Oxford St


The Misses McGill, two sisters from the Ormeau Road, were very concerned about the sons of bargees plying on the canal between Belfast and Lough Neagh. The horse-drawn barges were ferrying sand to what is now known as the Laganbank Road. In the old days it was known as the Sand Quay. The boys helped their fathers by guiding the horses along the tow path. They didn’t attend school. The McGill sisters undertook to endow a school provided it was run by the Christian Brothers. St. Malachi’s, Oxford Street, was the result. That was almost 150 years ago. It was a project that would be very close to the heart of Blessed Edmund.

As the years went by no boys worked on barges. The traffic on the canal dropped dramatically as no more sand was required for building purposes. There were many pupils drawn from the market area. The school was in the middle of the city and so was accessible by bus and train from places like Comber, Bangor, Newtownards – even some boys took a ferry across Strangford Lough from Portaferry to come to Oxford Street. The school enjoyed a great reputation, thanks to dedicated Brothers and teachers. There were five teaching, there was no office and a tiny playground. But there was a wonderfully friendly atmosphere where everyone knew everyone else. It was condemned as unsuitable for school purposes in 1925 but continued for another forty years. The school had quite a number of boys of Catholic-Protestant marriages. Mixed marriages were forbidden at the time in the Diocese of Down and Connor. People put in a qualifying residential time and got married in the Republic or in England. Many of them started their homes in the suburban areas to avoid the prejudices which they might encounter in the sectarian city. Schooling became a problem when the children arrived. Oxford Street was the terminus for many suburban buses and we accommodated boys of mixed marriages, depending on availability of space.

Because the school was so congested we were given a generous number of periods in the Ormeau Avenue public baths. Training football and hurling teams became very difficult due to the long distances from the Ravenhill and Falls Parks. Despite all odds, we persisted.

A feature of the school was the freedom parents enjoyed to send their sons to St. Mary’s, Barrack Street or St. Malachy’s College. Some went to Hardinge Street or to St. McNissi’s, Garron Tower. Brother Stephen Burns was Headmaster in Oxford Street for a very long time. Brother Lynham was his assistant when I went to Belfast in the early 50’s. There were three other teachers: Dickie Morton, Tom Bradley and Gerry Colohan. I joined the staff in Brother Lynham’s place in June 1953 when Brother DM O’Connell had replaced Brother Burns. Over the next eleven years Brother O’Connell was replaced in succession by Brother JV Sullivan and Brother TF Beausang. Kathleen Clarke and John Shiels replaced Mr. Morton and Mr. Colohan. I left for India in November 1964. Brother T. Lynch was Headmaster from 1965 and locked the door on St. Malachy’s School, Oxford Street as a Brothers’ school for the last time in the following year.

Brother Maurice B. Finn CFC

Goa, India

Br. Malachy Murphy (“JM”) RIP on Oxford Street C.B.S.


It was the only school we had that was not parochial property and had been built for the Brothers by virtue of a trust set up by a Mrs. Magill for the “sons of bargees”, according to a plaque on the wall. I could never trace Mrs. Magill beyond learning that she was a wealthy and charitable lady who lived in Bangor. The ’bargees’ in question were workers on the Lagan Canal, but, over the years, because of its siting close to the terminus of the Co. Down Railway, and where many of the South and East Belfast tramlines converged, it became popular with a number of better-off Catholics living in those areas, as many parents among the scattered Catholic population found it easier to deliver their sons to Oxford Street than to the local parish school.
In June 1956 I had a meeting with Mr. Benn, Deputy Head of the Education Ministry. We reviewed the situation in the Brothers’ schools and he expressed his personal view that Oxford Street should close. The Principal, Br. O’ Connell, and I investigated a number of possible sites, but in such a built-up central city area we were not successful.
In the mid-sixties Br. Leonard was Superior of the Brothers’ Community in Somerton Road and was under pressure to provide a Primary School for the rapidly increasing Catholic population of the Upper Antrim Road. He proposed to me that I should close Oxford Street and he would ask the Education Ministry to agree to the opening of a school on the Antrim Road. I gladly agreed but made the stipulation that Oxford Street staff be accepted in the new school, and so arose the bizarre fact that Our Lady of Lourdes P.S., Park Lodge is, on paper, a replacement for Oxford Street.
In 1965 there was a General Inspection held in Oxford Street and the Inspectors reported that the accommodation situation was critical. In the circumstances Br. Leonard’s proposal was opportune and in the summer of 1966 admissions to the school ceased. In August 1968 the opening of the new Grammar School on the Glen Road allowed the transfer of the remaining Oxford Street pupils to Barrack Street and in June 1972 the last class in the Oxford Street School transferred to secondary education and the school was officially declared closed.