St Patrick’s, Bearnageeha—the first Roman Catholic maintained post-primary school in Belfast—opened its doors for the first time on Wednesday, 31st August, 1955. The school was constructed at a cost of approximately £250,000 and offered places to 450 young men.
Those boys who crossed the threshold in September 1955 and the initial 18 teachers—including Headmaster Paddy O’Neill—who greeted them would blaze a trail that has guided every generation since.
St Patrick’s school inherited its subtitle from Bearnageeha House, the mansion around which the College is built. The name ‘Bearnageeha’ is phonetically derived from the Gaelic phrase ‘bearna gaoithe’, meaning, ‘the windy gap’. While little evidence survives as to why Bearnageeha House received its name, it has been suggested that it was related to its isolated location within the original Fortwilliam Estate; surrounded by the Belfast hills.
Headmasters Billy Steele and George Salters were charged with steering the school through difficult and turbulent times. Headmaster PJ O’Grady raised the profile of the school within the local and wider community, ensuring that the presentaion and behaviour of the students were of the highest standard. PJ O’Grady retired from his position as Headmaster in August 2011. Ms Paula Stuart became Principal in September of the same year, bringing a strong focus on raising standards and student achievements.
As would be expected, the school’s blueprint has changed considerably over the course of five decades. Increased demand for places and the raising of the school leaving age led to the need for more classrooms. The construction of the G Block, along with new dining and library facilities, soon followed. In recent years the College has welcomed the construction of a brand new technology department and a state-of-the-art on-site sporting facility. Continuing improvements to the site, infrastructure and resources are high on the agenda of Ms Stuart, who has already managed to secure in excess of £2.3million from the Department of Education to up-grade the school facilities.
List of Principals:
1955–1960: Mr Patrick O’Neill
1960–1980: Mr Billy Steele
1980–1997: Mr George Salters
1997–2011: Mr PJ O’Grady
2011–Present: Ms Paula Stuart