Development of Catholic Education in Holy Cross

Holy Cross Parish has a long and proud tradition in providing first class Catholic education. Since the early days of the Passionists’ arrival in the parish, they have been committed to the education of the young people of the parish. This commitment has seen many times of celebrating success and achievement, but it has also witnessed times of struggle and adversity. The events around Holy Cross Girl’s School in 1991, and the current debate about the future provision of Catholic education in the parish are more recent examples of such struggle.

Our purpose here though, while not ignoring times of trouble, is to focus on the fruits of the commitment of the people and Passionists of Holy Cross Parish in overcoming diversity and in enabling our young people to stand proud in the presence of their peers; to take their rightful places in shaping the future of our country, while retaining a sense of pride in their Ardoyne roots.


The beginning of the journey…
The first school in the parish was built by Fr Ignatius Paoli in 1869. Back in 1969, during the Centenary celebrations in Holy Cross, a 94 year old parishioner shared her memories of this first school:

“It stood in the grounds up there beyond the Monastery door…I remember the Half-timers, pupils who came to school for half a day and then worked in the big mill down the Crumlin Road. Teachers? I remember one well. She was a great story-teller. Her name? Let me think, what was it? Why can’t I remember her name?”

The teacher referred to by the lady might have been one of the two people named in the District Inspector’s Observation Book in 1869. Handwritten in this book is the following entry:

“Kate Gleeson and Catherine Boyle, appointed teachers in Holy Cross National School, Roll No. 10339, on 8th November, 1869, are directed to draw up a Time-table immediately.”

What we can be sure of is that Miss Gleeson and Miss Boyle, (women teachers were not allowed to be married), would have enjoyed the Blessing of the new school on the 18TH May, 1869.


Chief Street School
On this same date, 1902, Cardinal Logue opened the new twin-towered church, as well as opening and blessing the new school in Chief Street. Interestingly, the official recognition for the new school came from the Department of National Schools in Dublin. A letter was sent to the Rector, Fr Malachy Gavin, informing him:

‘The Commissioners have ordered that Holy Cross Female and Infant (non-invested) National Schools, Rolls No. 10339 and 15338 be struck off the Rolls and all grants transferred to Holy Cross Female and Infant (vested in Trustees) from the 8th September, 1902. The Commissioners have also ordered that a grant of Free Stock, value £6, be made to the Female School on condition that Sale Stock to the value of £1 15s be purchased.”

On the pages of the same Observation Book there is reference to the “rebuilding of the Boys’ school house.” This was completed by 1914, and reopened by Joe Devlin, later MP for West Belfast. With ther girls now in Chief Street, and the boys in Woodvale, education was well catered for in Ardoyne up to and during both World Wars. Holy Cross parish though, was fast becoming a thriving centre of industry, and along with the effects of sectarianism, extra accommodation had to be found for the rapidly increasing enrolment. Nissan huts began to appear in the playgrounds and temporary classrooms became permanent fixtures. A whole generation of Ardoyne children received their education in the Huts, and the Waiting List continued to grow.


The Education Act, 1947
The passing of the Education Act in the north of Ireland in 1947 had a tremendous impact for Catholic children. Modern buildings were now an urgent requirement in the parish. The cost of building such resources would prove a heavy burden for the parishioners, as 35% of the total amount had to be paid by the parish. Their generosity was rewarded though with the opening of the doors of St Gabriel’s for boys of post primary age in 1956. Further development took place when Woodvale School was closed in 1959, and the boys moved to the present primary school in Butler Street. While the doors closed in 1959, they were reopened less than a week later for the overflow of girls from Chief Street School. This overcrowding continued until the opening of St Gemma’s School in 1967.


On 12th May, 1969, Holy Cross Girls’ Primary School transferred from Chief Street to their new building in the grounds of the old Wheatfield Seminary. This was a new school, and along with it came a new status, that of a “maintained school,” through which it received an increased level of financial support in return for a measure of public representation on the “four and two” Management Committee.


Thus in 1969, it seemed that Holy Cross was well catered for in terms of educational provision for its children. Little did people realize the extent of change and turmoil in the years to come.


Holy Cross Girls’ Primary School,


Ardoyne Road, Belfast, BT14 7HZ.

Tel: 9039 1771.


Principal : Mrs Maura McNally.


Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School,


Butler Street, Belfast, BT14 7EX.

Tel: 9035 1032.


Principal: Mr McArevey


Holy Cross Nursery School,


Butler Walk, Belfast, BT14 7NZ.

Tel: 9074 5672.


Principal: Mrs Nuala Gallagher.

Mercy Primary School,


Crumlin Road, Belfast, BT14 7GL.

Tel: 9039 1670.


Principal: Mrs Elaine Loughran


Ardoyne Youth Club,

Old Beltex Mill, Flax Street, Belfast BT14 7EJ

Tel : 9035 1482

Worker in Charge: Thomas Turley