A Service of Choral Evensong was held in St Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen, on Sunday, November 4 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the opening of the first Royal school in Fermanagh.
The service was conducted by the Dean of Clogher, the Very Revd Kenneth Hall, and the preacher was the Right Revd David Chillingworth, former Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, who is a former pupil of Portora Royal School and a former choir boy in St Macartin’s Cathedral.
The first Free School was established in Lisnaskea in 1618 following the decree from King James I to create a Free School in each of the five western counties of Ulster; Donegal, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan and Armagh.
In around 1643, the Free School for Fermanagh moved to Schoolhouse Lane, just north of St Macartin’s Cathedral, and became known as Enniskillen Free School. Following the restoration of the Monarchy and the issue of further Letters Patent by King Charles II, it became known as Enniskillen Royal School, gaining a reputation for academic excellence and known as the Classical School or the Great School of Enniskillen which Dean Jonathan Swift wrote glowingly about.
A new school building was opened on Portora Hill in 1779 and its reputation grew with three 19th century headmasters establishing the academic reputation of the school; the Revd Andrew O’Beirne, the Revd John Greham and the Revd Dr William Steele. The railway enabled boarders to travel to the school from all over Ireland. It was the Reverend Steele who popularised the name “Portora” to describe the Royal School and he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Trinity. His successors consolidated the School as a leading academic and sporting institution.
Henry Francis Lyte, who wrote ‘Praise my Soul, the King of Heaven’ and ‘Abide with Me’, was a pupil at the School as were the literary greats, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett. The Blessed John Sullivan went to Portora before becoming a Jesuit in later life and working at Clongowes Wood College SJ. During the early years of the 20th Century, the legendary Dickie Lloyd captained the most successful rugby team which won everything between 1905 and 1909 when seven of the team went on to play international rugby for Ireland.
In the First World War, 76 of the Old Portorans who served, died.
There were schools for girls established much later, including the Enniskillen Royal School for Girls which opened in Darling Street, Enniskillen. The Collegiate Grammar School opened in 1931.
Both Portora Royal School and the Collegiate Grammar School merged in 2016 to form Enniskillen Royal Grammar School.