2013 and Foyle College is poised on the threshold of an exciting future - built on four centuries of tradition.
Founded by the Merchant Taylor, Mathias Springham, in 1617, as the Free Grammar School, it became Foyle College in 1814 and, eventually, merged with the Londonderry Academical Institution in 1896.
Further mergers took place among schools in the city until, in 1976, the Foyle and Londonderry Amalgamation Act resulted in the city’s first coeducational grammar school.
And, as from 2012, the College has been able to finalise plans for its much anticipated move to a new greenfield campus at Clooney in the Waterside.
‘A View the Foyle Commanding’ is, therefore, a timely celebration of two significant anniversaries - the 200th and 400th - and brings past and present alive through superb imagery and vivid first-hand accounts that provide a “many-sided” portrait of the College and its community through the generations.
Lavishly illustrated and beautifully finished, the book has been produced by an editorial team with rich experience of Foyle over several decades.
The book’s general editor is Sean McMahon, former St Columb’s College teacher and himself the author of some 70 works including the critically-acclaimed ‘Derry Anthology’.
Also key to the book’s successful production were William Lynn, project manager, and Robert Montgomery, school archivist.
Sean McMahon says that while the task of writing the history of a school nearly 400 years old was “daunting in prospect”, it was “exacting in fulfilment.”
He explains that many aspects of school life are covered in the book which has been published by Third Millennium Information Ltd. of London - a publishing house which specialises in illustrated histories of prestigious schools and university colleges.
In his introduction to the book, Sean reveals: “We have a narrative history of Foyle showing how the school’s story intersected with the history of Derry-Londonderry through the troubled centuries; some account of the 43 men and women whose tolerance shaped and moulded the schools under their titular care; the sometimes fraught relationship with the Irish Society; the beneficial relationship we had with the diocese of Derry; girls’ education in the city; and an account of its sometime rival, the Londonderry Academical Institution.”
Sean reveals that, within the “composite” school history, are found connections with Trinity College, Dublin, with Magee in Derry and with more exotic places like Norway, Australia, the US, Singapore, Hong Kong, India and Pakistan.
“I use the word ‘composite’ deliberately, the editor explains, “as many strands went to make up the totality of Foyle today. The amalgamation with Londonderry High School in 1976 was a challenging and, perhaps, uncomfortable necessity, and the former had, at least, three different skeins woven into its fabric.
“We include accounts of the various preparatory schools, the pains and pleasures of boarding, the trauma of the wartime years and the evolving curriculum.”
School life, however, says Sean McMahon, isn’t all about confinement in classrooms “while reluctantly learning or failing to learn.”
“What Old Girls and Old Boys remember with greatest pleasure,” he says, “are the extra bits, the literally extra-curricular activities that cast a golden glow over the ‘happiest days’.
‘A View the Foyle Commanding’ - a hardback book with almost 200 pages in full colour - will retail at £40 and copies can be purchased at local book shops and the school’s office at Duncreggan Road. Copies will be available at a discounted rate of £35 at Friday’s book launch.