The Church of Ireland and Mammon

This is the shocking state of St James Parish church at the junction of Cliftonville and Antrim roads in Belfast.

Built in 1869, of red sandstone, the body of the church was heavily damaged in the Belfast Blitz in 1941. The tower survived and the rest of the church was re-built in 1946.

Brian Moore, in his novel, the Doctor’s Wife, misremembered the bombing and wrote that the spire was destroyed.

Some years ago, as the congregation dwindled, the Representative Church Body, which has held the property of the Church since disestablishment , indicated that they were putting the church on the market.

A local charitable institution proposed that , if the church and halls were transferred to it, for their use, they would be kept in good and proper condition and the small congregation could continue to worship there.

This proposal was rejected and the church was sold to the highest bidder, the Antiochian Orthodox Church of St Ignatius.

Since then , it appears to have been passed on, or sublet to St Gregorios Indian Orthodox Church.

This is the disgraceful condition of the grounds and outer walls.


I do not know how much the Church of Ireland pocketed for this transaction but it flies in the face of practical Christianity.


How long before it goes on fire and becomes an even bigger blot on the landscape?



Belfast Royal Academy-a new chapter?

Belfast Royal Academy , the oldest school in the city, has a new Principal.

The school has about 1,400 pupils in the grammar school, about 196 of whom are entitled to free school meals.

Its A level performance has been deteriorating over the last four years. Department statistics show that the percentage of pupils achieving three or more A levels at grades A* -C fell from 78% in 2012/13 through 70%-73%-71% in subsequent years.

This compares [although those who know more about these things, say ‘not really’] with the top performing secondary schools in Northern Ireland which achieve in the upper 80% or in some cases over 90%.

In its  2012 Annual Report, mention is made of sending three pupils to the ancient universities. Thereafter , there is sparse mention of more than one such achievement, annually. The Methodist College sent 8 pupils to OxBridge in 2013/14.

Standards have clearly fallen within the school. This is always, ultimately , the responsibility of the Board of Governors.

The Board has appointed Mrs Hilary Woods as Principal. She was , for three years, Principal of Antrim Grammar School. During that relatively short tenure , for a Head, she was also  [for some period] Assistant Principal of Craigavon Senior High School.


Antrim Grammar’s performance in the comparative A level statistics is 77%-76%-77%-76%. It is not 80% as claimed by the school’s website. [Read the very small print]

Mrs Woods was Head of a school half the size of BRA, with about 52 pupils on free school meals and a budget of £3 million, largely controlled by the Education Authority. She had about 46 teachers.

She now takes command of a budget of over £6 million and 80 staff.

She is the first external appointment to the position of Principal since 1943. She faces a daunting task, to restore and indeed to improve academic standards.

As the Warden said to me “a new chapter”.

Let’s hope so.

Jack Kyle

I met Jack on a number of occasions. I asked him, what is the difference between the game then and now? He said that if he had received a pass from his scrum half and found forwards in front of him, he would have thought that they were lost. The unanimous  description of him, in life and in death, is “gentleman”. His rugby skills will never be surpassed. His service to medicine and to  the people of Zambia were astonishing. He was erudite and wonderful company.

Young medics and rugby players could have no better role model.