ST MARY’S (1929 TO 1998)




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