Celebrating 400 years of The Old Grey Mother

St Anne's Church filled with RSD staff, pupils and guests
St Anne's Church filled with RSD staff, pupils and guests

2014 sees The Royal School Dungannon celebrate 400 years as a school. Although the Royal Charter was issued in 1608 by King James, the school came into being at Mountjoy in 1614, with John Bullingbroke as the first Headmaster, before moving to Dungannon later in the 1600s.

Over the past week, a number of celebratory events have taken place to mark the occasion.

An Exhibition of the Royal School’s illustrious history ran throughout the week alongside the

events which included: a 400th Ulster History Blue Circle dedicated to James Dilworth; RSD hosting of Dilworth School’s rugby tour players, and a match between the two 1st included the unveiling of a new honours board dedicated to RSD’s most notable past pupils.

An Anniversary Service in St Anne’s Church; the unveiling of a 400 years of History RSD began life as one of five Royal Schools set up by Royal Charter by King James I in 1608 to educate the sons of English and Scottish planters in Ulster.

In 1614 a school was founded at the walled village of Mountjoy on the shores of Lough Neagh, and the first Headmaster, Mr John Bullingbroke, was appointed.

Sometime later, most likely in 1662, the school moved to Dungannon with the school house sited in Union Lane and there it remained until 1789 (the year of the French Revolution) when the Archbishop of Armagh, Richard Robinson, and the then Headmaster, Rev Dr William Murray, erected the building we now know as ‘The Old Grey Mother’ in Northland Row.

The 1789 building acquired the nickname of The Old Grey Mother after the red sandstone with which it was built was rendered with cement sometime in the 19th Century.

New windows and doors were required but the Board of Governors had insufficient funds for

sandstone blocks and instead used handmade brick. To preserve a unified appearance the building was covered with cement.

Throughout the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries RSD faced many challenges but through the foresight of its Governors and successive Headmasters and with the support of its community of loyal staff, pupils and parents the school endured and then grew.

The 1800s saw the addition of a gym (now the school’s Sixth Form Centre), the cloisters and

ball alley as well as dorms and school rooms.

In 1888 Miss MacDermott’s Girls Royal School was opened in the north wing of The Old Grey Mother, only coming to an end in 1925 with the opening of the Dungannon High School for Girls.

The curriculum evolved too in this period, with science and technical subjects joining the

traditional classics.

By the time of the First World War RSD pupils benefitted from trips to the continent (the first Irish school to do so) and innovative teaching practices, such as teaching in the target language in French.

After a period of privation in the 1920s and 30s the school was back on its feet in the 1950s

and 60s, under the leadership of Headmasters Mr Alex Gaudin and Mr James Kincade, with the addition of a new science block, lecture theatre, 10 teaching rooms and the Assembly Hall.

Development continued in the 1980s and 1990s under Headmaster Mr Paul Hewitt. This included amalgamation with the High School which brought girls back to RSD in 1986 and the new build and refurbishment of 1999-2003, headlined by the new Ranfurly wing and re-development of the Lower Campus.

The current Headmaster, Dr David Burnett, appointed in 2009, is the 21st in its 400 year history.