Prior to the introduction of National Schools in 1831 Irish children had to attend fee paying, charity, charter, subscription or hedge schools to receive a primary education. Only the wealthier sections of society could afford fee paying schools so the provision of education for all other children was dependant upon funding provided by persons and organisations of a philanthropic nature.

Ballywillan Parish School now repurposed as a cemetery store.

In 1831, Edward Stanley, Chief Secretary for Ireland, in a letter to Augustus FitzGerald, 3rd Duke of Leinster, outlined the new state-supported system of primary education (this letter remains today the legal basis of the system). The two legal pillars of the national school system were to be (i) children of all religious denominations to be taught together in the same school, with (ii) separate religious instruction. There was to be no hint of proselytism in this new school system.

The new system, initially well supported by the religious denominations, quickly lost support of the Churches. However, the population showed great enthusiasm and flocked to attend these new national schools. In the second half of the nineteenth century, first the Catholic Church, and later the Protestant churches conceded to the state, and accepted the “all religious denominations together” legal position.

Methodist Church and School 1832

Where possible, parents sent their children of a national school under the local management of their particular Church. The result was that by the end of the nineteenth century the system had become increasingly denominational, with individuals choosing to attend schools primarily catering to children of their own religion.

The earliest recorded school is Loguestown Day School situated on the old road from Coleraine to Portrush which had been built in 1816. The building was of stone with a thatched roof. There were forty male and twenty-four female pupils of all faiths in 1835. The master was Bryce Maxwell, a Presbyterian, whose father had built the school at his own expense. It was enlarged in 1823, paid for by public subscription.

Ballywillin Parish School situated near the old church, on what is now Magherabuoy Road, was established in 1829 according to the Ordnance Survey Memoirs of 1835. The master was James Greer and in 1835 he had fifteen male and twenty female pupils, all Presbyterian!

In 1830 the renowned Methodist scholar and preacher Dr Adam Clarke had decided to return from Great Britain to his native shores and in particular, Portstewart. He was pivotal in the decision to establish six schools in places around Coleraine where no “school … existed or where any class of religious people was making any attempt to educate the poor”. One of the locations chosen was Portrush, of which Dr Clarke later wrote “… the Port Rush district seemed to be the most destitute of all …..”.

The school was established in 1831 but without a building in which to meet teaching was undertaken in the open air, indeed in a “place digged (sic) out of a sand-hill, though dismal, cold and in every sense, improper!” This was in the depths of a severe winter. Fortunately a prominent resident of the town, Mr Hugh Bellas, offered the use of his parlour and the adjoining room until somewhere more suitable could be found. Thirty children were admitted to the school in January 1831. By March 1831 this number had increased to sixty and a separate house was rented to accommodate the school.

Dr Clarke visited the school in April 1831 and remarked upon the “miraculous change” he noted in the children who were now “all behaving with the utmost decorum …”. This school may have been for boys only as Dr Clarke records that he had some discussion with “some ladies in the place” but was unable to find the means to set up a female school. Dr Clarke had petitioned Lord Mark Kerr, the principal landlord in Portrush, asking him to grant a plot of land on which to build a chapel and school-house. His petition was successful and work commenced in 1832. Funding came mainly from local people – The Hon. Miss Sophia Ward, Miss E. Birch, Miss Rebecca Rice and Mr Stephen Bennet. Dr Clarke visited the building works in June 1832 despite being very ill. This was to be his last visit to the town as he returned to England shortly thereafter and passed away on 26th August 1832.

Shortly before his death he received a report from Mr James Devers, the master of Portrush school, stating that out of a roll of 100 pupils the average attendance was 74 and that the pupils “ .. are all remarkably well behaved and make great progress in learning”. The building was completed and described in detail by Rev. Elijah Hoole who inspected it on behalf of the “Missionary Committee of the Methodist Church” to whom it had passed after the death of Dr Clarke. He found it to be impressive as both a Chapel for worship and a school.

In 1833 Miss Rebecca paid for and financially supported a school for girls housed in a circular cottage with thatched roof on her own land beside Craigvara Terrace. Known as the Portrush Cottage school its teacher was Jane Hannah and she had twenty-four pupils, mainly of the Established & Presbyterian faiths and two Roman Catholics.

The Ordnance Survey Memoirs of 1835 record several schools in and around Portrush, all within the Parish of Ballywillan. Portrush Male & Female School held in the Methodist Chapel having 58 male and 30 female pupils of all faiths. The master is George Kevan, a Methodist. Portrush Cottage School having 24 female pupils. Ballywillin Parish School and Loguestown Day School already mentioned.

Carnalridge Primary School in 2007. The 1850 school building is shown at the left of the picture, the new kitchen and hall on the right.

The longest established of the Portrush schools that are in existence today is Carnalridge, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2000. During Rev. Huey’s ministry at Ballywillan Presbyterian church a new church was built in 1828 at Macilvennon West to replace the old one.  The new church, was a bare whitewashed two-storey building with 16 windows and was so plain that it was said to look more like a barn than a church! Some time after this a school was established in a building adjacent to the church.

In 1840 this school was taken over by the National School Board and in 1850 it moved to a new site nearby and was renamed Carnalridge National School. The school is not actually in the townland of Carnalridge but across the main Portrush to Coleraine Road in the townland of Ballywillan – apparently the name comes from the farmer whose land was purchased – he imposed a condition requiring Carnalridge to be the name of the school.

The school had two classrooms and outside toilets in a separate toilet block. Various additions and alterations were made to the school during its lifetime. One new classroom was added in the 1950’s; a kitchen and multi-purpose hall was added at the start of the 1960’s: and various temporary mobile classrooms were added throughout the later decades of the last century. A new school opened on the site in 2008, following the demolition of the old but the 1850 Foundation Stone and the school clock still survive.

Around 1850 a school was added to the rear of the Presbyterian Church and this was rebuilt in 1861 when the Manse was added.

In 1853 Holy Trinity Church established both a Girls’ School and a Boys’ School close to the Church. The girls’ school is now the Parish (or Parochial) Rooms to the front of the Church, the boys’, closed in 1896, was on the site of the Belfast Banking Company building on the other side of Church Pass.

A Street Directory of 1877 records six schools in Portrush – No. 1 National School (Mr McLaughlin, teacher); No. 2 National School (Mr Porter, teacher & Miss Clarke, assistant); No. 3 National School (Mr Moonan, teacher); Female National School (Miss Hughes, teacher); Infant National School (Miss Bradley, teacher: and Methodist School (Mr Thompson, Teacher).

In 1893 the Earl of Antrim was asked for a site on which a new Church of Ireland school might be built. Ground behind Sandy Row (now Dunluce Avenue) was granted and a new school for both girls and boys was built thereon, the Vestry having agreed to give up the site of the existing Boys School. The new school opened would be named “The Kelly Memorial School” in memory of the previous Rector, Dr J. E. Kelly and would accommodate both girls and boys. The adjacent house was built at the same time as the “Teacher’s Residence” presumably for the Teacher in charge. This school is now the site of the Church Hall on Victoria Street although little or none of the original school remains, having been rebuilt on at least two occasions since the 1957 when its use as a day school ceased.

St Patrick's Primary School
St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Primary School

A Street Directory of 1901 records details for only three schools in Portrush – Mark Street National School (W. J. Porter, principal; Miss Porter, Miss M. Porter, assistants; Miss Edith Porter and Miss A. Ritchie, monitors);  Female National School (Mr. McClatchie, principal) and Roman Catholic National School (Miss Harvey, principal).

A Technical school was opened in the town about 1911 and remained in operation for over fifty years. At a meeting of the North Antrim Technical Education Committee in March 1950 it was agreed that a catering training establishment was necessary in Northern Ireland. Portrush was the chosen location and the Portrush Hotel and Catering College was duly established. Initially teaching was carried out in various locations, such as the Station Café, around the town.

In parallel with this, the government set up the Catering Training School in Kerr Street which moved to Leander House, Bath Road in the 1970’s. It was residential and offered shorter term courses. As student numbers at the College increased and the work expanded the need for new premises, independent of the Technical School, was identified. In 1972 the now independent college moved to new purpose built premises on Ballywillan Road.

Some ten years later the college built Halls of Residence and brought all its out-housed students unto the campus. In 1993 a new reception area was added together with an improved licensed restaurant. A comprehensive programme of extra-curricular classes covering a range of subjects was established and proved extremely popular with people across the area. Ties with the University of Ulster developed and strengthened, degree courses were instituted and the College became part of the Coleraine campus. It was with dismay and some bitterness that, not long afterwards, the people of Portrush learned that the university was to move all courses to the Coleraine and Belfast campuses and close the Portrush site. By this time the government had closed the Catering Training School so the teaching of cooking, catering and hotel management ended in Portrush.

During the 1950’s the Antrim County Council Education Board planned a new school for Portrush which would replace the Mark Street and Kelly Memorial schools. A site was identified along Crocnamac Road part of the original County Golf Club course.

Portrush Primary School
Portrush Primary School

On 13th June 1956 His Excellency The Lord Wakehurst KC MG, Governor of Northern Ireland, laid the foundation stone for the new school and Portrush County Primary School welcomed its first pupils in 1959.

During the 1980’s a movement towards “integrated education” grew throughout Northern Ireland. Integrated Education brings children and staff from Catholic and Protestant traditions, as well as those of other beliefs, cultures and communities together in one school. For the past 30 years, in a deeply divided society, Integrated schools have been intentionally and proactively developed to encourage more mixing in schools. Integrated Schools ensure that children from Protestant and Catholic religious and/or cultural backgrounds, as well as others who identify differently are educated together every day in the same classrooms.

It is important to note that Integrated schools are essentially Christian in character but proactively strive to ensure everyone’s tradition is respected and included. In 1987 a new school, Millstrand Integrated Primary School, was set up in a large house at Dhuvarren on the Portstewart Road. Millstrand was the old name for the West Strand which the school overlooks. Initially funded by parents and well-wishers the school thrived and is now state supported and attracting pupils from a wide area, being the only integrated primary school within the Coleraine District.