Belfast Royal Academy - founded 1785


Our School – History of the School

The Belfast Royal Academy was founded in 1785 and is the oldest school in the city. Originally situated near St. Anne’s Cathedral in what is now Academy Street, it was transferred to the Cliftonville Road in 1880, when the present building was erected.

For more than a century the school was named Belfast Academy. In 1888 Queen Victoria granted permission for the school to style itself the Belfast Royal Academy. The School Crest comprises the rose, the thistle and the shamrock, along with the Royal Arms, 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.

Belfast Royal Academy is a voluntary grammar school and its management is vested in a Board of Governors on which parents and teachers are represented, along with Governors elected by Members of the Academy and nominees of the Minister of Education.

Former pupils include Lord Cairns (Lord Chancellor in the nineteenth century), and in the modern era, the diplomat Sir Francis Evans, the jurist Sir Donald Murray, the rugby footballer Jack Kyle, the journalist John Cole, and the former Minister for Sport, Kate Hoey M.P. Two former pupils, who are both distinguished scientists, were elected on the same day to Fellowships of the Royal Society: Professor Denis Weaire of Trinity College, Dublin and Professor James Stirling of the University of Cambridge. In addition, Professor Ian White is Master of Jesus College, Cambridge.

Pupils are assigned to one of the four houses – Cairns, Currie, Pottinger and Shaw.

  • Cairns House (Blue) commemorates a most eminent old boy, Sir Hugh Cairns, who became Attorney General for England in 1866, and in 1874 was appointed Lord Chancellor.
  • Currie House (Green) is named after Sir Donald Currie, the shipping magnate who was involved in
    British expansion in South Africa. He also founded the Sir Donald Currie Scholarship. He died in 1909.
  • Pottinger House (Red) is named after Sir Henry Pottinger, who became the first Governor of Hong Kong in 1843. He later became Governor of the Cape of Good Hope and the Governor of Madras.
  • Shaw House (Yellow) commemorates Mr James Shaw who was Head of the Classical School and Vice Principal of the Academy for many years.