A Brief History of the School
Over 100 years ago there lived in this neighbourhood a highly respected and much loved family named Duffin. Their home ‘The lodge' was on the hill behind Connsbrook Avenue. The family was known to consist of one brother, Adam a reputable stockbroker and three maiden sisters, all of whom had the interests and welfare of the neighbourhood very much at heart.
In the year 1913 due to the expansion of Belfast and this becoming a popular residential area it was deemed imperative to build a new school to replace the very old one situated at the Park Avenue end of Lisavon Street. (This building was subsequently used as a branch of St. Mark's Parish Church - St. Brendan’s and later an independent entity).
Schools in those days were not provided through Corporation of Government Funds but through the efforts of public-spirited people. The Duffin Family undertook through their family and friends the task of raising the necessary capital. Subsequently on a site given gratis by them a beautifully equipped school of four classrooms and a very fine domestic economy room was ready for opening (in the year 1913) under the management of twelve prominent residents of the neighbourhood, the Misses Duffin being amongst that number.
As a compliment to and in gratitude for the interest (and the money) the Duffin Family had provided, the Committee wished to acknowledge the name by calling the new school the Duffin Memorial National School. However the sisters had other ideas.
We need to record that even less than 100 years ago Belfast Lough was very much wider than it is now, extending indeed to where our boundary wall separating us from Sydenham Infant School is now built. The foreshore was then beautifully clean, sandy and very suitable for bathing, a pastime to which the Duffins as children were most devoted.
Miss Duffin told of many happy days she and her family spent on the Strand - a word which literally means the margin or breach of a sea or lake and in remembrance of those happy days they chose to name the school - 'Strand'.
At its opening the enrolment was approximately 200 children embracing all the Standards from Junior Infants to Standard Six - (now Primary 1 to 1st Form or Year 8). Mr. J. A. Gregg was the Principal Teacher and Miss Jane Christy, member of another highly respected family was one of his assistants. Miss Christy was to serve the school for over 40 years.
Some idea of the rapidity with which this district had grown and a tribute to its popularity as a residential area may be gauged from the facts. In 1914 the school population was then a matter of 200. The numbers of pupils in Sydenham and Strand rose, at a time to over 1,000.
An additional four rooms and a central hall were added in 1926 and a further four rooms in 1932. Other construction work was later carried out on the toilet blocks.
Due to enemy action in 1942 classrooms 1 to 8 and the domestic economy room were destroyed and rebuilt in 1953. Only a portion of the boundary wall and the front wall of the original building now remain.
The refurbished library (originally the domestic economy room) now serves the children well but retains our heritage as we move forward to face the challenges of the new millennium.
Many Principals and teachers have favoured this community and school over the years. Principals included Mr. W. Rogers, Mr. C. Stolworthy, Mrs. E. Baird and Miss M. Stewart.
It is a great privilege to serve in a school with a history based on such a community spirit and with a desire to do the best for the children as they set out on life's journey.
The happy voices of children in the choir or cheering on the sports field help to emphasise the spirits of faith and challenge which we in Strand encourage as part of the ethos begun by the Duffin sister. One sister wrote the poem, which still hangs in the school and was inspired by the Belfast motto:
'Pro tanto quid retribuamus'
'Thus runs the motto of your native town
And in its annals may you write your name
In characters made fair by Fame
Fame won in ways that friends when looking back
Across life's stormy sea and troubled rack
May say with gladness, much was given back'.
Should we, in life, just give a little back in the service of others we will honour the memory and spirit of those who were inspired to build the school. They and all those who have supported the work of Strand School since its origin have already earned and well deserve their places in the annals of the school's history.
By: Mary Stewart, 2000 (with thanks to several historical documents previously written on the school).
Victoria Park PS opened in September 2008. The new school was the amalgamation of a number of schools in the Sydenham area of East Belfast including Mersey St. PS, Sydenham Infants and Strand Primary Schools. The schools merged into the old Strand building, clearing the Sydenham site for a new state-of-the art school which opened in the autumn term of 2014.