Royal Belfast Academical Institution

The Royal Belfast Academical Institution, is an Independent grammar school in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Locally referred to as Inst, the school educates boys from ages 11 to 18. It is one of the eight Northern Irish schools represented on the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference. The school occupies an 18-acre site in the centre of the city on which its first buildings was erected.

Royal Belfast Academical Institution
College Square East

, ,

TypeVoluntary Grammar School
MottoQuaerere Verum
(To Seek the Truth)
FounderWilliam Drennan
Chairman of the Board of GovernorsMr Colin Gowdy
ChairmanColin Gowdy
Number of students1060 (approx.)
Houses     Dill
Colour(s)Black and Gold          
NewspaperSea Horse
YearbookSchool News
AffiliationsInchmarlo Prep.
Former pupilsInstonians


The first demands for the school which would become "Inst" came from a group of Belfast merchants, and professional gentlemen. They insisted that the existing Belfast Academy under William Bruce did not offer a "complete, uniform, and extensive system of education." They hoped that a new school would give more access to the 'higher' branches of learning as well as to those which would fit youths for a practical commercial career. The foundation stone of Inst was laid, in pouring rain, on 3 July 1810 by George Augustus Chichester, 2nd Marquess of Donegall. Donegall owned much of the land in the Belfast area and granted the school a lease for the grounds at an annual rent of £22–5s–1d. The eminent English architect John Soane, who designed the new Bank of England in 1788, offered to draw up plans in 1809.

Building began in 1810. Money was collected to pay for the buildings by encouraging rich merchants and businessmen to subscribe one hundred guineas each for the privilege of being able to nominate one boy to receive free education at Inst. The roof of the main building was completed during the winter of 1811. The Institution was formally opened at 1:00pm on 1 February 1814. William Drennan announced that the aim was to ‘diffuse useful knowledge, particularly among the middling orders of society, as a necessity, not a luxury of life.' He also referred to the particularly noble and rural setting of the school – in front a fair and flourishing town, and backed by a sublime and thought-inspiring mountain. Until the middle of the 19th century, the RBAI was both a school and a university, a dual function which the Belfast Academy never had.


For the first three years boys normally follow a common curriculum: in the fourth year the curriculum is still general but certain options are introduced, and at the end of the fifth, boys sit the examination for the Northern Ireland GCSE. Subjects studied at AS/A2 level in the sixth form include English, Modern History, Geography, Economics, French, German, Spanish, Greek, Latin, Physical Education, Business Studies, Technology, Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Physics, Politics, Chemistry, Biology, Music and Art.


HouseHouse Colour

Sports and societies

There are numerous clubs and societies, a School Orchestra, Choir and Band, a contingent of the Combined Cadet Force, Scouts and Explorer Scouts (74th) and a Community Service Group.


The school offers a wide selection of sports, with rugby union being the most dominant. Inst have won the Ulster Schools Cup outright 32 times along with 4 shared titles, winning the cup most recently in 2017 against Methodist College Belfast. Rugby football and hockey are played in the winter; athletics, cricket (played at Osborne Park) and lawn tennis occupy the summer months; Badminton, fencing, rowing, squash and swimming (including water polo and life-saving) take place throughout the year. Teams representing the School take part not only in matches and activities within the Province, but also in events open to all Schools in the United Kingdom.

The school hockey teams have achieved many successes. The 1st XI consistently feature in the finals of all three competitions they enter (The Irish Schools Tournament, The McCullough Cup and the Burney Cup). In 2016 four Instonians played Olympic hockey, three for Ireland and one for Great Britain. In recent times other school sports have also been more frequently making headlines. Inst is one of only four schools in Northern Ireland to participate in competitive rowing. In 2005 the first ever Inst crew travelled to the Henley Royal Regatta in England. It regularly participates in various regattas throughout Ireland and abroad.

In swimming the school teams regularly go to competitions within Ireland and abroad. In 2005, 3 of the team qualified for the Irish International Schools Squad.[1] In the same year the Senior team came 3rd in the Bath Cup competition held in London. Recently the team picked up a number of medals in the Irish Schools, held in the NAC in Dublin on the 4 February 2006. Again one swimmer qualified for the International Schools Squad, while the Senior Relay Team became Irish champions in both the medley and freestyle relays, breaking both Irish Schools records in the process. On the 12 May 2006 the senior team again won the prestigious Bath Cup competition, in a new record time. In February 2007, the team again performed well in the Irish Schools, gaining numerous medals and retaining both senior relay titles. The team narrowly missed out on the 2007 Bath Cup title, being beaten by 0.4 seconds in a thrilling race which was down to the wire. However, the team did shave a huge 3 seconds off the record that they themselves had set the year before, and also took the Otter title and record for the 4x50 medley relay.

In March 2008, they won the Bath Cup again, in a new record time. They also broke the Otter Medley title, with two members winning both titles for a second time. Water polo teams have competed in various events and tours. The most recent to the Netherlands in 2006. In January 2007 the team came runners up in the Irish Schools Water Polo Championships. Numerous players have gone on to gain representative and international honours. Football (soccer) is played at Inst with 3 senior teams regularly competing in league and cup competitions, although it is not played below 5th Form. The school hosts a number of students who represent their country in various sports. Also since 2010 the Swimming Team has continued to excel winning the Bath Cup three times, the Otter Medley Cup twice and the Otter Challenge Cup four times, the most recent being a clean sweep of all three trophies in 2017.


The Music Department is overseen by Mr Philip Bolton, who in his time at the school has managed to create an award winning musical community. He is a member of the acclaimed Priory Singers and is intrinsic to the Northern Ireland musical scene. He was awarded an MBE for services to Music in Northern Ireland in the 2012 New Year's Honours List.[2]

Musical groups include the choir, which won the UTV Choir of the Year competition in 1999, the orchestra, the jazz band led by past pupil David Howell, and the string group. All of which have gathered a plethora of distinguished musical awards and achievements. Other notable figures in the music department are:

  • Mrs Ann Reid, a distinguished Violin Performer and Concert Pianist, who tutors both of these instruments in the school. She holds qualifications from the Royal Academy of Music, London. She accompanies much of the Music performances on the piano.
  • Mrs Antoinette McMichael, part-time teacher at Inchmarlo Preparatory school. She has gathered much respect through her work in the preparatory department, for which she is the director of music.

The music performed is of all varieties and styles. In one concert, a listener could be treated to choral, jazz, gospel, classical, death metal, modern classical, rock and alternative in the space of two hours. Concerts have a reputation of being incredibly different from other school performances, with plenty of visual aspects. Among public performances and television recordings, the music department have two major concerts a year in November and March, along with the annual Carol Service, details of which may be found on the RBAI Official Website. In 2010, the Easter concert took place on 29 April in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, to mark the 200th anniversary of the school. In the bicentenary year, Philip Bolton chose to compose a new arrangement of the school song which was much more instrumental, to a largely positive response.


The school sponsors 74th Belfast (RBAI) Scout Group which opened on February 12, 1926. The first Group Scoutmaster was Mr William (Billy) Greer who led the Group for 38 years. One of the first Patrol Leaders, Mr Wilfred M Brennan, became Chief Commissioner for Northern Ireland. In 1929, the Group was so large it contained three Troops.

War time saw a former Assistant Scoutmaster, Mr John Haire, killed when his Hurricane Fighter was shot down on May 6, 1940. His family donated an annual prize for Scouting activity. By 1945, 205 out of 430 former members had served in the armed forces or in the merchant navy. A memorial cairn was built on Bessy Bell near Baronscourt in Co Tyrone to commemorate the 18 old boys who had made the supreme sacrifice. There is a memorial plaque in Baronscourt Parish Church to this day.

In 1940, Mr JH Grummit became school Principal and later became the Group's first County Commissioner. In 1947, three Sea Scout Patrols were formed. The Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme was started in the early 1960s.

Mr Ronnie Hiscocks led the Group from 1965 to 1992. September 1970 saw the formation of the new Venture Unit for boys aged 16+. In 1987, the 100th Gold Duke of Edinburgh's Award was presented to a member of 74th with many of these Scouts going on to claim the Queen's Scout Award. The sea and land sections combined in 1971. That same year saw the Group travel to the continent for the first time, to Kandersteg in Switzerland.

In 1992, Mr Martin Keane took over the Group and the boys got to experience Martin's love for mountaineering at home and abroad. 1995 saw a long record of consecutive summer camps come to an end.

In 1997, Mr David Scott became only the Group's fourth Group Scout Leader. 2005 saw the Group travel outside Europe for the first time (to Canada). In 2008, the Group partnered with Habitat for Humanity NI to go to Argentina to build homes for the poor. Trips to Mozambique, Cambodia and Ethiopia followed. In 2011, a number of Scouts met HRH Prince Edward and Mr Scott became Belfast County Commissioner. In 2012, a contingent of Scouts attended President Obama's visit to Belfast's Waterfront Hall. 2015 saw the Group become a registered charity. 2016 saw a number of 90th anniversary celebrations.

The Group continued to maintain high participation with 85 young people in the Scout Troop (ages 10.5 to 14), the Explorer Unit (14 to 18) and the Scout Network (18 to 25) in 2017.


The school's debating society, more properly known as the Royal Academical Debating Society, is the oldest continuously extant body of its kind in Ireland and is currently overseen by Lynn Gordon and Chris Leathley. The society meets regularly at both junior and senior level and aims to develop initiative, confidence, and an appreciation of the culture of both debate and civilised argument. Debates are lively, sometimes controversial, and provide a platform for social, political and cultural debate articulated in a considered and eloquent manner. Two internal competitions are run within Inst. There is an Inter-House Debating Competition (current champions are Larmor) and the Gawin Orr Public Speaking Competition which are both held annually. The Royal Academical Debating Society also holds an annual dinner at which members celebrate past successes and wish leaving members well.

The inaugural RBAI Invitational Debating Tournament was held in 2007 and has continued on an annual basis since then. Inst have won this tournament on three occasions (2007, 2009 & 2010) whilst St Malachy's were the victors in 2008. In 2008, an Inst team won the first Debating Matters Competition to be held in Northern Ireland and the following year, Michael Frazer won Best Individual Speaker. School debating teams have recently been some of the most successful in the province, reaching the final of the Northern Ireland Schools Debating Championship on five occasions (1998, 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2014), and have won the prestigious competition twice, defeating Thornhill College, Derry in 2007 and Bangor Grammar School in 2011 in the final at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

Royal Belfast Academical Institution has successfully competed in many European Debating Competitions. In 2009, the Inst team won the NI European Youth Parliament Competition and went on to represent Northern Ireland in the UK Finals held in Durham. In March 2010, Inst also participated in the All-Ireland European Council Debates held annually at Dublin Castle. Representing Germany, the RBAI team were awarded 2nd place out of the 28 teams from across Ireland who competed, with RBAI also winning the TE Utley Memorial Award with an essay on the future of Britain in geopolitics. Inst also regularly participate in the European Council Debates held in Stormont.

Combined Cadet Force

Another prominent society is that of the Combined Cadet Force (CCF), which is overseen by Major Wallace. With both RAF and Army sections, the Inst CCF contingent is regarded by many as one of the strongest in the UK. The Army-section is the current holder of the Northern Ireland Cadet Military skills Trophy for Team and individual skills. Various other trophies are held, both individually and collectively for performance in military and civil.

Old Instonians

The school has an "old boys" club known casually as Instonians and formally as the Belfast Old Instonians Association (BOIA). At present the Rugby, Golf and Cricket section of the club are open for all to join, whilst the Hockey club is still open to past members of the school only. Originally set up as an "old boys" only club, the sports club was opened up to the public in response to the notable flow of Instonians to Great Britain for further education, many of whom did not return to Northern Ireland. This led to fears that the club would die out as current members grew older but were replaced by less and less 'new blood', owing to the dwindling number of Instonians choosing to remain in Northern Ireland. The association also functions as a means for ex-pupils to find old school friends, or get in contact with other Old Instonians in their area if they move abroad. The association provides this by producing a directory of all members on a regular basis. There are annual Instonians dinners held by the association, in Belfast, London and New York City, which aim to further the feeling of brotherhood in the shared experiences of the school's sons.


Royal Belfast Academical Institution has a preparatory department called Inchmarlo, founded in 1907 and now set in a 6-acre (24,000 m2) site on Cranmore Park, off the Malone Road in South Belfast. Inchmarlo House was the former home of Sir William Crawford, a Director of the York Street Flax Spinning Mill. It employs 11 full-time staff and caters for boys aged between 4 and 11 whose standard uniform consists of traditional school-caps, shorts, knee-high socks, school-blazers and leather satchels. It constantly attains impressive results in the 'eleven-plus exam11-plus' examination with 75% of pupils gaining an 'A' grade. Of those, approximately 99% (around 40) transfer to the main school every year. The Headmaster of Inchmarlo Preparatory School is Mr Andy Smyth, and his Vice Principal is Andrea Morwood.[3]


Academia and Science

Media and Arts








  1. "Principal's report, February 2005, naming the 3 Irish Schools squad members". Retrieved 17 April 2007.
  2. "2012 New Years Honours List" (PDF). 2012 New Years Honours List. Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  3. "Inchmarlo Staff List". Archived from the original on 11 March 2016.
  4. Phoenix 2005, p. 66.
  5. Young 1892, p. 323.
  6. "Former Fellows of The Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783 – 2002" (PDF). Retrieved 6 July 2018.

Reference bibliography

  • Phoenix, Eamon (2005). "Francis Joseph Bigger: Historian, Gaelic Leaguer, and Protestant Nationalist". In Phoenix, Eamon; O'Cleireachain, Padraic (eds.). Feis Na NGleann: A Century of Gaelic Culture in the Antrim Glens. Ulster Historical Foundation. pp. 65–77. ISBN 9781903688496.
  • Corporation of Belfast (1892). Young, Robert Magill (ed.). The Town Book of the Corporation of Belfast, 16131816, edited from the original, with chronological list of events, and notes. Belfast: Marcus Ward. (The Town Book of the Corporation of Belfast at the Internet Archive)

Further reading

  • Smith, Crosbie; Wise, M. Norton (1989). Energy and Empire: A Biographical Study of Lord Kelvin. Cambridge University Press. pp. 9–10. ISBN 9780521261739.
  • Jamieson, John (1960). The History of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, 18101960. Belfast: William Mullan and Son Ltd.
  • Stevenson, Joseph (24 May 1816). "Papers relating to the Belfast Academical Institution". REPORTS, ALSO, ACCOUNTS AND PAPERS, RELATING TO IRELAND. 9. The House of Commons. pp. 389–399.
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