It is fair to say that the 16/17 academic year was the most testing of my 23 year career to date and one that I never wish to repeat. Financial concerns, circulars from DENI, issues at Stormont and restructuring of the Education Authority paled into insignificance with the passing of Peter Clarke (Year 14) in October, Mrs Claire Greenaway in November and Joshua Martin (Year 12) in February. Mrs Greenaway was one of our Geography teachers. Her parents spent some time with me earlier this week reflecting on her time at the school and the impact she had on our pupils. It is a fitting tribute that a cup dedicated by her parents, Mr and Mrs Taylor, will be awarded for the first time today.
Peter, Joshua and Claire each battled their illness for a prolonged period of time; all with dignity, courage and a smile on their face. Bangor Grammar School is a better place for having had each individual as part of our school community and each passing serves as a reminder to us all of the importance of valuing life, supporting and looking after each other and embracing all the opportunities afforded to us. None of us know when it will all come to an end.
It’s unfortunate that I only have a subsection of the parental body in front of me today as I would very much have liked to say a public thank you. When the school was going through those periods of darkness and I was breaking the news to the school, supporting staff and preparing pupils for the funerals of their friends - thank you for caring, for supporting and for reaching out. I lost count of the number of emails, cards and words of encouragement that were passed on to me personally as the Principal of this school. Your kind words on more than one occasion quite simply kept me going. The same thanks should also go to my fellow primary and post primary Principals, many of whom are here today. Some of them were also dealing with pupil and staff deaths and there was a real comfort in being able to lean on those who truly understood, given the uniqueness of this role. Being a school principal is very similar to being a parent – there is no guide book - unless you are one you really don’t get it - the learning curve is steep and bumpy and no two days are the same. One day people will tell you that you are doing a brilliant job, the next the exact opposite. We have become a tight-knit bunch of Principals in Bangor and long may that support for each other continue, through the good and the bad.
In the Easter term I was saddened to learn of the passing of Walter Dowdall at the age of 89, just shy of his 90th birthday. He was an old boy who left Bangor Grammar School in 1944, having relocated from England with his brother and parents in 1939. His love for Hockey began at Bangor Grammar and took him to the position of President of the Irish Hockey Union in the 70s. Two of the hockey boys will be receiving the Walter Dowdall Prize today.
Walter served on the committee of the Old Boys Association (now Bangor Grammarians) for well over 50 years and was still a member at the time of his death, having served two terms as chairman, in the 60s and again in the early 90s. He was also the longest serving member of the Bangor Grammar School Board of Governors. He and I overlapped on the Board when I joined the school in September 2008 as Pastoral Vice Principal. I was always very much struck by his wisdom and desire for the very best provision for all the boys at the School. His love of Bangor Grammar and all things related was very much in evidence at his funeral.
The 17/18 academic year will be a better one. It has started very positively, with a number of new faces in the building. Ms Katie Morris has joined the Geography Department and Mrs Stephanie Sterrit (in a permanent capacity) the History Department. A maternity cover and a career break are being covered by Ms Claire Spiers and Dr Caroline Magill (in Biology), Dr Beth Dowler (in Chemistry) and Ms Rachel Murphy in Religious Education. We have also appointed, on a permanent basis Mr Caelan Moreland to the History Department and Ms Amanda Crossthwaite and Ms Sarah Ryan to the English Department.
New faces mean there have been departures. Dr Margaret Faulkner (who taught Biology and led Learning for Life and Work throughout the school) joined Bangor Grammar on the 1st September 1985, dedicating 32 years to supporting the pupils and providing them with a high quality education. She could often be found providing additional support to pupils as early as 8am in the morning to assist them with their learning, such was her passion for education and helping young people.
Ms Mary Garland joined the school as Head of ICT on 1st September 2001. Since then she has introduced Computing at GCSE and A level and generated, over many years, some of the highest results in the school in external examinations. I wish both ladies well in their well-deserved retirement.
Mr Mark Robinson joined the History Department in December 2011. He contributed greatly to the culture of excellence that exists within History, as well as sharing his skill and talent as a Hockey coach, given his past experiences playing for Ireland. He has moved on to Friends School, Lisburn to be the Head of History and Politics. I have no doubt he has a glittering career ahead of him which will see him rise further through the ranks.
The most recent A level external examinations were, in the main, pleasing. At the top end there were strong grade portfolios from: Patrick Eves (3A*, 1A), Matthew Graham, Mark Hamilton and Adam Thompson achieving (2A*, 1A). Jack Kevan, Matthew Agnew, Charlie Blair, Cal Ritchie and Jack Yourston all achieved 1A*, with their remaining grades being of A grade standard.
AS performance was outstanding with 4A grades from Adam Bell, Matthew Boggs, Jack Davison, Callum Devlin, Jack Gibson, Jaimie Livingstone, Morgan McCartney and Carl Rodgers.
The GCSE cohort exceeded their set performance target with the top performers being: Louis Gault-Reid 9A* and 1A; Archie Arran and Michael Cameron 9A*, and John Ewing achieving 8A* and 1A.
These grades (and those of the rest of the year group), are testament to the high quality teaching that the staff in this school provide. Thank you to all of them for their hard work, dedication and helping our young people fulfil their potential.
Our three key aims are Excellence, Community and Opportunity.
In terms of excellence, Archie Arran and Jack Steen, under the guidance of Mr Sam Wolfenden debated their way through the heats to win the NI School’s Debating Cup beating BRA in the final in April. This represents another considerable success for the Debating Society, which is deeply embedded in the history of the school and celebrated 90 years since its inception last year.
Bangor Grammar are the most successful school in the history of the NI Schools Debating Competition, having made it to the final on 11 occasions - more often than any other school in Northern Ireland. BGS have been, without contradiction, the dominant force in NI Schools Debating over the last decade and long may this continue.
The Senior Drama production under the direction of Mrs Katrina Payne, supported by Miss Amanda Crossthwaite and Mr Daire Cunningham, were responsible for the production of a superb performance of Romeo & Juliet. The play had a successful three night run in November at the Space Theatre in Bangor, with Lewis Bret in the lead role as Romeo. As ever, there were strong performances from all cast members including pupils from Glenlola Collegiate and St Columbanus’ College.
The Chamber Choir under the direction of Mrs Claire Buchanan won the Grammar School Class at the Bangor International Choral Festival, as well as the George Best Belfast City Airport Trophy for the best senior choir in the Festival.
Under the watchful eye of Mr Jason Morgan and Mr Phil Cartmill, 1XV Rugby Team won the Bowl Competition on Wednesday 1st March. The final score against Regent House was 41 – 3. It proved to be a very exciting and well-played game of rugby. I was delighted for the boys and their coaches that they returned home with silverware, given their many hours of dedicated training. Their win came in the same week as Joshua Martin’s passing and it was just wonderful to have an opportunity to call the school together and celebrate – it lifted the mood of the school considerably.
A number of individual pupils have excelled in their school based sport of choice at the highest levels. We now have a junior commonwealth champion in our midst - Aaron Sexton (Year 13) won the gold medal for the 200m in July in Barbados. He is also the current Irish Champion over this distance and at 100m.
Zach Kerr (Year 14) is now representing the school on the U19 Ulster Rugby Squad, with Ben McCrossan and Aaron Sexton on the U18 squad and Gareth Wells, Riley Westwood and Sam Murray on the U17 squad.
Harry Dow and Stephen Hamill are both now playing hockey on the U18 Ulster and Irish squads.
In tennis, Harry Ellesmere is the U16 Irish Tennis Champion (the Irish equivalent of Junior Wimbledon).
Whilst last year was a difficult one, there was also much to celebrate. Out of tragedy came solidarity, with the year 14 pupils organising and leading a fundraising event for the NI Children’s Hospice which raised £7,804.82. Impressively, the charity total last year was £29,000, with many charities benefitting from the generosity of pupils, parents and staff.
BGS welcomed visitors from Selma, Alabama who joined us for a day in our school in March as part of a reconciliation tour. This was organized through Ballygrainey Church and was an experience enjoyed by all. That evening, the Abanna New Life Choir performed a great evening of music and singing, bringing the school’s assembly hall to life. It was a wonderful evening which was very well supported by the local community.
The Bangor Rotary Club was responsible for bringing the four post-primary school music departments together for the ‘Raise the Roof’ concert hosted at Bangor Academy. As ever, BGS pupils, under the tutelage of Mr Paul O’Reilly and Mrs Claire Buchanan, were an absolute credit to the school with the standard of performance across all schools being outstanding.
Our school governors play a very active and relevant role in this school, always giving willingly of their time and expertise. Thanks to the involvement of one of our governors, Mrs Mae Burke with the Alzheimer’s Society, we were asked if our pupils would trial dementia-friendly resources for CCEA and assist in making a video to increase awareness of the impact of Alzeheimers as part of the Learning for Life and Work Programme. Mr Philip Ramsey and his year 9 class contributed to the making of the promotional video and there was a successful launch event held at the school last year.
Our pupils avail of a vast amount of opportunities both inside and outside of the School depending on their area/s of interest.
Lewis Mackinnon (Year 11) went to Leicester City Football Club last term for a trial and has also been selected for the Northern Ireland squad to play in Sweden. He is currently being scouted by 14 football clubs - many of them in the premier league. Exciting times ahead for Lewis. Staying with the football theme, Finlay Keenan (Year 11) was selected by the IFA to represent Northern Ireland in the Festival D’Amor in France last June.
Jacq Watton (Year 13) was selected to represent the Northern Ireland Karate Squad in the IKU World Championships being held in Kilkenny in October.
James and Max Skelton, Ross Fulton and Joel Smith played Table Tennis for Ulster in the Inter Provincial Championships. Last month James competed in the UK School Games representing Ulster and his younger brother Max (Year 9) was representing Ireland in the Euro-Minis in France.
John Ewing (Year 13) was selected to play on the Ulster U21 Table Tennis Team. Incidentally John sits on the youth panel for NICCY working with the Children’s Commissioner.
Mark Stoops and Jack Angus both continue to excel in swimming and represented Ulster at the Irish Schools Interprovincial Championships 2017.
The Junior Golf team of Jude Devlin, Max Carson, Ross Christie, and Adam Smith missed finishing in first place by one shot in the Ulster Schools Junior Championship and the Senior Badminton Team won the Ulster Senior Boys Cup.
During the summer, Dan McGaughey won Bronze in sailing in the Topper World Championships out of 160 boats.
The areas I have just touched upon are a brief summary of the stand out points from the past academic year - I think you will agree our boy are a diverse and talented bunch.
It would be wrong of me to not acknowledge the work of the senior teachers in the school especially given the past year. Thank you gentlemen for your quiet, unstinting support. I know I drive you all nuts and am, at times, like a second nagging wife but your efforts and hard work are greatly appreciated and as a team we all complement each other very nicely.
Finally, I would like to end my speech today by acknowledging and thanking our non-teaching staff for their unstinting hard work and dedication to BGS. This school simply would not run without them – dealing with the finance, phone calls, administration and recruitment for the school; the technicians supporting curricular areas; the facilities team completing their routine tasks and maintaining the building and school grounds and the classroom assistants who provide quality support for their charges. As a body of teachers and non-teachers, we are effective in providing a high quality education to the boys in Bangor who attend this school. Thank you.
-Mrs E Huddleson, Principal
Year 8 Ballykinler Residential
Following the retirement of Ann Cowdrey, Miss Amanda Crossthwaite has been appointed as the new Teacher-In-Charge of Library at BGS.
Miss Crossthwaite is an avid supporter of the Accelerated Reader Program, which under Ann Cowdrey’s eagle eye was nominated in 2016 for the ‘Top Performing School in Northern Ireland’, before actually winning the award in 2017. BGS hopes to sustain this amazing achievement through continuing to promote a positive attitude to reading in the future.
Bangor Grammar School are delighted to have won this Renaissance Award in 2017; it is testimony to the enthusiasm of our students and the diligence of our staff, and is an excellent example of the reading culture promoted at Bangor Grammar. Given that traditionally girls are celebrated as excellent readers we are especially pleased that we, as an all-boys school, have been identified as the Top Performing Secondary School in Northern Ireland. We are currently updating our novel selection and hope to run some exciting initiatives this year which will help Bangor Grammar’s Library Department go from strength to strength. Many thanks to Renaissance Learning for the recognition of our school’s effort!
Stranger Than Fiction
Many thanks to past pupil Roy Willis for permitting us to share with our readers this story of the library book he recently returned to Bangor Grammar School – a mere fifty one years overdue!
In the accompanying letter (pictured below), which Roy delivered with the book to astonished library staff, he explains how he borrowed the book around April or May 1966 to help with revision for his English A-Level examination.
Roy moved to London more than 40 years ago after graduating from Queen’s University. The book, 'Patterns in Shakespearian Tragedy' by Irving Ribner, ended up being hidden away on a bookshelf.
Poland Trip, October 2017
Forty fatigued boys, five fabulous teachers and one luxurious tour bus. If any school ever wants to know the secret of a successful history trip; tell them just that.
Each year Mr Wolfenden and a selection of other teachers organise and lead a trip to Poland - Gdansk, Warsaw and Krakow - to educate BGS boys on the history of Poland, particularly during the Second World War.
The Warsaw Uprising museum, as might be assumed, covers all aspects of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. In the museum there are exhibits over several floors, containing photographs, audio and video, artefacts, written accounts and other testimonies of how life was during the German occupation of Warsaw, the uprising and its aftermath. What made this museum so special for me was how brilliantly it communicated the enormous bravery of the Poles in trying to liberate Warsaw from the Germans. In leaving the museum my admiration for the Polish people was tremendous.
Another memorable part of the trip was visiting the Hitler’s wartime HQ - known as the 'Wolf’s Lair' - in northern Poland. This was the site of the famous ‘Valkyrie’ assassination plot. Walking past the huge ominous buildings and knowing the horrors that were plotted and planned in them was a truly unsettling experience. We were aware that any place you planted your foot could have also been where Adolf Hitler had stood 78 years prior.
In contrast, the atmosphere at the underground salt mines in Krakow was clear and refreshing and is even thought to have health benefits because of the lack of air pollution. The Wieliczka salt mine reaches a depth of 327m and is over 287km long. The rock salt is naturally grey in various shades, resembling unpolished granite rather than the white or crystalline look many visitors expect. Workers at the mine would spend long periods underground without going back to the surface, so numerous underground churches were constructed from the naturally found salt. The Polish are a religious people and one of the popular gifts to buy at the mines is a cross made from salt. In my quest to bring my mother back (as demanded) the biggest cross I could afford, I rushed into the first gift shop and bought the largest cross there. I was disappointed to find a bigger cross in the next shop so I bought it too. You can imagine how I felt on finding a third shop which, as you will have guessed, contained the largest cross of all. By this stage I was totally committed and proudly left the mine with three crosses increasing in size and value, confident that the 70 zloty would be worth my mother’s approval.
It goes without saying that visiting Auschwitz concentration camp was a bleak experience. The sense of evil was almost tangible and the atmosphere was thick and heavy. I cannot say that the experience was enjoyable, but I understood its importance. The preservation of this site of industrialised murder serves an important purpose when one realises that even today there are people who deny the Holocaust and discrimination continues to occur.
Whilst I usually hang on the word of anything Mr Wolfenden recommends in terms of history books, I will no longer rely on his recommendations for choice of cuisine. After being repeatedly exhorted to “try the dumplings”, I unwisely ignored my wary instincts. A grave mistake I hope to never make again. The memory of that horrible taste still haunts me, even to this very day. However, I am proud to be able to say that I have eaten a Polish dumpling from a Polish restaurant in Krakow, the most beautiful city in all of Poland.
In finishing, I would recommend without hesitation this history trip to any BGS pupil.
-Finn Ritchie, Year 11
I never grow tired of Blood Brothers by Willy Russell. I read it twice a year with my GCSE classes and, every time, their immediate connection with the characters, the story and the humour are clear. It is amazing (and not a little depressing) that the issues of recession and lack of social mobility are still relevant today. During my time at Bangor Grammar I have directed the play three times; 1996, 2002 and 2017. For me, these three productions reflect the evolution of Drama in Bangor Grammar School over the past 21 years.
The 1996 production was my third ever school play as director. I was a part time teacher; there was no Drama department in those days and I had moved from a modest cast of 8 actors in 1994 to an ensemble of over 50 in this production. We had a live band directed by Gavin Best and used contemporary music, such as the theme from Friends, to bring the play text to life. We had so much fun and, as usual, managed to court controversy in a move away from 'classic' texts and more respected literature. We also had several letters of complaint with regard to the teenage pregnancy in the plot. How strange that the pregnancy, rather than its impact and consequences, was what drew attention. Oddly, musicals such as Grease were regularly performed in schools at that time with little attention placed on Frenchie’s pregnancy scare or Sandy’s 'efforts' to get her man.
We moved away from the traditional hired costumes, naturalistic sets and old fashioned stage make-up (grease paint). Sixth form Art students painted the set for us and operated the sound and lighting systems. These were the days when all A level courses ran over two years and boys had time to spend on such things.
We were unable to cast a younger Mickey from the middle and senior school boys so asked third formers (Year 10) to audition, and found a hugely charismatic and confident young man called Adam Best. Remember, pupils did not take Drama as a subject and we had little idea of what he would be able to produce. He, Kevin McGlade and Caroline English conveyed the friendship of the children with such truth and energy. Over the next four years Adam and Kevin formed the core of our Senior Dramatic Society and both young men went on to win places at Drama School.
In 2004, the second production of the play coincided with my first A2 class; I had managed to convince the vice-principal that an Art teacher could teach Drama as an academic subject. GCSE and junior school Drama still did not exist, although I had ambitions... We had a much larger live band under the leadership of Sam Johnston. His performance of James Taylor’s Fire and Rain was very special. I have a vivid memory of giving the band their cues in the wing and just standing listening to the quality of their performances; the music added such depth to the play. One of our narrators, Robbie Reid, sang Julio Iglasias’ hit song I Can Be Your Hero, earning himself a huge female fan club. Robbie is now lead singer with a band called The Swimming Tapes. The actor playing older Eddie, Stephen Rea, managed to break his femur playing rugby on the Saturday prior to the production. Marty Gray, (Mickey) and Jenna (Linda) spent a long Sunday afternoon with myself and Robbie Reid as we trained him up for the part. He did an amazing job. In both productions I had to fire a gun from the wings to coincide with the action on stage- so very loud and so very shocking- even for me and I had my finger on the trigger.
We sold more than 1500 tickets over four nights, with an audience of over 400 on the Friday evening. The atmosphere was incredible on that last night and, in my time as school play director, that night and the last night of Romeo and Juliet stand out above all the others. Drama can create magic and when you have a large audience all totally focused on the characters and their story, the emotion in the space is palpable.
In 2017, we applied for the performance rights for Blood Brothers for a third time. This time the list of conditions attached to the contract put paid to all notions of live music and underscoring to add atmosphere. It was challenging to create something individual within these tight limitations. This time all live music was performed prior to the start and during the interval, to set the time period. Multimedia was incorporated via projections which were used throughout to reinforce the themes of the play. The chorus supported the sinister narrators, creating the idea that the characters cannot escape what life has in store for them. Working in the Space Theatre allowed us to use a range of lighting effects to great impact; the experience of working with professional standard technology is significant and, for many boys, a once in a life time experience.
Nowadays the issues dealt with in the text are as likely to be seen on an early evening BBC soap. No-one considers teenage pregnancy to be off the agenda. What is so key to this piece is that Mrs Johnston, Linda and Mickey all struggle against their circumstances with dignity. Making these characters fully developed and connected to the audience is the key to success in this production. Over the years, Carl McLean, Emily Anderson, Jamie Halliday, Marty Gray, Hannah Patterson, Holly Fusco and Matty Rice have all managed that connection. These roles all require both comic and serious performance; I am so proud of what my teenage actors have achieved in this respect. The writing allows actors to fully explore a range of acting skills and all three productions have been a joy to rehearse and to watch. It is a massive compliment to Willy Russell that his writing is as fresh and funny now as when he wrote it 30 years ago.
-Mrs K Payne, Teacher in Charge
Blood Brothers: 1996
How it started is a very clear image in my mind. My class, 3C, were unexpectedly in Mr Riddell's room as our scheduled teacher wasn't around for some reason. I'm sure I was diligently working at whatever task had been left for us to do, or possibly something else, when the door knocked and opened at exactly the same time. Mrs Payne, a teacher I wasn't familiar with, swung her head in and announced that third years were being invited to audition for the senior school production of Blood Brothers to be put on that Christmas. Oh aye?
I don't really remember the audition, or finding out that I got the part. I don't remember much about the rehearsals really either. I just remember absolutely loving it. As far as I'm aware it was the first time anyone in the junior school (up to third form) had been asked to take part in the main play. There were girls there. ACTUAL GIRLS FROM GLENLOLA! In true Shakespearian style, any plays I'd done at BGS in Junior Drama had featured young lads in dresses. Now there were girls. I had approximately as many crushes as rehearsals.
The play was brilliant. The character a huge laugh. The young Mickey in Blood Brothers. Breeze in, be a little mischievous, have fun with some friends. I even got a bit on my own. I'd call it a speech nowadays and feel very intimidated by it, but Mickey's poem was just 'a bit on my own'. Mint. I don't remember how we were directed particularly, I just sort of recall a very supportive Mrs Payne smiling a lot as myself, Kevin McGlade and Caroline English (crush) mucked about and said our lines. Of all the directors I've worked with, Mrs Payne had the easiest 'tell'. A lot of one's time as an actor is spent in despairing self-analysis, wondering if the director thinks you're any good. Mrs Payne would simply clasp her hands in front of her, rub them together and smile. I can't imagine the three of us were doing particularly layered or intricate work, but we were having a right laugh and Mrs Payne seemed to approve. Joy.
I have slight memories of jealousy around that time too. Watching the grown ups rehearse their bits. Carl McClean playing Mickey. The proper Mickey, not the trifling bits of mucking around Mickey. The intense stuff. Proper. Him and Jonny Reynolds (proper Eddie) and Emily Anderson (crush) throwing some proper stuff around. In hindsight, as a 13 year old, I probably understood a lot less than I thought I did. I just loved to watch it. Probably slightly wished I was doing it. I thought Carl McClean was the coolest guy in the whole world. He had cool hair and got to sing a song and wore a beanie hat. Imagine... My brother, Gavin, arranged music for the show. He didn't give me a song. We don't discuss it.
Three performances was it. Three performances in the school assembly hall. On the first night, I was so excited about getting on that I shouted my first line from off-stage about a line or two too soon. Mrs Payne threw her hand over my mouth and stopped me from walking on from the wings. It was like she knew I was too keen and had been expecting such a false start. This would be the one and only occasion Mrs Payne ever held me back. And then on. Did the bit on my own. Got a ripple of applause. That had never happened in rehearsals. Whoosh. I walked back from the front of the stage to get on with the scene and tried to ignore the shooting feelings of adrenaline coursing through my young veins. Such moments are rare, two decades on and in this acting lark as a job. One learns not to take them for granted. I didn't take that one for granted. It felt absolutely mint. How conceited.
Two nights later it was all done. Months of work, extra curricular dedication and Lynx Africa, finished in three nights. A party. Probably a feeling of utter desolation on my part. I was going to miss it. The play, the rehearsals, Caroline English. I should have asked her out. But I'm not really sure what that would have meant at 13. And she was the year above me anyway. I would have been punching well above my weight.
I've thought about that production of Blood Brothers a lot. I've spoken a bit with Daire about it. How the announcement from Mrs Payne about the auditions feels like something of a ‘sliding doors’ moment. That production in 1996 catalysed a great deal for me, I believe. In early 1997, Mrs Payne suggested that I audition for the National Youth Theatre. I had no idea what it was. Would never have known, were it not for Mrs Payne's guidance. That further spurred me on. In the summer term of 1997, I selected my options for GCSE. At that time, as a 14 year old, if you had asked me what I wanted to be when I left school I'd have said, "scientist". Chose my GCSE subjects accordingly. Of course, GCSE Drama wasn't a thing back then anyway.
The following years saw more school plays and, crucially, more encouragement from Mrs Payne and others (Mrs Bates, Mrs Cree, Mr Cairnduff) to pursue drama outside of the school. Summer courses with the National and Ulster Youth Theatres, a production with Ulster Theatre Company... all experiences that set a course for the final choices you make as a secondary education student. UCAS. Six options. I can't remember quite what I put. A couple of Law courses (everyone does, right?), a couple of journalism courses and one Drama School. I didn't know what a Drama School was until earlier that year. I was told. Encouraged. In school and at home. "Go for it." I did. Nothing to lose. One place on a UCAS form.
My audition speech was from Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. I'd already learned it for the school play in 2000 - my fifth senior school production. Mrs Payne took me through it. My parents booked me a flight to do it. Got into the Welsh College of Music and Drama. An institution which I genuinely would not have known existed but for BGS. But for Blood Brothers. Sliding doors, man.
21 years after playing young Mickey and I'm a bigger, balder, more cynical man than the skinny ginger kid shooting Coke cans off coffee tables (with the help of fishing line and a stage manager in the wings). But I'm still learning and I'm still very, very grateful for the experiences. And still very thankful to the people at BGS who took an interest in me and saw, perhaps, that all the mucking about might be worth pursuing. I wish the lads great good luck in the 2017 production. Particularly because I'm way too old now for them to steal jobs off me.
Blood Brothers: 2002
Blood Brothers was my first senior play in the school, and was a play I knew pretty well. It’s a play that everyone can connect with at some level because it captures what it is to be a cheeky kid, a testosterone-filled teenager and finally an adult who doesn’t quite understand how and when they suddenly grew up and had to start paying bills.
The one thing I’ll remember it taught me, and which was reiterated to me at drama school and a maxim I still cling to, is this: ignore the stage directions. Before young Mickey’s ‘I wish I was our Sammy’ speech - which is full of action and messing about (and is no doubt still being used at Open Days - because it is ENTERTAINING), the stage direction says something along the lines of 'Mickey sits bored and petulant'. I practiced that speech BOTH bored AND petulant. It’s only after I had a rehearsal with Marty Gray, playing the older Mickey, who told me to jump about the stage and act it all out, that I realised that (OF COURSE) that’s how the speech should be acted!
Now obviously the stage directions were probably meant to lead into getting up and being active. But try telling that to a 14 year old who took them as sacrosanct. I’ve since learned that stage directions are roundly ignored by pretty much every director and actor in the business - they’re for the writer, or a record of how something was first performed.
I currently do a lot of work as a script reader for various theatre companies and competitions; thinking now about Blood Brothers reinforces something that I hold to be true. If you can make them laugh, you can make them cry. It’s the same amount of effort involved on the part of the audience. The first time I probably realised that was sitting on the edge of the old assembly hall stage at College Avenue, pretending to be bored and petulant.
Blood Brothers: 2017
Playing Mickey in Blood Brothers was my first lead role in a school play. The majority of people said that I suited the role - which was no surprise to me as my small demeanour and sometimes mischievous behaviour paralleled the character of the young Mickey. This responsibility was rather daunting at first; however I came to learn that the role of Mickey would come to me rather naturally as we had performed segments of Blood Brothers throughout junior school and I had also studied it at GCSE, so I was very familiar with the play.
It was quite fun to show up to rehearsals on a Monday evening. To be honest, most of our rehearsal time was spent with Conor Meharg (Eddie), Alice Hawthorne (Linda) and myself eating sweets - occasionally running the odd line. This lasted until a couple of weeks before the opening night, when Mrs Payne asked to see our progress. We realised we needed to do some proper rehearsing, as the actual play was ever approaching.
That was when the play became to feel not just fun but worthwhile; we were creating something that we were proud of. It was enjoyable but not easy. At times I struggled with the monologue I had to learn. There were several afternoons spent in the black room with Mrs Payne prompting me and, on occasion, even cracking a smile when I did it correctly.
BANGOR GRAMMAR CADETS DISCOVER LOCAL HEROES OF WW1
A challenge to find out more about the history of World War I by researching stories of ‘local heroes’ has connected North Down teenagers with heroes of the past.
Students from Bangor Grammar School chose as the subject of their research an ‘old boy’ whose father was once principal of their school. Sixteen-year-olds Cadet Sergeant Michael Dempster and Cadet Lance Corporal Tom Campbell, both enthusiastic members of the school’s Combined Cadet Force, uncovered the story of Lance Bombardier John McFeeters. The son of Bangor Grammar School headmaster, Rev. James McFeeters, John who was affectionately known as ‘Jack’ to friends and family, proved a bright lad with a gift for languages and his success in the intermediate examinations in Latin, French, and German earned him a scholarship at Queen's University Belfast.
The outbreak of World War 1 however changed the course of his career and, aged just 19, Jack volunteered as a soldier, joining the Antrim Artillery. In the weeks that followed Jack found himself tackling training just a few miles from his home with a posting to Grey Point Fort at Helen’s Bay. Some weeks later, shipped out from Southampton on a converted cattle ship headed for le Havre, the young Gunner McFeeters found himself preparing for ‘the real thing’. He was soon fighting on the front line, seeing active service at St Omer, Ypres, Arras and Cambrai.
In November 1918 rumours began to circulate amongst the men that an armistice would be agreed on November 12th. This date changed to the 11th and, at 11am on the morning of that memorable day, Jack and his friends lit a celebratory bonfire, while their Commanding Officer called for three cheers and they all sang the National Anthem.
After the war, Jack finished his studies at Queen’s then built a distinguished career as a doctor with a practice in England. He raised his family there and, after his wife’s death, he emigrated to Australia to be close to his daughter and died there in 1989.
Cadet Sergeant Michael Dempster says, “We know now of course that Jack was one of the lucky ones, having survived the war, but our research gave us a better insight into the conditions for the soldiers of the Great War and the dangers which faced them. Trench life was incredibly hard as well as dangerous and the men really had to draw on their inner strength and courage.”
Cadet Lance Corporal Tom Campbell adds, “We had studied World War 1 in school, plus we do some military history in the Cadets, so we already knew a bit about the war and about some of Northern Ireland’s famous World War 1 heroes. Looking more closely at Jack’s life however made us really think about the real people behind the statistics. It was shocking to understand how young some of the soldiers were and it gave us a different perception of the sacrifice and service of young men who, like us, started out at Bangor Grammar School. Of the 178 Bangor Grammar pupils who served in World War 1, forty-three were killed - the highest casualty rate for any school in Ulster.”
Despite that grim toll and the hardships of war, Jack would later say, “I have much to thank the Army for. I had led a very sheltered life up to my enlistment, and I feel that in the Army I really grew up. I could not have had more kind and helpful friends than the officers, NCOs and men of 65 Siege Battery, particularly the ‘old sweats’ who welcomed the young ‘rookie’ and helped to make a man of him.”
The information accumulated in the young people’s research will now become an important learning resource for others in the Cadet movement.
CCF Military Skills Competition
Over the 13th - 15th of October, the Combined Cadet Force entered two teams into the highly competitive CCF Brigade Military Skills Competition at Ballykinler.
This event began on Friday night, with briefings and the synchronising of watches and ended on the Sunday, after a 1.5 mile run in full equipment followed by a shoot. On the Saturday all teams had a round robin of eight stands, each one challenging the team. Each stand was timed, as was the allowed time to get between times, where points can be docked for lateness.
All the stands cover various aspects of military training; the First Aid stand run by 204 Field Hospital had a mass causality scenario - with nine causalities who required treatment for conditions such as shock, requiring CPR, and a catastrophic bleed. BGS CCF won this stand, with the Stand Commander commenting that they showed such professionalism that they could easily be part of her unit. The other stands continued to push the teams, both mentally and physically. From the Section Attack (Team 1 won this stand) to Command Tasks and problem solving in a military setting. Throughout the day, Team 1 (under RSM Sampson or Team Manager Major Cardwell) performed exceptionally well, picking up first and second places on most stands visited. By the end of day one they had a slender lead of 20 points over their main rivals RBAI Team 1.
Sunday dawned on the big challenge - 'The March'. 1.5 miles in kit and rifle around Ballykinler with a Command Task at the half way point. All this was timed, with time penalties to slow you down and the infamous coded ammo box at the end, where teams have to memorise four digit codes placed on the route to gain access to the magazines they required for the shoot. BGS Team 1 ran their lungs out and pushed hard all the way to the finish line, but by now their lead had gone. RBAI had run an excellent time - only the marksmanship of these eight cadets would gain them victory. Slowing their breathing and remembering all they had been taught, their training and skill paid off. By the end, after the smell of cordite had faded, they were the only team to score over 100 points on the shoot.
At the prize giving our rivals looked confident; but as the winners and runners-up were read out, and medals and minor shields were presented, it started to dawn on Team 1 they may just have done it… Shooting 1st, First Aid 1st, 2nd in the March and Best Section Commander. Then the words “Military Skills Winners 2017… Bangor Grammar CCF Team 1!”. 38 years of not winning were erased and even the SSI SSgt Watkins smiled (sort of), as he had wanted to win this for 14 years for many reasons. Major Cardwell was chuffed as ,not only was she their team manager, but she is now the Contingent Commander of the CCF Military Skills Champions and has the best Section Commander.
After a busy previous term, performing in a range of venues including the Black Box and the Titanic Centre in Belfast, and sharing the bill with a range of performers from the Abaana New Life Choir to Dana Masters and the Ulster Youth Jazz Orchestra, it has been a pleasure for the BGS Jazz Band to notch up a few performances in Bangor over the past few months.
The final weekend in June gave the ensemble the chance to entertain the seaside crowds at the Open House Festival. An appreciative audience was treated to a range of past hits including Duke Ellington’s Take the A-Train. It was marvellous to welcome back BGS old boys Glenn Burton, Michael McComb and Andrew Poxon to help plug the gaps left by some of our examination students still on study-leave.
September saw the band accompany the staff procession at the annual Prize Day and featured the sounds of Libertango by Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla. This new piece was kept in the repertoire for our performance at the 2017 PTA Gala Ball at the Clandeboye Lodge with new pieces such as the fusion masterpiece: Birdland and a specially arranged version of the jazz standard Autumn Leaves for the Year 13 quintet, delighting the particularly glamorous attendees.
We returned to the same venue two weeks later to play at a charity lunch organised by the North Down Masons. This featured the vocal talents of Euan Watson as he crooned and mesmerised with tasteful renditions of songs by Cab Calloway and Frankie Valli.
Christmas Carol Service
This year’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols took place in Bangor Parish Church. After a move from the school in 2014 to, what was then a newly renovated site, it is starting to feel like it could never be held anywhere else. Its high ceilings and stone walls lend themselves to choral singing while inducing the atmosphere of reverence necessary for an event that, although employing music, is primarily a service of worship.
The concert band and choir formed a backbone to the musical offerings, occasionally bolstered by the congregation’s participation during standard carols such as Once in Royal David’s City. This carol featured a confident and nuanced treble solo from Year 9 pupil, Rory Patterson. The choir and chamber choir offered a wide range of festive fare from a venerable interpretation of the traditional Polish carol, Infant Holy, Infant Lowly, to Rosemary Smyth’s delicate The Lambkin, where the chamber choir gently accentuated a range of colours and textures inherent in the work.
The aforementioned works were in thunderous contrast to a rousing rendition of the medieval carol Gaudete and an epic version of O Holy Night for choir, concert band and two treble soloists. This was originally arranged for the New Irish Orchestra by Jonathan Rea, who many of you will remember fondly as a fantastic Head of Music at our old school in College Avenue. We are grateful for the use of his arrangement in our service. Special mention should go to the two soloists, Theo Rea and Lucas Stanfield who, as junior school pupils, acquitted themselves superbly in front of a seventy-piece concert band and a fifty strong choir.
One of my personal highlights of the night was a modern rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by the chamber choir. This remarkable arrangement, originally brought into the limelight by choral supergroup Pentatonix, demanded the highest vocal precision from the ensemble and they delivered. Special thanks should go to the chamber choir and their conductor, Mrs Buchanan, for all of their hard work and commitment this term.
The modern slant was continued by the Year 14 jazz octet who brought a version of Mary’s Boy Child to life that had echoes of the Duke Ellington band at its most adventurous and featured virtuoso performances throughout.
The concert band rounded out the evening with some choice festive favourites after the service ended. They matched the welcoming and jubilant tone set by the school’s traditional group who were playing before the service in the entrance hall. The traditional group has a number of new members such as Samantha Coburn, from Strangford College, and Shane McLaughlin, from St Columbanus College, performing on bagpipes and flutes respectively. Both of these pupils study A-level music at the school and it has been a pleasure to provide them with extracurricular pathways alongside the traditional academic ones.
As well as welcoming new students to the community of Bangor Grammar School, it has been a great honour to make music alongside grammarians who return every year to sing in the choir and play in the concert band. The twenty-six old boys that returned this year ranged from those that had just recently completed A-levels, to the old faithful, such as Trevor Gray who recently celebrated a fifty-year anniversary with the class of ’67. Judging by the feedback from the musicians and the congregation in attendance, it is clear that this was a night that will linger in the memories for some time to come.
-Mr P O’Reilly, Teacher in Charge
Clifton Christmas Party
On 13th December, our senior boys took part in annual the Clifton Christmas Party. Zack Kerr donned the Santa costume and Matthew Quinn kindly played the piano for us along with Michael Williamson, Jonny Eadie and Nathan Gough on the microphones. All of our boys were an absolute credit to the school and the Clifton kids didn’t seem overly traumatised by our boys acting the ‘eejit’ on stage!
Our school presented each of the 23 classes at Clifton with £25 to buy themselves a class gift. Each of the 160 kids received a selection pack, this money all comes from the proceeds of the annual school sponsored walk. Thanks to everyone who helped out and provided us with sound equipment, laptops, props etc.
-Mr F Gilmour, Teacher in Charge
St Vincent de Paul Toy Drop
Once again Bangor Grammar School staff and students braved the weather to collect gifts for the annual St Vincent de Paul Toy Drop.
St Vincent de Paul is a charitable organisation made up of volunteers who run regular activities to support those in need in our community. At Christmas they use a series of Toy Drops and other collections to support almost ninety families with children who are suffering from poverty.
Thank you to all those who donated a toy or gift this year - you have really made a difference to a child’s Christmas.
Children in Need 2017
This year's Children in Need day was the traditional mix of madcap costumes, leg-waxing and wet sponge-throwing that has become a highlight of the BGS charity calendar. The generosity of our boys was evident - a grand total of £1448.85 was raised on this one day alone.
Ski Trip 2017
This year’s ski trip saw 46 pupils from Years 9 to 11, accompanied by five members of staff, jet off to Italy on the 16th December for a week in the snow. We left in the early hours of Saturday morning, travelling to Belfast International Airport, and then flying to Bergamo Airport in Milan. After three hours on the coach we arrived at Madonna just in time for lunch at a local pizzeria.
Madonna di Campiglio, a discreet and elegant town nestling at an altitude of 1550 metres in the stupendous valley between the Brenta Dolomites and the glaciers of Adamello and Presanella, is one of Italy’s number top ski resorts as well as one of the finest resorts in the Dolomites. The variety of its mountain surroundings meant that it was possible to ski countless kilometres of runs, up to an altitude of 2600 metres and with varying degrees of difficulty. What’s more we could set out from the hotel and return there without ever removing our skis.
Beginners began skiing from across the road from our hotel in the Campo Carlo Magno area. This was a wonderful beginners area which leads directly to the lift, taking us up to the Groste ski area and the summit of Campiglio, where there were kilometres of blue slopes, offering perfect progression. As the group progressed in ability the areas of Pradalago and the Cinque Laghi became available to the group offering a total of 70 km of wonderful skiing. By the end of the week all our skiers travelled to the connected areas of Marilleva and Folgarida.
The town of Madonna with its shopping and cafes provided adequate entertainment for a couple of evenings. Snow-shoeing through a local forest and bum-boarding on the nursery slopes beside the hotel were popular snow-based activities. Our evenings indoors were spent watching movies and taking part in a table quiz.
At the end of six days skiing everyone had progressed to tackling some of the more difficult runs in the resort. The early days of walking up a beginners slope were now forgotten and the thrills and spills of downhill had been fully embraced. The weather had been kind to us with sunny bright conditions on the slopes and cold crisp evenings meaning that the snow didn’t melt and then form ice. The heavy snow falls the week before our arrival had left the resort fully covered with snow still on the branches of the trees.
The week passed quickly and we returned home on Saturday the 23rd; just in time to start our Christmas shopping.
-Mr M Christy, Teacher in Charge
Ryan Leathem's success in archery continues to go from strength to strength. He spent the summer training with the NINJAAS Performance Squad, developing his shot routine, strength and conditioning and increasing the poundage of his bow.
The highlight of Ryan's summer was traveling with the Northern Ireland Team to the National Sports Centre in Lillieshall, Shropshire for the Archery GB Youth Festival. The Youth Festival invites Archers from across the UK and beyond and took place over a week from the 21st August. The world record status competition gives young archers the opportunity to compete in the World Archery target format which includes team and mixed team head to heads.
Throughout the week Ryan shot in the qualification rounds, individual matches, team matches and mixed team matches and was ranked 3rd in his category. He went onto win a bronze medal in the Recurve Cub Mixed Team, silver medal in the Recurve Cub Team categories and just missed out on a bronze in the Recurve Cub Men Individual in a single arrow shoot off, which was televised. Ryan got to use the fantastic facilities that Team GB use at Lillieshall and meet the different Olympic archers and coaches.
Congratulations to Ben Dempster who finished 2nd place in the Badminton ‘Champion of Champions’ tournament in Lisburn Racquets club. He was narrowly defeated by Kyle Magee of Londonderry College, ranked 1st in Ireland, in a tightly-fought final. Ben played excellently, testing the Irish champion’s ability during a series of long, arduous rallies. We look forward to seeing Ben develop as a player.
Hockey 1st XI
This year the 1st XI Hockey team qualified for the All Ireland Hockey Competition for the first time in six seasons. The competition consists of the best 16 teams across Ireland, drawn into four pools with four teams in each pool. This competition began in the 1982-83 school year, and was created by Bangor Grammar's very own teacher John Smith, who recently received a sporting MBE for his contribution to sport across Ulster and Ireland. On the 25th of October 2017, the 1st XI Hockey team departed for Cork to play in the All Irelands Competitions.
The first team Bangor had to face was our rivals of old, Banbridge. Having had a poor record against the Ulster side in the past, our team nervously stepped onto the pitch with a point to prove. After an excellent first 20 minutes, we gave Banbridge a cheap goal which rattled the team until half time. Quite early on the team conceded another goal, but this didn’t dampen our spirits as we quickly clawed back another goal.
Unfortunately this was too little too late and we lost the game narrowly 2-1. Even though we lost, we took encouragement from our second-half performance straight into our second game from Wesley College from Dublin. Wesley College, being one of the favourites, we knew would be a very tough game. They deservedly won the game and eventually progressed to the final. Our final game took place against Kings College, who are also from Dublin. In this game we took a while to waken up but when we did we dominated the game. We won that match 2-1 and finished third in a very strong group.
We finished the competition with a friendly match against Newton College. This game was held in good spirits, but unfortunately Newton narrowly won the game. We were not disheartened by this defeat as we had had a great competition. St Andrews College, also from Dublin, went on to win the overall competition, beating Wesley College in the final.
-Matthew Armstrong-Sanchez, Year 14
It has been a very promising start for BGS swimmers across the school. Over the summer, both Mark Stoops and Jack Angus were selected to swim for Ulster in the Interprovincial Championships.
In October BGS was well represented on the podium at the Ulster School Championships in Bangor. Our junior team comprising Ciaran McKee, Ben Riddell, Austin Williams and Callum Slagter won the silver medal in the 200 IM Relay.
Our intermediate team comprising Rhys Green, Daniel Thompson, Jack Angus and Mark Stoops won the silver medal in both 200 IM and 200 Free Relay.
There were also individual medals for Austin Williams for Gold 50 backstroke and 50 breaststroke. Callum Slagter took the Gold 100 IM and Bronze 50 fly. Jack Angus achieved the Gold 100 breaststroke and 200 IM and Mark Stoops Silver 100 breaststroke.
In November BGS travelled to Ballymena for the Ulster Schools Grammar championships. Again the junior team did BGS proud picking up a bronze medal for both 200 IM and 200 Free Relays.