seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Opening of the Belfast Academical Institution

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.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Birth of Sir Samuel Ferguson, Irish Poet & Barrister

sir-samuel-fergusonSir Samuel Ferguson, Irish poet, barrister, antiquarian, artist, and public servant, is born at 23 High Street in Belfast on March 10, 1810. Ferguson is perhaps the most important Irish poet of the 19th century. Due to his interest in Irish mythology and early Irish history he is seen as a forerunner of William Butler Yeats and the other poets of the Irish Literary Revival.

Ferguson lives at a number of addresses, including Glenwhirry, where he acquires the love of nature that informs his later work. He is educated at the Belfast Academy and the Belfast Academical Institution, and then moves to Dublin to study law at Trinity College, obtaining his bachelor’s degree in 1826 and his masters degree in 1832.

Because his father has exhausted the family property, Ferguson is forced to support himself through his student years. He turns to writing and is a regular contributor to Blackwood’s Magazine by the age of 22. He is called to the bar in 1838, but continues to write and publish, both in Blackwood’s and in the newly established Dublin University Magazine.

Ferguson settles in Dublin, where he practises law. In 1848, he marries Mary Guinness, a great-great-niece of Arthur Guinness and the eldest daughter of Robert Rundell Guinness, founder of Guinness Mahon bank. At the time he is defending the Young Irelander poet Richard Dalton Williams.

In addition to his poetry, Ferguson contributes a number of articles on topics of Irish interest to antiquarian journals. In 1863, he travels in Brittany, Ireland, Wales, England, and Scotland to study megaliths and other archaeological sites. These studies are important to his major antiquarian work, Ogham Inscriptions in Ireland, Wales and Scotland, which is edited after his death by his widow and published in 1887.

His collected poems, Lays of the Western Gael is published in 1865, resulting in the award of a degree LL.D. honoris causa from Trinity College. He writes many of his poems in both Irish and English translations. In 1867, Ferguson retires from the bar to take up the newly created post of Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland. As reward for his services, he receives a knighthood in 1878.

Ferguson’s major work, the long poem Congal is published in 1872 and a third volume, Poems, in 1880. In 1882, he is elected President of the Royal Irish Academy, an organisation dedicated to the advancement of science, literature, and antiquarian studies. His house in North Great George’s St., Dublin, is open to everyone interested in art, literature or music.

Ferguson dies on August 9, 1886 in Howth, just outside Dublin city, and is buried in Donegore near Templepatrick, County Antrim.