Belfast Telegraph

Film to capture life of iconic school

by Fiona Rutherford

East Belfast Community Development Agency is calling on former pupils of Templemore Avenue Primary School to help create a documentary style film and exhibition about the history of the iconic school.

The building is being redeveloped into a networking centre for residents and Sarah Lorimer is leading the ‘People’s History’ project.

“This involves the creation of a short film on the history of the school,” Sarah explained. “I am hoping to interview informally, past pupils of the school and borrow old photographs and artifacts from the school.”

The youngest children to attend the school when it opened in 1926 would be about 88-years-old and Sarah has had no trouble tracking some of them down. It is estimated that over its 50 year history close to 4,000 children and over 100 teachers passed through the gates of Templemore Avenue School.

When the school opened in August 1926 it was considered a state-of-the-art facility with room for 912 pupils.

Its first headmaster, Toby Mercer, presided over the school for more than 25 years.

Unsurprisingly, the building on the original Glentoran Football Club grounds, spawned a number of top players including Derek Dugan, who represented Northern Ireland in the World Cup in 1958. He also played for Distillery, Wolves and Blackburn Rovers.

George Spiers and Ronnie Briggs are among the ex-pupils to play for Manchester United while many of Glentoran’s top stars through the years came through Templemore’s doors.

The School was damaged during the Blitz of 1941 as were the Library and the Hospital. When the war finished, the still acclaimed Templemore Avenue Brass Band was founded at the school.

At its peak, in 1950 there were 955 pupils and a staff of 26. By 1976 there was only 197 registered on the roll and the school was closed that year.

As some of Sarah’s correspondents have explained, learning was not a priority for many children who viewed school as an interruption to their play or a stop gap before joining the shipyard.

Some of them, such as Norman Gray and Sid Spence who were there in the 1940s, remember art teacher ‘Sykey’ Mc Cullough, who was an ex-boxer and at over six feet, seemed huge to them.

Mr Spence, who emigrated to Australia 42 years ago, said he was saddened on his return for a holiday three years ago, to see how run down Templemore Avenue had become. He writes: “It does my heart good to see at last something is being done to bring back some pride to east Belfast. Hopefully I will be home in June 2011 and will see some changes for the better.”

He recalls a science teacher nicknamed ‘Arky’ and adds: “His pride and joy were his fish tanks. He would have written the lesson on the blackboard and when he got to the bottom would erase the top half and God help you if you hadn’t written it down in time.”

Sarah is, unsurprisingly, enjoying recording ex-pupils’ tales of such characters. “It’s been great fun, really interesting so far but we’re still at the early stages and we need more testimonies,” she said.

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