Apart from their excellent writing skills what does the Rambling Wombat(that’s me!), Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and Henry Francis Lyte have in common?
Answer: We all went to the same school – Portora Royal School in Enniskillen.
In fact, not only did we attend, each of us signed an enrolment register retained by the school. Wilde’s signature was hidden and his name removed from a prize-winners board after his conviction for homosexual offences in 1895. His name was restored to the prize-winners board in the 1930s and consequentially shines with greater lustre than those of his contemporaries – something that would bring a wry smile to Oscar’s face, I imagine.
While blue Ulster History Circle plaques have been affixed to the walls in recognition of Wilde and Beckett (pictures three and four), The Rambling Wombat’s and the Reverend Lyte’s plaques have yet to be affixed. Most readers will recognise Wilde and Beckett. Lyte was a poet and hymn writer – his most famous composition being the hymn – “Abide with me.”
Portora Royal School, which started out life as Enniskillen Royal School, is Enniskillen’s oldest school and indeed one of Ireland’s oldest having been established pursuant to a 1608 decree by King James I. The original school was built in 1618 at Ballybalfour (Lisneskea), some 15 miles from Enniskillen. While the school actually moved into Enniskillen in around 1661, it wasn’t until around 100 years later in 1778 that the school moved to its present location atop Portora Hill. The original square block building, which provided accommodation for 60 to 70 pupils, can be seen as the central portion of the current façade of Portora.
Until the late 1900s the school catered for boarders (night-rats) and day pupils (day-dogs) and apart for a short period from 1979 to the early 90’s (when it unsuccessfully dabbled with having girls) it has been a boys school though it again started accepting girls into the 6th Form (final two years) in September 2011. Portora no longer accepts boarders and its enrolment in 2015 was around 500 – the highest it has been in its 400 years plus history.
Old Portorans can be found in all walks of life scattered across the world. In the words of the schools former (2015) headmaster:
“Portorans have been Olympians and Nobel Laureates, they have governed over British Colonies and led European Radicalism, they have been Soldiers and Statesmen, Lawyers and Litigants, Scholars and Poets, Businessmen and Bishops. One is under consideration by the Roman Catholic Church for beatification; another is regarded as a central icon of alternative life styles in the 20th Century.”
UPDATE: On 1 September 2016 the Collegiate (girls) Grammar School and Portora Royal School, Enniskillen amalgamated and became the Enniskillen Royal Grammar School.
Address: 1 Lough Shore Road, Enniskillen (former Portora)
Directions: About 500m on the right leaving town along the Lough Shore Road – Just past the Round “O” Jetty.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on many trips to Enniskillen. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Portora Castle – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – “Fare thee well Enniskillen, ………..”