Dalriada School was honoured on Wednesday morning (10 October) when Sacha, Duchess of Abercorn helped launch celebrations to mark the 75th Anniversary of the school on its present site. Mr Brian Dillon, Chairman of the Board of Governors, extended a warm welcome to the Duchess and to the Mayor of Ballymoney, Councillor Evelyn Robinson, on this important occasion for the school.
Headmaster, Tom Skelton, introduced the distinguished guests to staff and pupils involved in the school’s Conservation Society and Creative Writing Group, before a special assembly of pupils representing all year groups throughout the school. Sixth-former Jamie Forsythe outlined the work of the Conservation Society, followed by Hannah Tran and Susie Crawford, who entertained an appreciative audience with their very different, but equally fascinating, poems and prose pieces.
Then the Duchess of Abercorn talked about her charity, The Pushkin Trust, and spoke movingly about how she had established it in the darkest days of the Troubles in Northern Ireland 25 years ago, to offer children from both sides of the border the opportunity to unite through the common bond of creativity. She drew her inspiration from the creativity of her great, great, great grandfather, the Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, who had given the Russian people a renewed sense of cultural identity through his writing. The Trust also seeks to affirm and nourish the work of inspired teachers and facilitators.
The Duchess said that she was delighted to learn about the importance that Dalriada places on both conservation and creative writing – the Puskin Trust uses the natural world as a source of artistic expression and she encouraged Dalriada to adopt this year’s Pushkin theme of “source” for its creative writing projects.
Moving outside in glorious autumn sunshine, the Duchess then planted an Irish oak tree (“quercus petraea”) in the front of the school grounds, to commemorate her visit. Chairman Brian Dillon remarked “It is particularly apposite that Her Grace has planted an Irish oak today, as just a few yards away is the imposing oak planted by the present Duke’s grandfather on 2 November 1937 when he visited the newly opened school”.
The Duchess chatted informally to pupils in the sunshine and wished the school well for its 75th Anniversary programme of events. She thanked Mr Dillon and Mr Skelton for a most enjoyable morning before leaving Dalriada for the short walk to Ballymoney Museum, where she officially opened the Dalriada 75th Anniversary Exhibition.
Dalriada 75th Anniversary Exhibition is running until 10 November in Ballymoney Museum. A special Thanksgiving Service takes place in St. James’s Church at 4pm on Sunday 21 October. An Evening of Drama and Nostalgia takes place on Thursday 25 October at 7.30pm in the school – tickets £8 and £5 concession –available from the school office, or Ballymoney Tourist Information Centre at the Town Hall. More information on www.dalriadaschool.com