seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Opening of the Belfast Academical Institution

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belfast-academical-institutionThe Belfast Academical Institution, later the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, a grammar school in Belfast, is opened on February 1, 1814. Today, locally referred to as Inst, the school educates boys from ages 11 to 18. It is one of the eight Northern Irish schools represented on the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference. The school occupies an 18-acre site in the centre of the city on which its first buildings were erected.

The first demands for the school which would become “Inst” comes from a group of Belfast merchants and professional gentlemen. They insist that the existing Belfast Academy under William Bruce does not offer a “complete, uniform, and extensive system of education.” They hope that a new school will give more access to the “higher” branches of learning as well as to those which would fit youths for a practical commercial career. The foundation stone of Inst is laid, in pouring rain, on July 3, 1810 by George Augustus Chichester, 2nd Marquess of Donegall. Donegall owns much of the land in the Belfast area and grants the school a lease for the grounds at an annual rent of £22–5s–1d. The eminent English architect John Soane, who designed the new Bank of England in 1788, offers to draw up plans in 1809.

Construction begins in 1810. Money is collected to pay for the buildings by encouraging rich merchants and businessmen to subscribe one hundred guineas each for the privilege of being able to nominate one boy to receive free education at Inst. The roof of the main building is completed during the winter of 1811. The Institution is formally opened at 1:00 PM on February 1, 1814. William Drennan announces that the aim is to “diffuse useful knowledge, particularly among the middling orders of society, as a necessity, not a luxury of life.” He also refers to the particularly noble and rural setting of the school – in front a fair and flourishing town, and backed by a sublime and thought-inspiring mountain. Until the middle of the 19th century, the RBAI is both a school and a university, a dual function which the Belfast Academy never had.

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