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The Royal Belfast Academical Institution, commonly known as Inst, is a private, voluntary, non-denominational grammar school for boys, founded in 1810, in College Square, Belfastmarker, Northern Irelandmarker and is a member of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC). The school occupies an site in the centre of the city on which its first buildings were erected; major additions in 1953, 1957, 1960, 1964, 1983, 1991, 2000 and 2003 provide modern and specialised facilities and account for half the present accommodation. In addition to 40 classrooms, there are 16 science laboratories, 2 lecture rooms, 2 gymnasia, Art and Music departments, Sixth Form Centre, Common Hall, Dining Hall and an indoor heated swimming pool. A new sports hall has been added and Christ Church, a state of the art facility containing a new library, careers suite and 3 IT suites, was also opened.

For the first three years boys normally follow a common fish curriculum: in the fourth year the curriculum is still general but certain options are introduced, and at the end of the 5th Form, boys sit the examination for the Northern Ireland GCSE. Subjects studied at AS/A2 level in the sixth form include English Literature, Modern History, Geography, Economics, French, German, Spanish, Classical Civilisation, Media Studies, Latin, Technology, Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Physics, Politics, Chemistry, Biology, Music and Art.

Rugby football and hockey are played in the winter; athletics, cricket and tennis occupy the summer months; badminton, fencing, rowing, and swimming (including water polo) take place throughout the year. Teams representing the school take part not only in matches and activities within Northern Ireland, but also in events open to all schools in the United Kingdom.

There are numerous clubs and societies, a school orchestra, choir and band, a contingent of the Combined Cadet Force, Scout and Venture Scout units and a Community Service Group.

Over four-fifths of each year's leavers go on to university or to full-time courses in other institutions of higher and further education.

In addition to a large number of prizes throughout the school, endowed scholarships offered in the sixth form are tenable for travel or at university.

Candidates for admission to the Main School should be under 12 on July of the year of admission and applications must be received by mid-February. Boys who are regarded by the Department of Education for Northern Ireland as qualified for grammar school education have their tuition fee paid by their local Education and Library Board. There is an annual capital fee for the 2005/06 academic year of £6900.50 and £450.75 stationery. For new pupils there is also an insurance charge of £115.75 and a refundable book deposit of £650. Scholarships are awarded to the school boys whose work shows outstanding progress during their school career.

The school motto is "Quaerere Verum" - To seek the truth.


The first demands for the school which would become Inst. came from a group of well-to-do Belfastmarker merchants, and professional gentlemen. They insisted that the existing Belfast Academy under Dr. 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 Belfastmarker 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 Englandmarker 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 the 1st of 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 Inst. was both a school and a university, a dual function which the Belfast Academy never had. This was of course before Queen's Universitymarker was opened and the only University in Irelandmarker was in Dublinmarker. The present system of Headmasters of Departments is a reminder of the days when Inst. had professors and what today we would call ‘faculties‘


  • Dill - House Colour - Red
  • Jones - House Colour - Yellow
  • Kelvin - House Colour - Green
  • Larmor - House Colour - Black (However, the tie stripe is white due to the black background)
  • Pirrie - House Colour - Blue
  • Stevenson - House Colour - Brown

Distinguished alumni

Sports and Societies


The school offers a wide selection of sports, with rugby union being the most dominant. Inst have won the Ulster Schools Cup outright 29 times along with 4 shared titles. The school's coaches are Darren O'Neill and Richard Hedley. The school boasts the highest representation of British Lions and Irish Rugby players in the British Isles .

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). The current Ireland captain, Patrick Brown, is a former Instonian.

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 Englandmarker. 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. In the same year the Senior team came 3rd in the Bath Cup competition held in Londonmarker. 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 Holland 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 .

Unlike some other grammar schools in Ireland, which play Gaelic Games or Rugby to the exclusion of soccer, 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.


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.

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, full time Music teacher in both Inchmarlo Preparatory and the main school. She has gathered much respect through her work in the preparatory department, for which she is the director of music, and most recently produced "Little Shop of Horrors" (2007).

The music performed is of all varieties and styles. In one concert, a listener could be treated to choral, jazz, gospel, classical, modern classical, rock and alternative in the space of 2 hours. Concerts have a reputation of being incredibly different from other school performances, with plenty of visual aspects and also frequent light-hearted humour, courtesy of the conductor, Mr Bolton.

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 will take place in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, to mark the 200th anniversary of the school.


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 Marina Matchett and Chris ("The Big Dog") 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. The inaugural RBAI Invitational Debating Tournament was held in January 2007, with teams from Bangor Grammar School, Victoria Collegemarker, and St. Malachy's Collegemarker taking part. The event was a great success, and it is hoped to continue in future years. The school debating team won the Northern Ireland Schools Debating Championship in April 2007, defeating Thornhill College, Derrymarker in the final at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

Combined Cadet Force

Another prominent society is that of the Combined Cadet Force (CCF), which is overseen by Emma Gick and, former RBAI student and CCF member, Gareth Johnston. 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 Championship Trophy for Team skills (having won the trophy twelve times in the past thirteen years). A member of the Army Section, Elliot Lyness, is also the surrent holder of the United Kingdom Land Forces, Cadet Leadership Course, best cadet award, making him the best cadet in the UK. Various other trophies are held, both individually and collectively for performance in military and civil skills.

Old Instonians

The school has an "old boys" club known casually as Instonians and formally as the Belfast Old Instonians Association (B.O.I.A.).

At present the Rugby, Golf and Cricket section of the club are open for all to join, whilst the Hockey club is still closed 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 Britainmarker 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 in Belfastmarker, Londonmarker and New York Citymarker held by the association which aims to further the feeling of brotherhood in the shared experiences of the school's sons.


R.B.A.I. also has a preparatory department (Inchmarlo), founded in 1907 and now set in a 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 '11 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 Alan Armstrong, and his Vice Principal is Malcolm Guy.

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