Belfast Telegraph

Pupil challenges St Columb's College's beard ban

Carrick McClean outside St Columb’s College
Carrick McClean outside St Columb’s College
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

A student is challenging the 'no beard' policy that has been in place at his school since its formation more than 140 years ago.

Carrick McClean (18), a sixth former at St Columb's College in Londonderry, was told he could not remain in class because he had not shaved.

He finished the day sitting in a study room.

Aggrieved at the incident on December 20, he took to social media where he voiced his objection to the policy and has now launched a petition asking principal Finbar Madden to abolish the ban.

Within a few days the teenager has garnered more than 2,000 signatures and his original post on Twitter has been viewed by 120,000 people.

He returned to St Columb's College on Monday after the Christmas break clean-shaven so he could continue with his A-level studies.

But he is still hoping the school will allow him and other like-minded students to ditch the razor.

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St Columb's College is named after Colmcille, who ironically is often depicted wearing a full beard.

It is Derry's oldest all-boy grammar school and boasts two Nobel laureates - John Hume and Seamus Heaney - among its alumni.

Other past pupils include the Catholic Primate of All-Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin, a former principal at St Columb's, and the late former Bishop of Derry Edward Daly.

Carrick McClean sporting a beard
Carrick McClean sporting a beard

Playwright Brian Friel, composer Phil Coulter, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and the late vice-chancellor of Queen's University Prof Patrick Johnston also attended.

Carrick, who is studying double award construction and engineering at A-level and intends to go to Liverpool University, said he is proud of St Columb's and proud to be a student there.

But he thinks its policy on beards could be abandoned. He said: "I was in my fourth year when I first came up against the college's 'clean-shaven' policy and I have been told to shave a few times.

"But on December 20 I decided I wasn't going to and that's when I was removed from my class. I was given the option to either shave at school or go home and shave, but I just thought it was unfair to exclude me from my classes so I posted about it on Twitter.

"I pointed out that, as a young adult, I work, drive, pay tax and national insurance, and I am registered to vote. But whenever I enter the school I am treated like a child, being forced to be clean-shaven. I wasn't expecting the big response I got to it - 120,000 people have viewed it and over 2,000 people have signed the petition, which is amazing.

"I was a bit disappointed to see people criticising teachers at the school, that was never what the post was about. I am proud to be at St Columb's and proud to represent the school on its GAA team. I just don't agree with its policy on beards."

The college reopened on Monday after the Christmas break and the teen returned to his classes having shaved off his beard on Sunday night.

He said: "As long as the rule is in place, I will respect it because I don't want to be segregated from my class, but I intend to keep on lobbying to get the rule changed.

"As soon as I arrived back at school I handed letters to the principal and to the board of governors asking for a meeting and explaining why I feel so strongly that the policy should be scrapped.

"There are so many reasons why I feel the school should do away with this rule, not least among them is on grounds of equality.

"Teachers are allowed to wear beards but students are not - that is not fair nor does it make sense.

"Beards can be grown to cover up acne scars, which is a big issue for a lot of boys, and can lead to them having low self-esteem.

"A lot of people have bad reactions to shaving, they find it painful and end up with bad rashes. I am not challenging this policy just for me, I am doing this for all the students who are here now and who will come here in the future."

He has attempted to attract the support of some high-profile men renowned for sporting whiskers including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

His post also came to the attention of Keith Fleet, the head of the Beard Liberation Front, which describes itself as "informal network of beard wearers".

Mr Fleet, who is promoting the petition on social media, said he was also going to nominate the schoolboy for Beard of the Winter, part of the Beard of the Year competition.

St Columb's College was contacted for a response.

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