The Royal School, Armagh

The Royal School, Armagh

The Royal School, Armagh is a co-educational voluntary grammar school in the city of Armagh, Northern Ireland. It was one of a number of 'free schools' created by James I in 1608 to provide an education to the sons of local merchants and farmers during the plantation of Ulster. It has four 'sister' schools: Royal School Dungannon, in Dungannon, County Tyrone, Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, The Cavan Royal School in County Cavan, and The Royal and Prior School in Raphoe, County Donegal. The original intention had been to have a "Royal School" in each of Ireland's counties (James I Order in Council read, “that there shall be one Free School at least appointed in every County, for the education of youth in learning and religion” ) but only five were actually established and the schools planned for other counties never came into being.

Originally intended to be sited at Mountnorris in South Armagh, the turbulent situation in Ulster at the time led to a move to the relative safety of Armagh City. Despite this, an early headmaster of the school, John Starkey, and his family, were drowned by insurgents during the 1641 Rebellion. The school arrived at its current 27 acre site on College Hill in the 1770s. A boys' school from its inception, the Royal School was amalgamated with Armagh Girls' High School in 1986 to become co-educational.

The Barring Out

In 1823 a number of pupils staged the "Barring Out"; arming and barricading themselves into a dormitory. Their actions were in protest at the cancellation of their usual Wednesday half-day holiday by Dr. Guillemard, the headmaster. Dr. Guillemard's action was a result of the pupils' failure to identify those responsible for placing an explosive device near the fire in the boarders' common room. The doctor was in the habit of warming himself by this fire in the evening, and was blown across the room by the resulting explosion.

The boys brought in bread, cheese, wine, whiskey, beer and pistols, before barricading themselves in. When the school caretaker attempted to break through, they shot at him. The local militia was called but took no action. After three days the boys surrendered and were soundly flogged by the same caretaker at whom they had shot.

Royal sport

A more productive outlet for the pupils' youthful exuberance was eventually found in Rugby Union and the school was the inaugural winner of the Ulster Schools Cup, beating Royal Belfast Academical Institution after three replays. They won it again the next year and continued to dominate the early years of the competition, winning it seven times in the first ten years. Fortunes waned after this, with only three finals contested between the victories in 1885 and 1977, none of which was won by the Royal. However, this lack of success is mitigated by the fact that the school did not compete in the competition for around fifty years following the death of a pupil during a match in 1928.

The Royal last won the Schools Cup in 2004, beating Campbell College in the final. Tragically, John McCall, the captain of that team, died 10 days after the final whilst playing for the Ireland U19 rugby team in the IRB U19 World Championship in South Africa. John had been told of his selection for this team on the day of the Schools Cup final. A few months later, a second member of the squad, Todd Graham, was killed in a road accident whilst visiting his parents at their home in Africa. These dual tragedies brought a harrowing perspective to what had been an otherwise extraordinarily successful year, with the Royal becoming the first school since Methodist College Belfast in 1936 - and only the second school ever - simultaneously to hold the Schools Cups for rugby and girls' field hockey. The Cricket 1st XI were beaten semi-finalists in their equivalent competition. The girls' hockey team won the Kate Russell All-Ireland hockey trophy on the day that John McCall died.

The Girls' Hockey Team won the Schools Cup in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008 and were beaten finalists in 2005.Also obtaining the title of the best youth hockey team in Europe in 2008. In 2004/2005, Amy Stewart became the youngest ever full Irish International whilst still a pupil at the school in her fifth year. Hannah Bowe, sister of Ulster and Ireland rugby player, Tommy Bowe, who also attended the school, was also called up to the Irish squad.


The Old Armachians is a social organisation consisting of former pupils of the Royal School. The following are some of the Royal School's distinguished former pupils:

*Leonard Gillespie - Appointed Physician-General to the fleet under Admiral Lord Nelson in 1804 aboard HMS Victory. [ Ulster Medical Journal*]
*Viscount Castlereagh - British Foreign Secretary 1812-1822.
*Admiral Dreyer - Captain of HMS Iron Duke at the Battle of Jutland, British representative at the League of Nations Military Committee.
*Richard Wellesley - Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Governor General of India. He attended the Royal School in the 1770s. It is suggested that his younger brother, Arthur Wellesley, better known as the Duke of Wellington was also at the Royal School around the same time, although this is doubtful.
*Sir John Hall Magowan, British Ambassador to Venezuela 1948-1951
*Lord Kilclooney of Armagh(Rt Hon John David Taylor MP)
*Sir Reg Empey - Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (2005 - )
*Mr. Bruce Robinson - Permanent Secretary, DETI
*Tommy Bowe - Irish Rugby International
*Major-General Edward Pakenham - British Army General

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