Archbishop helps Dundalk Grammar celebrate 275th anniversary

Most Rev'd Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Armagh receives a copy of the History of Dundalk Grammar School from Trevor Patterson watched by Dr. Laurence Swan, Chairman of the board of governors at the Service of Thanksgiving to celebrate the school's 275th anniversary.  Photo: Ken Finegan
A very happy Service of Thanksgiving, led by Archbishop of Armagh, Richard L Clarke was held at Dundalk Grammar School last Friday afternoon to celebrate the 275th Anniversary of the founding of the school.

A very happy Service of Thanksgiving, led by Archbishop of Armagh, Richard L Clarke was held at Dundalk Grammar School last Friday afternoon to celebrate the 275th Anniversary of the founding of the school.

Attended by many clergy drawn from the Christian denominations in the school’s wide catchment area, the students, parents, staff and members of the Boards of Governors and Management, and many specially invited guests who have long been friends of the school.

The school choirs and orchestras sang and played and accompanied the congregation in a number of works.

The Service was followed by afternoon tea with face painting, a magician and a band playing in Gray Court, and school tours conducted by Duty Assistant students to see the recent fantastic refurbishment and new buildings for teaching, theatre and sports on the campus.

Famous novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, who visited the school in the 19th century was definitely to be seen on the campus confessing himself to be lost and finding current school fare unrecognisable from the days of his visit to Dundalk. “Give them stirabout with boiled potatoes” he was heard to mutter, but still declared that the students were exceptionally smart and well fed !

Laurence Swan, Chairperson of the Board of Governors, mentioned to reporters that :

“It was fantastic to have the Archbishop with us today on such a momentous birthday. We cannot thank him enough for finding the time in his immensely busy schedule.

“It is important that we get a message out to all parents that this school with its state-of-the-art facilities is better prepared than ever before for the days to come, and that our students will be educated to the best level that they can each attain. We are so aware that they have to be able to engage, and compete with increasing opposition on the university entry and jobs fronts with the talented students of other nations. We are in good shape to enable them to both do this and enjoy doing so.”

The celebration had begun on Thursday evening with Mr Michael Gaynor, President of the Old Dundalk Society, naming a number of buildings for families which had contributed significantly to the school’s development in the last and current centuries.

These were the refurbished 1817 central Georgian building to which the school moved in that year. This is now called “Hanbidge House” after Reverend A.A.Hanbidge who was Headmaster at the school for 33 years from 1921 to 1954. Mr. Hanbidge built the school up with little money after a period of decline during and following World War I. This building still remains central to school activities as it houses the Headmaster’s office, general administration offices, boardroom and numerous other student activity rooms.

A short walk down the tree-lined avenue later, the assembled crowd gathered below watched as Michael Gaynor declared “I name this building : Treadwell Cottage”. The wider Treadwell family have educated 20 of their children at the school over the last 80 years.

The crowd then retraced its steps to the school’s magnificent new multi-purpose hall comprising a theatre with the best in sound and lighting, basket ball and badminton courts, plus changing rooms. Henceforth it is being called “Finnamore Hall” after Headmaster Reverend A.J.Finnamore and his wife Joan (née Lait). Mr. Finnamore was Headmaster for 30 years and was a nephew of Mr. Hanbidge.

Just around a couple of corners, and the crowd stopped at a superb new sculpture by local artist and past pupil, Sandra Bell, entitled the “Seat of Learning”. Having whipped off a covering to officially unveil the work, which is lit at night by both sunken lights on its base and LEDs in a book held by an angel. Mr. Michael Gaynor praised the Department of Education and Skills and school for having the foresight to allow for the funding of such a work of art and, in particular, Ms. Sandra Bell for producing such an “imaginative, appropriate and delightful piece of work which he said he was sure would inspire many a student in years to come”.

Turning behind him to what has been known variously up until recently as the “Science Block”, and the “1989 Building” he advised all that it would now be called the “Swan Building” after Allan Peter Swan and his son, Allan Beresford Swan. Both of whom had been Governors of the school in the last century and, appropriately, scientists as well as well-known personages in Dundalk - the former as MD of The Distillery and a Chairman of Dundalk Chamber of Commerce in 1914; and the latter as an overseas cotton farmer and later as a President of the County Louth Archaeological Society, and member of the Old Dundalk Society from its inception. This takes us to the present day where “The Swan family is still much involved with this great school”, he said, “through the son and grandson of Allan Beresford , namely Laurence, and Tristan, continuing a tradition with both being Governors.

Turning back to the court yard in which all the audience were still assembled.

No more fitting a name could it get than to commemorate Mr. Alan Gray, who at the time of his death had been a Governor of the school for forty-four years. The name “Gray Court” would quite rightly now be central to the lives of students in Dundalk Grammar School lest they forget someone who had tirelessly worked to bring the school to where it is today.

Finally Mr Gaynor turned to the immense new handsome two-storey classroom block which joins to the 1817 Hanbidge House via a two-level glass-enclosed bridge. “Bishop Harper in his former position as Archbishop of Armagh, became a good friend of Dundalk Grammar School by agreeing to become the first Chairperson of the school’s Joint-Patronage Body. Also, through his considerable experience as an archaeologist in Northern Ireland and, of course, his position as Archbishop, he had assisted the school obtain planning permission for many of the works being viewed here today; but especially this new two-storey expansive classroom block.” In concluding Mr. Gaynor commented that “It is appropriate that the Board of Governors of the Grammar School wished Bishop Harper to be honoured by naming this building after him, and I know”, he said, “that the school is greatly honoured that Bishop Harper agreed to their request.”

Dundalk Grammar School wishes its great appreciation to the Department of Education and Skills to be recorded. Chairperson of the Board of Governors, Dr Laurence Swan, told our correspondent “We have found the Department officials, in their planning section in particular in this case, to have been excellent, attentive and speedy throughout this project, and always sensitive to the school’s needs. This facility in its entirety is a triumph of public and private funding as it has been paid for approximately 75 per cent by government funding and 25 per cent by the school itself. From these excellent facilities our superb staff can deliver world-class education to all our students. However, this type of work is never done ..., and we shall shortly be tackling our next developments.”

This proud moment in the schools history was attended by many interested in the history of Dundalk and education in general. Many past pupils returned to see a renaissance of their Alma Mater accompanied by many relatives from near and far of the Hanbidge, Treadwell, Finnamore, Swan and Gray families, not forgetting Bishop Alan E.T. Harper and his wife Helen.