Achievement recognised by Royal School

St Mark’s Parish Church, Armagh was the venue on Thursday 22nd September for the return of the prize-giving ceremony of The Royal School, Armagh. Following the academic procession, the ceremony was opened with the singing of ‘Crown him with many crowns’, and in prayer from the Rector of St Mark’s Rev. Canon M T Kingston and the Head Girl Sarah Johnston. The Chairman of the Board of Governors, Archbishop John McDowell, welcomed all present including the Chief Guest and speaker, former pupil, Mrs Joan Burney-Keatings. Mrs Burney-Keatings is a film producer and the Chief Executive of Cinemagic, an award winning film charity. The Cinemagic Belfast Festival is the leading film and television festival for children and young people in the UK and Ireland. She attended the Royal School before studying at the University of Ulster. Archbishop McDowell said that the school continued to thrive with the highest number ever on roll when the Royal Play Group, the Preparatory Department, boarding and the grammar school were counted together. He thanked the governors and staff who had worked so hard throughout the year, paid particular tribute to those governors who had retired from the board and welcomed the new governors who had joined it.

Chief Guest and speaker, former pupil, Mrs Joan Burney-Keatings

The Choir, bolstered by leavers for whom this occasion marks the last chance to sing together, sang ‘An Irish Blessing’ by Bob Chilcott. The Headmaster, Mr Graham Montgomery, then delivered his report to the school. Referring to the disruption of the pandemic he explained that despite periods of lockdown a lot had happened in 2020 and 2021 and he would therefore touch on school activities over a three year period.

Early in his speech Mr Montgomery paid tribute to former Deputy Head Girl Jeni Larmour who had tragically died just at the start of her studies at Newcastle university. He described her as, “a spirited and independently minded girl with clear views, which she was happy to articulate in a respectful manner who was possessed of a well developed sense of justice and clearly had a bright future ahead of her”. He concluded this section of his report by saying that the school was delighted to be presenting the Jeni Larmour Memorial Trophy for the first time that night.

Mr Montgomery, reflected on how things had changed since the last time Speech Night had taken place, there had been a global pandemic, a war of aggression in Europe was being waged and most recently our longest reigning sovereign had died. He observed that given the long history of the school these were not novel events and throughout challenge and change the school would remain wedded to its historic twin aims set out in the letters patent granted by King Charles I in 1627, “For the increase of learning and good manners”. He emphasised that it remained the case that academic achievement and the development of good character and a life well lived were fundamental to the mission of the school.

The Headmaster, Mr Graham Montgomery

Mr Montgomery acknowledged and thanked parents for their special contribution to the success of the Royal School and its pupils particularly throughout the trials presented by the COVID 19 pandemic. He paid tribute to staff who had left the school, some of them following decades of service and welcomed all those who had arrived since 2019.

Regarding academic achievement Mr Montgomery said that the 2022 A Level results had been the finest in the school’s history with 92% of all grades awarded to Royal School pupils falling within the A*-C range and an overall pass rate of 100%. It was noteworthy that 80% of grades awarded were within the A*-B range. In total over thirty percent of Royal School pupils who sat A Levels achieved straight A grades or better with two achieving 4 A* grades and one pupil winning a place at Oxford. He was delighted to report that she was the third pupil to go up to Oxbridge in the last few years and that the vast majority of all Sixth Form leavers had secured a place at their first choice of university.

At GCSE pupils also performed superbly, surpassing Northern Ireland averages. 97% of all grades awarded were ‘C’ or above with over half of them in the A*-A range.

In total thirty-six pupils achieved at least 8 A grades. With two gaining 11 A* grades! Mr Montgomery said all this success was a credit to the young people who studied hard and performed well, but also a tribute to the commitment and professionalism of school staff and clear evidence of the encouragement, support and cooperation of parents and families.

The headmaster reported that interest in the boarding department remained strong with 97 young people from across the globe calling the Royal School “home”. The strength of boarding, observed the headmaster, was that it had a truly international flavour with pupils drawn from across Ireland, Europe and the middle and far east. The Preparatory Department, under Dr Kirsten Carson-McClenaghan’s excellent leadership, remained a dynamic and welcoming place and Mr Montgomery was delighted to report that all P7 applicants had successfully gained admission to the grammar school.

The Senior Choir, conducted by The Head of Music, Mr Boyd

Mr Montgomery referred to the vital importance of extra curricular activities which the school believes to be essential to developing sound character, leadership capacity and resilience. These included local, national and global service opportunities such as the ASHA team which went to work in the New Delhi slum community of Trilokpuri in October 2019.  They were delighted to see the progress many residents had made and that some had been successful in obtaining places at Delhi university.  During the pandemic over £11,000 was donated by the school to ASHA to relieve the situation in parts of New Delhi.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme continued to be a significant feature of school life with over 300 pupils engaged in one of the three awards in school in the previous twelve months.

Sport continued to be a major feature of school life.  Just before it was cancelled in 2020 the 1st XV was about to play Wallace High School in the final of the Ulster School’s Cup.  The 2021-22 season had arguably been the most successful in the schools sporting history.  After a hesitant start to the season the 1st XV got into their stride, eventually winning the Danske Bank Ulster Schools Subsidiary Shield.   After a number of nail biting matches the 2nd XV won the plate competition, the 3rd XV were quarter finalists in their cup competition as were the 4th XV in their Plate campaign. The U16 XV were defeated in the final of their shield while the Medallion XV reached the semi finals of the shield before being defeated.  Teams played regularly throughout the season at U14, U13 and U12 levels.

Hockey had an equally strong season with the 1st XI winning the Mid Ulster League and being runner up in the Senior Schools Cup. The 2nd XI won the Mid Ulster League and the McDowell Cup, and the 3rd XI were runners up in the Ulster Gibson Cup. The U15XI won the Mid Ulster League.  The U14XI had an outstanding season winning the Mid Ulster League, the Ulster Junior Cup and the June Smith Al Ireland Schools Championship.  The U14B team came third in the Mid Ulster League, as did the U13XI and the under 12XI. The boys 1st XI reached the semi final of the Prior Shield.

In bringing his report to an end the headmaster mused how the leavers were at an exciting time of their lives as they let slip the mooring ropes which had kept them close at school and set out on an uncharted sea of possibilities. He wished them every blessing for the journey they were setting out on.

Joan Burney-Keatings then gave a very personal, heartfelt and thought provoking speech touching on her time at school and some of the activities she had enjoyed.  She talked about the important experiences she had had since leaving school and the lessons for life she had learned in developing Cinemagic to have the impact and reach it has today.  She encouraged pupils to keep believing in themselves and their potential, to keep trying new things and to trust that God had a plan for their lives.

An Old Armachian Society Medal was awarded to Dr Wilfred Mulryne O.B.E., headmaster from 1978 to 1988 in recognition of the work he had done in successfully leading the amalgamation of the Royal School and Armagh Girls High School.  Mr Mulryne was honoured as the man who had helped save two schools from closure and create a vibrant and strong co-educational school on College Hill.

After the ceremony parents of leavers and prize-winners enjoyed refreshments with staff and Governors in the Crozier Hall, rounding off a special evening for all involved.

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