Royal Belfast Academical Institution

Coordinates: 54°35′49″N 5°56′10″W / 54.597°N 5.936°W / 54.597; -5.936

Royal Belfast Academical Institution
Motto Quaerere Verum
(To Seek the Truth)
Established 1810
Type Voluntary Grammar School
Principal Miss Janet Williamson M.A. (Oxon) NPQH
Chairman of the Board of Governors Mr Colin Gowdy
Founder William Drennan
Location College Square East
Northern Ireland
United Kingdom
Colours Black and Yellow

The Royal Belfast Academical Institution, is a grammar school in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Locally referred to as Inst, the school educates boys from ages 11 to 18. It is one of the eight Northern Irish schools represented on the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference. The school occupies an 18-acre site in the centre of the city on which its first buildings was erected.


View of the Institute, circa 1910

The first demands for the school which would become "Inst" came from a group of Belfast merchants, and professional gentlemen. They insisted that the existing Belfast Academy under William Bruce did not offer a "complete, uniform, and extensive system of education." They hoped that a new school would give more access to the ‘higher' branches of learning as well as to those which would fit youths for a practical commercial career. The foundation stone of Inst. was laid, in pouring rain, on 3 July 1810 by George Augustus Chichester, 2nd Marquess of Donegall. Donegall owned much of the land in the Belfast area and granted the school a lease for the grounds at an annual rent of £22–5s–1d. The eminent English architect John Soane, who designed the new Bank of England in 1788, offered to draw up plans in 1809.

Building began in 1810. Money was collected to pay for the buildings by encouraging rich merchants and businessmen to subscribe one hundred guineas each for the privilege of being able to nominate one boy to receive free education at Inst. The roof of the main building was completed during the winter of 1811. The Institution was formally opened at 1:00pm on 1 February 1814. William Drennan announced that the aim was to ‘diffuse useful knowledge, particularly among the middling orders of society, as a necessity, not a luxury of life.' He also referred to the particularly noble and rural setting of the school – in front a fair and flourishing town, and backed by a sublime and thought-inspiring mountain. Until the middle of the 19th century, the RBAI was both a school and a university, a dual function which the Belfast Academy never had.


For the first three years boys normally follow a common curriculum: in the fourth year the curriculum is still general but certain options are introduced, and at the end of the fifth, boys sit the examination for the Northern Ireland GCSE. Subjects studied at AS/A2 level in the VIth Form include English, Modern History, Geography, Economics, French, German, Spanish, Greek, Latin, PE, Business Studies, Technology, Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Physics, Politics, Chemistry, Biology, Music and Art.


House House Colour
Jones Yellow
Kelvin Green
Larmor White
Pirrie Blue
Stevenson Brown
Dill Red

Sports and societies

There are numerous clubs and societies, a School Orchestra, Choir and Band, a contingent of the Combined Cadet Force, Scouts and Explorer Scouts (74th) and a Community Service Group.


The school offers a wide selection of sports, with rugby union being the most dominant. Inst have won the Ulster Schools Cup outright 31 times along with 4 shared titles, winning the cup most recently in 2016 against Campbell College Belfast. Rugby football and hockey are played in the winter; athletics, cricket and lawn tennis occupy the summer months; Badminton, fencing, rowing, squash and swimming (including water polo and life-saving) take place throughout the year. Teams representing the School take part not only in matches and activities within the Province, but also in events open to all Schools in the United Kingdom.

The school hockey teams have achieved many successes. The 1st XI consistently feature in the finals of all three competitions they enter (The Irish Schools Tournament, The McCullough Cup and the Burney Cup). In 2016 four Instonians played Olympic hockey, three for Ireland and one for Great Britain. In recent times other school sports have also been more frequently making headlines. Inst is one of only four schools in Northern Ireland to participate in competitive rowing. In 2005 the first ever Inst crew travelled to the Henley Royal Regatta in England. It regularly participates in various regattas throughout Ireland and abroad.

In swimming the school teams regularly go to competitions within Ireland and abroad. In 2005, 3 of the team qualified for the Irish International Schools Squad.[1] In the same year the Senior team came 3rd in the Bath Cup competition held in London. Recently the team picked up a number of medals in the Irish Schools, held in the NAC in Dublin on the 4 February 2006. Again one swimmer qualified for the International Schools Squad, while the Senior Relay Team became Irish champions in both the medley and freestyle relays, breaking both Irish Schools records in the process. On the 12 May 2006 the senior team again won the prestigious Bath Cup competition, in a new record time. In February 2007, the team again performed well in the Irish Schools, gaining numerous medals and retaining both senior relay titles. The team narrowly missed out on the 2007 Bath Cup title, being beaten by 0.4 seconds in a thrilling race which was down to the wire. However, the team did shave a huge 3 seconds off the record that they themselves had set the year before, and also took the Otter title and record for the 4x50 medley relay.

In March 2008, they won the Bath Cup again, in a new record time. They also broke the Otter Medley title, with two members winning both titles for a second time. Water polo teams have competed in various events and tours. The most recent to the Netherlands in 2006. In January 2007 the team came runners up in the Irish Schools Water Polo Championships. Numerous players have gone on to gain representative and international honours. Football (soccer) is played at Inst with 3 senior teams regularly competing in league and cup competitions, although it is not played below 5th Form. The school hosts a number of students who represent their country in various sports.


The Music Department is overseen by Mr Philip Bolton, who in his time at the school has managed to create an award winning musical community. He is a member of the acclaimed Priory Singers and is intrinsic to the Northern Ireland musical scene. He was awarded an MBE for services to Music in Northern Ireland in the 2012 New Year's Honours List.[2]

Musical groups include the choir, which won the UTV Choir of the Year competition in 1999, the orchestra, the jazz band led by past pupil David Howell, and the string group. All of which have gathered a plethora of distinguished musical awards and achievements. Other notable figures in the music department are:

The music performed is of all varieties and styles. In one concert, a listener could be treated to choral, jazz, gospel, classical, death metal, modern classical, rock and alternative in the space of two hours. Concerts have a reputation of being incredibly different from other school performances, with plenty of visual aspects. Among public performances and television recordings, the music department have two major concerts a year in November and March, along with the annual Carol Service, details of which may be found on the RBAI Official Website. In 2010, the Easter concert took place on 29 April in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, to mark the 200th anniversary of the school. In the bicentenary year, Philip Bolton chose to compose a new arrangement of the school song which was much more instrumental, to a largely positive response.


The school's debating society, more properly known as the Royal Academical Debating Society, is the oldest continuously extant body of its kind in Ireland and is currently overseen by Marina Matchett and Chris Leathley. The society meets regularly at both junior and senior level and aims to develop initiative, confidence, and an appreciation of the culture of both debate and civilised argument. Debates are lively, sometimes controversial, and provide a platform for social, political and cultural debate articulated in a considered and eloquent manner. Two internal competitions are run within Inst. There is an Inter-House Debating Competition (current champions are Larmor) and the Gawin Orr Public Speaking Competition which are both held annually. The Royal Academical Debating Society also holds an annual dinner at which members celebrate past successes and wish leaving members well.

The inaugural RBAI Invitational Debating Tournament was held in 2007 and has continued on an annual basis since then. Inst have won this tournament on three occasions (2007, 2009 & 2010) whilst St Malachy's were the victors in 2008. In 2008, an Inst team won the first Debating Matters Competition to be held in Northern Ireland and the following year, Michael Frazer won Best Individual Speaker. School debating teams have recently been some of the most successful in the province, reaching the final of the Northern Ireland Schools Debating Championship on five occasions (1998, 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2014), and have won the prestigious competition twice, defeating Thornhill College, Derry in 2007 and Bangor Grammar School in 2011 in the final at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

Royal Belfast Academical Institution has successfully competed in many European Debating Competitions. In 2009, the Inst team won the NI European Youth Parliament Competition and went on to represent Northern Ireland in the UK Finals held in Durham. In March 2010, Inst also participated in the All-Ireland European Council Debates held annually at Dublin Castle. Representing Germany, the RBAI team were awarded 2nd place out of the 28 teams from across Ireland who competed, with RBAI also winning the TE Utley Memorial Award with an essay on the future of Britain in geopolitics. Inst also regularly participate in the European Council Debates held in Stormont.

Combined Cadet Force

Another prominent society is that of the Combined Cadet Force (CCF), which is overseen by Major Wallace and RSM Rothwell. With both RAF and Army sections, the Inst CCF contingent is regarded by many as one of the strongest in the UK. The Army-section is the current holder of the Northern Ireland Cadet Military skills Trophy for Team and individual skills. Various other trophies are held, both individually and collectively for performance in military and civil.

Old Instonians

The school has an "old boys" club known casually as Instonians and formally as the Belfast Old Instonians Association (BOIA). At present the Rugby, Golf and Cricket section of the club are open for all to join, whilst the Hockey club is still open to past members of the school only. Originally set up as an "old boys" only club, the sports club was opened up to the public in response to the notable flow of Instonians to Great Britain for further education, many of whom did not return to Northern Ireland. This led to fears that the club would die out as current members grew older but were replaced by less and less 'new blood', owing to the dwindling number of Instonians choosing to remain in Northern Ireland. The association also functions as a means for ex-pupils to find old school friends, or get in contact with other Old Instonians in their area if they move abroad. The association provides this by producing a directory of all members on a regular basis. There are annual Instonians dinners held by the association, in Belfast, London and New York City, which aim to further the feeling of brotherhood in the shared experiences of the school's sons.


Royal Belfast Academical Institution has a preparatory department called Inchmarlo, founded in 1907 and now set in a 6-acre (24,000 m2) site on Cranmore Park, off the Malone Road in South Belfast. Inchmarlo House was the former home of Sir William Crawford, a Director of the York Street Flax Spinning Mill. It employs 11 full-time staff and caters for boys aged between 4 and 11 whose standard uniform consists of traditional school-caps, shorts, knee-high socks, school-blazers and leather satchels. It constantly attains impressive results in the 'eleven-plus exam11-plus' examination with 75% of pupils gaining an 'A' grade. Of those, approximately 99% (around 40) transfer to the main school every year. The Headmaster of Inchmarlo Preparatory School is Andy Smyth, and his Vice Principal is Malcolm Guy.[3]



  1. "Principal's report, February 2005, naming the 3 Irish Schools squad members". Retrieved 2007-04-17.
  2. "2012 New Years Honours List" (PDF). 2012 New Years Honours List. Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  3. "Inchmarlo Staff List".
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