The Royal School and Mountnorris

The Royal School is situated in the City of Armagh. It's original planners, however, proposed locating it in Mountnorris.

Photo of the school.

Mountnorris, a sleepy village in the heart of rural county Armagh may seem the perfect setting for the establishment of a Royal School, for so it was to be, except that the proximity of cosmopolitan Armagh proved too great a temptation.

It was the intention of King James I to provide for the educational needs of the planter settlers by constructing a school with Royal Charter in each county in Ireland. These schools were established with the intention of preparing young men for entry into Trinity College, Dublin. Until then, education was largely the preserve of the upper classes, orchestrated by private tuition. It was hoped that by establishing Royal institutions with free education more young men would be in a position to take advantage of the opportunities in professional occupations.

When the idea of founding a Royal School in Co.Armagh was first conceived, the city that had been home to St.Patrick naturally promoted itself as the pre-eminent location. However, disturbances in the area surrounding the city temporarily scuppered these plans. An alternative location had to be sought, near enough that the city could lend some prestige but far enough removed from the violent disturbances that could discourage families from sending their sons to be educated.

The quiet village of Mountnorris was seized upon as the seat of learning. The siting of the school in this area is not so obscure as it may initially appear since Mountnorris had been a significant fort of some prestige. In 1608, James I, by order of the Privy Council, set aside lands in the area for the building of a school. On December 15th 1627, Charles I vested in Archbishop James Ussher six townlands in the vicinity of Mountnorris, to be held in trust by succeeding Archbishops, for the purpose of constructing a Royal School on the land. The area of land set aside for the purpose was approximately 1550 English acres. This original charter is held within the rolls of the Court of Chancery.

In the years following this grant of land, the violence in the city was quelled and the construction of a fort at Charlemont rendered Mountnorris less important. Armagh was deemed a more prestigious situation for the appointment and so the school was finally constructed within the confines of the city. This rapid reversal of plan left local landlords in uproar. The Earls of Charlemont and Gosford accused the school commission of misappropriation of funds and failure to comply with expectations. The school, as it was first conceived, had been to supply free classical education to its scholars. However, when the school was opened in Armagh it was as a paying institution and, indeed, became one of the most expensive schools in Ireland.

The land in Mountnorris was taken over by the Board of Education and set to tenants, the lease of which was not to exceed twenty-one years. The money arising from these transactions was to be applied to the maintenance of free scholars at the Royal School in Armagh.