Fatal blow for High School and its pioneering principals?

As publicised in last week's Sentinel, members of the Old Girls Association of the former Londonderry High School have objected to the potential name change of Foyle and Londonderry College.

Thursday, 28th October 2010, 12:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th October 2010, 12:10 pm

The women believe the possible removal of the word 'Londonderry' from the title of the school will obliterate the historical link between their former school and Foyle College - Foyle and Londonderry College was created when the two institutions merged in 1976. Here the association gives an historical account of the creation of the school and the pioneering female educators that oversaw the creation of Londonderry High School and its predecessors...

THERE has been a disturbing, stealth movement at the heart of those in control of the renaming of Foyle and Londonderry College. The new proposed name will effectively remove all trace of the girls' grammar school, Londonderry High School, whose history extends back to the 1860s.

In 1976 the girls' grammar school, Londonderry High School (L.H.S), amalgamated with the boys' grammar school Foyle College. The amalgamated name was Foyle and Londonderry College. Foyle College being represented by the word 'Foyle' and L.H.S. being represented by the word 'Londonderry.'

Foyle College (or FALC) is a co-educational voluntary grammar school. It is named after the two schools that merged in 1976 by virtue of the Foyle and Londonderry College Act 1976 . 'Foyle and Londonderry College 1976 (Hansard), http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/acts/foyle-and-londonderry-college-act-1976 (Foyle College and Londonderry High School).

Over the next few weeks, the London branch of the Londonderry High School Old Girls' Association will present an account of the school's history, our individual views and how passionately we feel about our beloved High School.

It takes a considerable leap of the imagination for a woman of the 21st century to realise what her life would have been like had she been born 150 years ago.

Our first school, Strand House has its 150th anniversary this year. There has been no recognition or celebration of this by the school.

The history of Londonderry High School

Londonderry High School owed its existence to the merging of two independent institutions. The first of these, the Ladies' Collegiate School, was set up in 1877 by the Misses McKillip - pioneers in the movement for higher education for women in Ireland. Their vision and drive resulted in the starting of a school at 11 Queen Street. Two further moves saw the renamed Victoria High School located in Crawford Square, where boarding and day pupils were accommodated. The nearby Northlands School of Housewifery (1908) was associated with Victoria High School.

At the top of Lawrence Hill, Miss J. Kerr had opened St. Lurach's College circa 1900 - this school also took boarders. Strand House School (1860) closed during the First World War and the girls mostly went to Victoria or St. Lurach's. In 1922 Victoria High School and St. Lurach's amalgamated to form Londonderry High School. By 1928 Duncreggan, formerly the home of the late William Tillie, H.M.L., had been purchased and the boarders were transferred there from St. Lurach's. It came to be known as Duncreggan House and was situated at the junction of Duncreggan Road and Northland Road.

In the immediate post-war period there was an ever-growing need for increased educational facilities. The high point of an ambitious and forward-looking programme was undoubtedly the opening of the new 150,000 building extensions between Duncreggan House and Dunseveric. The new buildings were opened by Her Grace the Duchess of Abercorn in May 1962, and on the same day the then Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Education announced that a new block would be erected to house the Preparatory Department, and this followed in 1964. Eventually the girls joined the boys of Foyle College Preparatory Department which moved into these premises in 1974, and so anticipated the later amalgamation under the Foyle and Londonderry College Act of 1976, resulting in the first co-educational Grammar School in Londonderry.

Timeline of female schools

1860-Strand House School - Carlisle Road/Hawkins Street. In 1877 it moved to Strand Road, opposite the foot of Gt James St.

Here the pupils themselves named it "Strand House School." It then moved to Gt. James St., and finally to the Asylum Road.

1877-Ladies Collegiate School-11 Queen Street, later became Victoria High School- V.H.S - Crawford Square - given the Queen's name at one of the Jubilee celebrations.

1880-St Lurach's College - top of Lawrence Hill - later became St Lurach's School in 1917.

1908- Northlands School of Housewifery - Crawford Square - "finishing course to fit girls for home life".

1922- Londonderry High School- amalgamation of St Lurach's and V.H.S under the Companies Act.

1923-L.H.S became a public school with a Board of Governors.

1926-Hockey field presented to the school by Old Victorians.

1928-L.H.S.- moved to Duncreggan House, Duncreggan Road.

1934-Dunseveric was built – Kindergarten moved in.

1940 - War broke out, boarders evacuated to Ashbrook.

1941 - Boarders to Greenfield, Strabane. War years- Kindergarten was moved to Brooke Park.

1946 - Greenfield closes and school reunited at Duncreggan- in huts.

1950-L.H.S. became a Voluntary Grammar school.

1951 - Acquired Dunluce House for the Prep. school and Kindergarten.

1957 - New uniform and badge introduced by Miss Mary French McIlroy.

1976 - Foyle and Londonderry College - by Act of Parliament.

2003 - Prep school closes.

The headmistresses

Strand House Ladies' School Principals – Misses Frances & Annie Holmes and then in 1900 Miss Frances Holmes and Miss M. E. Deane, B.A were joint Principals. 1915 Miss Deane, sole Principal retired.

Ladies Collegiate College founder, Miss Margaret Mac Killip M.A

Victoria High School, (V.H.S) founder and Principals - The Margaret MacKillip M.A.- for the 'higher education of girls'

St. Lurach's College, Northland Road—founder and Principal, Miss Kerr.

St. Lurach's School - Principal Miss J Kyle, later Mrs Killen & Miss R.Kyle, then Mrs.E.R. Gordon

Londonderry High School- Girls' Public School 1920, Miss Margaret Mac Killip M.A

1922 - Miss Sarah MacKillip – at amalgamation of St Lurach's and V.H.S.

1927 - Miss Rita McIlroy M.A.

1930 -Miss Mary French McIlroy OBE.,M.A

1962 - Miss Mary Cowper B.Sc.

1973 - Miss Mina Christie B.A

1976 - Amalgamation with Foyle College - with split sites at 'Springtown and Duncreggan Road.

Miss Margaret E. Deane B.A

The first Headmistress, received her early education at Strand House, at this fundamental school which was opened in 1860 by Miss Holmes. She took her undergraduate course at Magee College and then went abroad to France and Germany. She was at the Royal Holloway College London in 1893 for two years and then graduated at the Royal University Dublin in 1895. She became the head of affairs at Strand House.

Endeavours were ardently carried out under her heroic motto 'the necessity for work is the highest moral opportunity that we enjoy'.

Extract from MARIA LUDDY- Women in Ireland 1800-1918

Miss Margaret MacKillip

The amazing Mc Killip sisters, each with their own field of expertise formed the basis of the education of women in Londonderry. The school was then staffed by the five Miss McKillips, Margaret, Sarah, Jane, Mary and Caroline.

Jane looked after the boarding, Caroline the Kindergarten, Mary took classics, Sarah taught mathematics and together with Margaret whose strong subject was English, ran the administrative side.

Margaret's cultured mind, foresight and vision, her flair for English Literature and her Sunday evening receptions. Sarah, with her impish smile, eager eye for detail, and her brilliant mathematical brain. Mary, reciting the Latin 'amo, amas, amat' in the school corridors.

"I and my sisters have always cherished warmest thoughts of our old girls and have taken pride in their various achievements"- Margaret Mac Killip

A quotation from Professor Finnegan M.A, President of Magee University in 1952,- "both L.H.S. (and V.H.S in 1903) and Magee College have a proud record in the movement for higher education for women. Miss McKillip was one of the pioneers of the movement, while Magee College was the first University College in Ireland to admit women on equal terms with men."

Miss Rita McIlroy

Headmistress from 1927 to 1930 and older sister of Mary French McIlroy. She was instrumental in making many far- reaching changes in the school.

She developed the school on modern lines, and took a particular interest in the Art and Science departments. The boarding-house moved to Duncreggan where she gave much time and thought to the development of a happy life for the staff and girls. The playing fields were open and the tennis courts made.

No detail for the house and garden was too small for her attention.

She left High School after marrying Mr Bellis and died in 1941.

The McIlroy sisters hailed from near Ballymena.

Miss Mary French McIlroy OBE. M.A.

Mary French was a pupil at V.H.S, taught at V.H.S and was Headmistress of L.H.S.from 1930-1962. Possibly the most inspiring headmistress that the present-day Old Girls remember. Described as a unique, superb and flamboyant lady, with only the girls' interest at heart, she knew every girl (and her parents) by name and she taught the second and sixth forms French.

Miss McIlroy started an improvement fund to raise money for the development of Duncreggan, In 1957 she was responsible for the change of uniform, badge and school 'motto'.

The prefabricated classroom huts were replaced with the newly built school in 1962.

She was founder of the Londonderry High School Old Girls' Association and was the President for the first 10 years.

Miss McIlroy married Andre Loullier in August 1945 at the British Embassy Church, in Paris.

In 1952 Miss McIlroy quoted: "Independence in education is costly, it is to our Old Girls Association, our closest friend and ally, that we naturally look for help, nothing matters more than education."

She deplored influences that interrupted a teacher's efforts to give to young people the power of concentration.

'Unless knowledge becomes part of our fabric, then we have no knowledge at all'.

Miss Mina Holmes Christie B.A. 1909-2001

This little figure in black, flowing robes and black French beret instilled a certain amount of fear and a great deal of respect as she swept through the school corridors.

She arrived in Duncreggan as a boarding mistress in 1951 after serving as a missionary in Damascus, an experience to which she made frequent reference.

Miss Christie was a legendary figure in the lives of many former pupils of Londonderry High School where she taught French and Scripture. She gave a sense of purpose, optimism and self-worth and this made her quite inspirational for many girls. She had high standards in everything she did and an amazing range of interests from pedigree goats and dogs to silver and fine china.

Miss Christie became headmistress in 1973, until her retirement on the amalgamation of L.H.S and Foyle College in September 1976.

She was determined that the girls' school would hold its own in the newly created Foyle and Londonderry College and that the traditions of distinguished women like Miss Mary French McIlroy and Miss Adelaide Park would continue.

A wall plaque of the Headmasters and Headmistresses hangs in the present school Assembly Hall. This plaque denotes all the Headmasters dating back to 1683, but the Headmistresses history is incomplete and only starts in 1920 instead of 1860.

The memory of these formidable ladies must live on forever and not be swept out of sight in these modern times.

Molly Sutton

(nee Price-Owen)


Londonderry High School Old Girls' Association

London Branch

Dr Kanchu McAllister

(nee Chada)


Londonderry High School Old Girls' Association

London Branch