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Belfast Academy

Belfast Royal Academy
School Crest
Motto per vias sapientiae
(Latin "by the ways of wisdom")
Established 1785
Type [Grammar day school]
Headmaster JMG Dickson, MA
Warden of the Governors P Sefton
Founder Rev. Dr James Crombie D.D.
Location Cliftonville Road
BT14 6JL
Northern Ireland
Students 1,400 (approx.)
Gender Mixed
Houses Shaw, Currie, Pottinger & Cairns
Colours Maroon, Royal Blue
Publication The Owl
Affiliations HMC

The Belfast Royal Academy (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 eight Northern Irish schools whose Headmaster 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 January 1888.

The "barring out" incident

Early in the morning of 12 April 1792 a group of schoolboys (eight boarders and two day boys) barricaded themselves in the mathematical 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. Rueben 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 Roulston Foster, 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-)

The school crest

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

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.

The house system

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.

The honours system

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 (blue owls) and major honours (gold owls). In addition, 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 or drama, 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.

Notable alumni



  • Belfast Royal Academy: 1785-1935, by Hugh Shearman
  • 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

  • Official school website
  • Ben Madigan website
  • BRA and the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme
  • BRA Old Boys' Association

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

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