Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Rainey Endowed School 300th anniversary celebration: '50 Shillings and a New Suit of Clothes'

I returned to Northern Ireland at the weekend to attend a concert at the Grand Opera House in Belfast which celebrated 300 years of the Rainey, the school which I attended in
Magherafelt.   My sister, other members of my extended family; and some old acquaintances from my time there in the 70's were singing in the old pupils' choir.

It was a wonderful occasion.  The show was produced and directed by former pupil Ashley Fulton, a very talented young man: he also wrote four original songs for the production and came up with idea which provided a kind of story framework for what otherwise would have been a random collection of songs.   Other talented ex-pupils returned to take part: actress Laura Piper read Heaney's 'Station Island '; accomplished musician Rhoda Barfoot played the violin and Ian McLernon, who has been in West End shows, performed several of the solos.

The title for the performance comes from the will of Hugh Rainey who founded the school back at the beginning of the 18th century.  He wanted a school to be built to educate eight boys from the local community who would otherwise have few opportunities.  Their education was to be Christian its ethos but not linked to any particular creed.  (This has continued until the present day - the Rainey was an integrated school even in the 70's - there were many Catholic boys in my year, though few girls as they went to the local convent school).  When the 8 boys had completed their time at the school they would be given 50 shillings and a new suit of clothes before they were sent out into the world.  Ashley Fulton had seen a copy of the will displayed in the school and it gave him the ideas for the production. 

The songs he wrote and those he selected to be performed by current and old pupils' choirs shared the theme of love of home along with the desire to move on and make the most of the opportunities education offers.  There were a range of old favourites: 'Danny Boy', 'Bridge over Troubled Waters',  'To Feel the Rhythm of Life', 'Time to say Goodbye'.   And then that rather sentimental song from  Mamma Mia, 'Slipping Through my Fingers'.   I wasn't so sure about the bit where current pupils in uniform sat on stage with suitcases gazing wistfully into the distance while the choir sang.    Presumably they were meant to represent the boys leaving with their 50 shillings and new suit.   However, they looked a little uncomfortable and I am sure were suppressing giggles.

I gatecrashed the cast after-party so I could catch up with a few people I had not seen since I left school 35 years ago.  A very strange experience.  Those, like my sister,who were able to take part in the performance really enjoyed it, returning to the Johnson Hall for Saturday rehearsals and renewing old friendships.   A wonderful experience for all who took part and for the appreciative audience.  And a fitting tribute to a great school.

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