A brief history of Omagh Academy
In December 1902 a group of worthy gentlemen from the area met in the Grand Jury Rooms of Omagh Courthouse and decided that the area really needed a Protestant intermediate school for boys who, until then, had to travel to schools in other towns. By the spring of 1903 a committee of fifteen men had been appointed to set up and run the new school. Mr Henry Perdue had been appointed as headmaster. It was decided that the school would be called The Omagh Academy. A property had been acquired on the main street. This was a substantial two storey house with a basement, attic and a large rear garden.
The school prospectus stated that its objects were to provide an intermediate education for boys in the neighbourhood. It offers all the advantages of education in English, mathemat ics , experimental science, classics, foreign languages, and music, usually offered by such schools, and prepares boys for all grades of the intermediate, and for entrance to the Civil Service and matriculation at the Universities.
On 19 th September 1903 the new school opened for its first full year with twenty six names on the roll. There were just five teachers, including Mrs Perdue. The school's progress was rapid and, by 1914, there were seven girls as well as forty boys at the school. It soon outgrew its Market Street premises with one big classroom and a laboratory on the ground floor and two smaller ones above. The Perdues lived in the top floor.
In 1934, when Mr Perdue retired, the number attending the school had increased to eighty and, as this number was continuing to rise, new premises were essential. Until this point the school had been privately funded but these funds would not stretch to a new building. As a result the school transferred to the, then, Omagh Regional Education Committee. This decision was taken by the new headmaster, Mr Gaudin.
However, before the new school was built, Mr Gaudin had left Omagh and was replaced by Mr R A Simpson. It was he who oversaw the building of the premises on the present Dublin Road site which would house Omagh Academy , Omagh Technical School and the Regional Education Offices. The building covered an area of 21.230 sq ft and cost £30,000. The foundation stone was laid in April 1937 by the Chairman of the Education Committee, Mr Thomas Johnston. The school was opened on 1 st June 1938 by Her Grace the Duchess of Abercorn.
A period of extraordinary growth followed and, even by the end of the war, numbers had trebled. This expansion was due to Mr Simpson's successful promotion of the school in the community and its excellent academic record. Further growth resulted from the effects of the 1947 Education Act and the improvements in transport arrangements which meant that many pupils travelled to school from outlying villages by train.
This growth necessitated the erection of Nissan huts in 1947 and 1948. There were soon eleven classrooms in these, outnumbering the rooms in the main building. Mobile classrooms remained a feature of the school even when the Academy occupied the entire building after the Technical School moved to its new building in 1967. A new Assembly Hall-cum-gym had been built in 1962 and the old one became the canteen. The Preparatory Department was then located in the building vacated by the Education Offices in 1960.
Mr Simpson's tenure, which lasted until his retirement in 1971, witnessed many developments as school numbers grew rapidly and the range of extra curricular activities expanded. Hockey, originally played by both boys and girls, had become “ladies only” by 1948, just two years after the introduction of rugby. Many clubs and societies existed ranging from drama to ballroom dancing classes and the first modern language assistant arrived from the Congo in 1966.
From 1971 until 1984 the headmaster was Mr C Cooper. Buildings remained unchanged and soon the expanding school population was located in a range of mobile classrooms. In 1984, shortly after Mr J B McBain became headmaster, various solutions to the accommodation problem were discussed and abandoned. A major stumbling block was persuading the Department of Education that the school's enrolment would remain healthy at about six hundred and fifty pupils.
Approval was granted in January 1986 and architects appointed. However, it was not until February 1988 that funding for the £3.5 million project was agreed and that work could begin. When the extension and refurbishment was completed the school had almost doubled in size. These new facilities meant that mobiles had disappeared and forty members of staff were under the one roof for the first time in over forty years. The extended and refurbished school was officially opened by the Duchess of York on 28 th November 1991 .
By coincidence, it was on the same date in 2003 that the new Technology and Design Suite was opened by His Grace the Duke of Abercorn. This building increases the school size by over 500 sq m and provides opportunity for relocating and upgrading the ICT suite.
These are fitting technological developments in this centenary year as the school reflects on a hundred years of academic excellence ranging from John David Watson, whose achievements in Mathematics won recognition in those early years, to those pupils who, over the past decade, in almost every subject, have been placed among the top three candidates in Northern Ireland at A Level.
This is a time of great uncertainty in education and many challenges lie ahead. However the school approaches these changes with the confidence that it will retain its well deserved excellent reputation.