Retiring head of History ‘a Larne Grammarian through and through’

Larne Grammar School’s head of History has been reflecting on a rewarding and enjoyable career as he retires in his 37th year as a teacher.

Monday, 1st February 2021, 6:13 pm

Harry McKay first went to Larne Grammar as a pupil from Larne and Inver Primary School and says that two teachers, Miss Conway and Miss Webb, inspired his own interest in and love of history.

He would later return as a young history teacher and remained at the east Antrim school ever since.

Mr McKay said he felt privileged to have been a teacher, particularly seeing new pupils coming into the school “lovely children, so keen and open to learning”.

Harry McKay.

“I enjoyed being challenged as pupils came to the point where they could challenge you through the skills and information they had learned as they progressed through the school.

“At every level all the way through the school, it was wonderful,” he said, adding that being able to teach his own sons Luke and Callum as they went through the school was a great experience.

There have been many changes, physical and educational, with the development of the modern grammar school; Harry recalls the original headmaster’s house being used for classes and says when he started at the school as a teacher he taught in what had been one of the bedrooms when it still had rose tinted wallpaper on the walls.

Educationally, major changes have come about with the introduction of computer based learning, google classroom online being among the innovations.

“There is much less focus on handwritten notes now and I think this is a good thing as the pupils do not have to spend so much time writing things down. Also, within ten seconds they can find information online,” he said.

The retiring head of History said that history trips and rugby trips were highlights that he would always remember from his time as a teacher.

“We went to the Somme battlefield a number of times and it was great for the young people to have the experience of that. In history we can look at numbers and statistics but forget about individuals and the last trip we were on we took three crosses with Larne Grammar School on them and laid them at the graves of William McCluggage and John Griffiths who were, respectively, a pupil and teacher killed at the Somme also James Crozier, who joined the army underage and was executed for desertion; Year 10 pupils had studied his story and we found his grave and paid tribute there,” he said.

The school trips had also gone to Krakow and visited Auschwitz, and Mr McKay said “For a lot of the children that was a life changing experience.”

“We had some great rugby trips, too. It was a particular highlight to go to Portugal when my son Callum was part of the team,”

He said that the trips and extra curriculum activities were very important, enabling teachers to see a different side to the pupils and get a strong sense of their overall personalities, while having the position of year head he regarded as one of the most important roles in his career, “I always felt very privileged that pupils could come to you when they needed advice and help, it was and is a really important job,” he said.

Harry has been a teacher at the school under four principals, D.J. Thompson, Harry Morrow, John Wilson and Jonathan Wylie and in total he has spent over 44 years at the school, completing his 37th year as a teacher.

He paid tribute to his wife Jenny saying that his achievements as a teacher would not have been possible without her support. He and Jenny are hoping to visit some new places in his retirement and are hoping for a city break when it is possible to travel again, but in the meantime he has some painting projects in the home to attend to.

In a tribute to the retiring head of History, school principal Jonathan Wylie said that Harry McKay was “a true gentleman” and “a Larne Grammarian through and through, having first attended the school as a pupil before being appointed as a History teacher in 1984. Other than the time he spent at Queen’s University obtaining a BA (Hons) in Modern History and a PGCE and one year working in FG Wilson, he has spent over forty-three years in the school as man and boy since walking through the gates for the first time as a form one pupil”.

“As an LGS pupil, Mr McKay participated fully in the extra-curricular life of the school, playing 1st XV rugby, 1st XI cricket and competing for the athletics team. He greatly valued the opportunities his teachers had provided him and, in return, sought to provide similar opportunities to his pupils.

“During his time in the school he has played a significant role in supporting LGS rugby, coaching the 1st XV for many years. Right up to the end of career, he still volunteered to referee the 2nd XV on Saturday mornings. He coached cricket and accompanied groups of LGS pupils on rugby tours to Canada, Portugal, England, Scotland and Ireland, and History trips to Rome, Auschwitz and the battlefields of the Western Front,”

The principal said that during his lengthy teaching career, Mr McKay had fulfilled a number of roles within the school: head of Department, head of year, deputy designated teacher and senior Tteacher.

“As well as his pastoral role with sixth form pupils, he is responsible for overseeing the welfare and professional development of newly qualified teachers and he takes on the not inconsiderable task of organising prize night,” Mr Wylie said. “He has been a real source of encouragement and support to me as a member of the senior leadership team,” he added, saying that it was very obvious to those around him that pupils matter to Mr McKay,

“He cares for them and wants them to succeed. It is why generations of Grammarians have responded to him with such enthusiasm and can look back fondly, and with gratitude, on the influence he has had on their lives,” the school principal concluded.

Click here to read: Larne Grammar School celebrates many successes ‘in a very difficult year’

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