blue/gold band and gold collar and cuffs)
  2. ^ "Rinunce e nomine, 18.01.2013" (Press release) (in Italian). Holy See Press Office. 18 January 2013. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
  3. ^

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