The name ‘Ulidia’ is Latin for ‘Uladh’ which was the ancient title of Ulster from the 5th until 14th century. It comprised at that time the area which is now encompassed by the Counties of Antrim and Down with part of County Londonderry and County Louth. Following the Gaelic resurgence the title of Uladh was again applied to the whole of the North. This was made possible only by the extinction of the Kingdom of Ulidia which is the most ancient form of Ulster known.
East Antrim is the only area of Northern Ireland in which the separate communities of that area have become more polarised since the ‘troubles’ began. The area contains approximately 15% Roman Catholic population.
An Integrated School
Under the Education Reform Order (NI), 1989, a school wishing to obtain Grant Maintained Integrated status must convince the Department of Education that it can draw a minimum of 30% of its population from the minority tradition of the area it wishes to serve.
The history of the college begins with the failed attempt to open an integrated college in Carrickfergus, in 1995. Castle Integrated College failed because of massive opposition from interested parties in the East Antrim area. However, the steering group behind Castle Integrated College refused to give up and started planning again for an integrated college in East Antrim.
A proposal for a new college was lodged again with the Department of Education in early 1997. This proposal was for the opening of a brand new integrated college in Whitehead, a few miles north of Carrickfergus. The Department of Education refused the request and financial assistance. Under the guidance of Tom Pennycook, a parent, the steering committee steadfastly refused to give up hope and decided to open the proposed new integrated college, independently, without financial assistance from the Department of Education.
The Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) was approached in February 1997 for support. NICIE acted for the steering group. Their sister organisation, the Integrated Education Fund (IEF), obtained funding for the college for a period of three months only, with the promise that the IEF would fund-raise for the college to help maintain it throughout its first year. The steering group, having secured guaranteed funding for three months went about enlisting the necessary 60 students (with a 30% balance from the minority religion), and the recruitment of Principal and Staff.
The college eventually opened on a disused hockey pitch, in Whitehead, on the 1 September 1997, under the leadership of Mr Eugene Martin, an experienced teacher and manager from Northern Ireland’s first integrated school, Lagan College. Ulidia consisted then of six teachers, second-hand temporary accommodation, second-hand furniture and equipment, but first class, quality teachers. It also had its most valuable asset – 63 wonderful students – and religious balance! A further development proposal was submitted to the Department of Education, but again this was rejected. The Department did not feel that such a school in such an area was viable. The college had to survive on its own finances for another year before a new Development Proposal could be submitted. With additional financial assistance from the IEF, Ulidia Integrated College did survive.
Interest in this new integrated college from parents in the area was overwhelming. Yet another Development Proposal was submitted to try and obtain full government funding for the 1998/99 academic year and yet again the Department of Education turned the college down. The Department was “not convinced about the viability of an integrated college in an area where the minority religion represented only 9% of the population”. Once again, the college approached the IEF for financial assistance for 1998/99 and once again our friends at both NICIE and the IEF pledged their support. Of course, money had to be found from somewhere! The college continued independently in 1998/99 with over 130 students and ten staff and, of course, more mobile accommodation. The religious balance was perfect and completely in line with government recommendations – yet the government of the day “was not convinced”. The IEF continued to fund the college from their meagre resources and the high quality education that was promised to the students was delivered by the staff. The now customary Development Proposal was again presented to the Department of Education for the academic year 1999/2000. Given that the college had over 130 students, with over 600 students on its waiting lists for the incoming years, everyone at the school was confident that this would be its year. To everyone’s complete astonishment, the college was, for the seventh time, refused funding for the year 1999/2000. Not dismayed, and with morale high, the college again sought help from the IEF and its sponsors and, true to the sincere and genuine nature of that organisation, the college was assured that the IEF would ‘go to the wall’ before it would cease funding the college.
With the help of the American Ireland Fund and the European Peace Project, finance was found to allow it to continue in existence for yet another year. It was in this year that the college moved to its present site in Carrickfergus, necessitated by the fact that suitable land could not be found in Whitehead to allow for the college’s rapid expansion. In 1999/2000 we had 17 staff and 240 students enrolled, with religious balance, and more temporary accommodation. But the end of the terrible difficulties surrounding Ulidia’s insecure future was in sight and with its eighth Development Proposal, submitted to the then new Secretary of State, Dr Mo Mowlam in December 1999, the Department of Education finally capitulated and granted Ulidia Integrated College full funding, effective from September 2000.
The initial journey was over and Ulidia Integrated College finally joined the ranks as Northern Ireland’s 44th fully-funded integrated college. During its time in the wilderness as an independently funded college, Ulidia had to suffer three petrol bomb attacks and numerous sectarian incidents directed toward the students. It also experienced two arson attacks, one of which destroyed the Library. However, today the College sits proudly on a hill overlooking the beautiful Belfast Lough, in custom designed, 21st century hi-tech buildings, with an enrolment of 500 students. Ulidia can justifiably be proud of its achievements. It proved that we were right in suffering the three long years of hardship, and that the need for an integrated college in such a troubled area was not only needed but essential.
The college is over-subscribed yearly by 70% i.e. 70% more students apply that it has places to offer. The future of the college is now secure and genuine thanks are due to those who stood by the college in its time of need especially the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education and the Integrated Education Fund. For generations to come, the story of the origins of Ulidia Integrated College and its hardships in the face of adverse difficulties, will inspire and enthuse the children of the college and all those who look for a better future for Northern Ireland.
Integrated Education brings children and staff from Catholic and Protestant traditions, as well as those of other faiths, or none, together in one school. For the past 30 years, in a deeply divided society, Integrated schools have been an alternative to an educational system in which most children attend largely religiously separated schools.
Integrated Schools differ from other schools in Northern Ireland by ensuring that children from diverse backgrounds are educated together every day in the same classrooms. Through their Admissions Criteria they enrol approximately equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant children, as well as children from other religious and cultural backgrounds. It is important to note that Integrated schools are not secular but are essentially Christian in character and welcome all faiths and none. In Integrated Primary Schools Catholic children are offered Sacramental preparation at P4 and P7. At the same time, Protestant children can generally avail of the Delving Deeper programme to develop their own faith knowledge.
Integrated Education aims to provide children with a caring and enhanced educational experience. Empowering them as individuals is a priority for staff so that as they grow and mature, they’ll be able to affect positive change in the shared society we live in. Cited from the NICIE website.
Educating together, Catholics and Protestants, and those of other religions, or none, in an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding, to the highest possible academic standards.