Educating girls in North Belfast since 1930
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Fortwilliam area was one of the most exclusive areas of the city and had among its residents, numerous wealthy business people involved in Belfast’s engineering, candle-making and linen industries. One residence, Walton, was purchased in 1930 from the Morrow family and renamed the Convent of the Holy Rosary. This became the home of the Dominican Sisters who, at the request of the Bishop of Down and Connor, Reverend Dr Daniel Mageean, came to the area to provide much needed secondary education for young, female Catholics.
Under the guidance of Mother Peter Flynn, the foundations of today’s school were established, initially with the opening on the 15th September 1930, of a Preparatory School and a Commercial College on the 6th October 1930. Classes were conducted in the convent but increased demand for post-primary education necessitated extensions to the building. The foundation stone for the new wing of the grammar school was laid by Dr Mageean on the 26 May 1933 - this stone can still be seen on the outer library wall adjacent to the chapel. The grammar school, officially recognised in 1934, continued to flourish throughout the 1930s.
In the Post-War years, the implementation of the Education Act (NI) 1947, which provided free education for all children, resulted in an ever increasing enrolment which required further building programmes.
Fairbourne, purchased in 1946, was renamed St Joseph’s and housed the Preparatory School of 150-200 pupils until it closed in June 1977.
St Mary’s building was opened in 1953.
The Lodge building (previously Ormisdale), which in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the site of a private school for the daughters of the wealthy, was purchased in 1957 from the Christian Brothers and renamed St Catherine’s
The Assembly Hall (St Mary’s Hall), was completed in 1963.
St Oran’s House, on Fortwilliam Park, was acquired in 1965 and subsequently two nearby houses were purchased in 1970 and 1991 to accommodate the ever expanding sixth form in what was then known as St Colmcille’s.
The College Chapel of the Holy Rosary was completed in 1966 and continues to provide pupils with a sacred place to pray. It is an ideal background for liturgical events throughout the year.
While many improvements had been made over the years, it was apparent that in order to meet the challenges of the new century and the needs of the pupils, a modern, purpose-built school was required. On the 22nd June 1998, the Dominican Sisters left the original convent building (Walton) and moved to their current home, Iona House, on Fortwilliam Park, marking the end of an era. The Walton building has been incorporated into the new school and remains an important link between the past and the present.
A New Millennium, a New School and a New Chapter in the History of Dominican College
The news that the Dominican community had long awaited, came on 9th February 2000 when the Minister for Education granted £13.1 million funding for the new college building programme. On Friday 6th October 2006, the new grammar school was officially opened by Bishop Walsh, marking the culmination of decades of dedicated work and vision. In his address, Bishop Walsh noted the special contribution made by the Dominican Sisters to Catholic education in north Belfast. Press coverage of the opening of Dominican College in 1930, described it as “A Beautifully Situated Establishment with a High Purpose” - the same statement can be applied to the Dominican College of the 21st century.
Saint John Henry Newman once said, “to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often”. Dominican College has changed in many respects since 1930 but the ethos and traditions of the Dominican Sisters prevail.
“the pursuit of Truth in all its forms, intellectual, spiritual and moral”