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History of the School


Down High School occupies an historic setting. It is built on one of the four distinctive hills in Downpatrick, on the site of the 19th century County Gaol, overlooking the nearby ruins of Inch Abbey and the ancient earthwork, the Mound of Down. The walls surrounding the school are part of the original boundary walls of the gaol. These and the 1833 Gatelodge are listed buildings.

Originally there were two schools joined on the same site – a Grammar School and a Technical School. The site is now fully occupied by the Grammar School. Opened in 1933 the school soon acquired and maintained a strong reputation for both academic excellence and a warm and friendly atmosphere.

The School Crest

Motto: Floreat Dunum – Absque Labore Nihil
May Down Flourish – without effort nothing.

The crest, designed by the late RWH Blackwood (a genealogist and antiquarian) of Loughinisland near Downpatrick, is a reminder of another link with the past, dating back to the 12th Century. The design itself is based upon the supposed badge of John de Courcy, the Norman knight who captured Downpatrick in 1177 and established himself as ruler of North East Ulster.

The colours of the crest are taken from the arms of Lady Elizabeth Southwell (1674-1709), daughter of Vere Essex Cromwell, 4th and last Earl of Ardglass, owner of the Downpatrick estate, and wife of the Rt Hon Edward Southwell of King’s Weston, Gloucestershire, MP for Kinsale and Principal Secretary of State for Ireland – a well known benefactor of the town.

Following a long period of campaigning by, among others, the indefatigable town commissioner and Cathedral organist Mr AJH Coulter, Down High School opened the gates to its inaugural ninety-six pupils in September 1933. Work on the conversion of the gaol site from one of penal servitude to a condition better associated with the education of the young had been ongoing since 1931, and as the first students assembled, construction work was still being completed. The new Headmaster, Mr Wilson Bell, was in post for five years and under his stewardship, the school population more than doubled. His successor, Mr Arthur Fowweather, came to the school with a strong record as Principal of Ballyclare High School and presided over Down High for a remarkable twenty-seven years, during which time he even managed to serve in the Second World War. The task of running the School during this challenging period of blackouts and the influx of urban evacuees fell upon Mr Thomas Stevenson, who became Acting Headmaster between 1940-43 and Vice-Principal thereafter until his retirement in 1976. His long association with, and intimate knowledge of, Down High meant that Mr Stevenson was worthy of the accolade 'the father of the School.' Mr Fowweather’s successor was Mr James Buckley, an experienced teacher and historian and the school continued to grow and prosper. He retired in 1984 and was replaced by Dr James Barton who had spent a considerable period of time in India before returning to Northern Ireland. He returned to the subcontinent in 1989 paving the way for Mr Jack Ferris to be appointed as Principal. A former Housemaster at Campbell College, Mr Ferris made an immediate impression on a school threatened with the dilution of its grammar school status and consequently, falling numbers. His efforts produced a remarkable period of growth in the school population and Down High School established itself as one of Northern Ireland’s foremost grammar schools, producing excellent academic results on an annual basis. After his retirement in 2006 Mr Paul Logan was appointed as the school’s new Headteacher. Like his predecessor, Mr Logan joined the school from Campbell College, where he had served as a Vice-Principal. Among his priorities were meeting the challenges of the Revised Northern Ireland Curriculum and improving the state of the school site. After successful Inspections and the securing of a new school, Mr Logan retired in the summer of 2016. The new Principal, Mrs Maud Perry, brings a wealth of educational experience to Down High School. Having taught and held senior leadership positions in a school in Surrey which was rated as Outstanding by OFSTED, Mrs Perry started in September 2016. With strong links to Northern Ireland, Mrs Perry feels very much at home in beautiful County Down.

The school celebrated its 80th anniversary during the 2013-14 academic year. To mark this milestone, a short publication was produced and can be viewed on the homepage. The booklet can be purchased from the school’s Finance Office at a cost of £5.