At last, after many months, we are ready to welcome almost 340 pupils back (some, of course, for the first time) to the College campus in the coming days. These months have been strange for everyone, but we are truly looking forward to re-establishing some sense of normality: to excited friends meeting up again after such a long time, to classes resuming in physical classrooms, to the buzz and movement of a busy school around a beautiful campus, to pupils making the most of the outdoor exercise opportunities here.

Enormous efforts have gone on in recent months by the Bursar and her team to prepare everything according to the best safety standards. Pupils will see the signs and arrows we are all familiar with now, in all public places, and some of the standard procedures of daily life (like meals and class routines) will be altered for a while, but much is unaltered, and we hope that as the year goes on we can gradually restore things like sports’ matches and major College events.

First Form pupils, who of course missed the rituals of leaving their Primary schools, arrive for a relaxed introduction to the campus on Tuesday afternoon; other new pupils come on Wednesday afternoon, with returning boarders that evening (they should not arrive before 6.30pm), and day boys and girls on Thursday morning.

On Thursday morning there will be House and academic administration sessions in small groups, including recorded ‘Assembly’ messages. Classes start after lunch on Thursday (after which day boys and girls may leave), and Friday is the first full day.

We look forward to getting into the routines of College life very shortly.

August 21st 2020

If you are not willing to keep learning then it is time to give up. I have learned a lot in the last few weeks. At the start of June the school was subject to a number of allegations of racism from former and present pupils and it was obviously a difficult time. I am very proud of the level of pastoral care at the College and it was not easy to have to confront the evidence that, when it came to dealing with matters of racism, the College had a lot to learn. We immediately set up an independent review into how we had done things in the past, in order to make recommendations for the future. That process has been a challenging one, both for the College and for me personally.

I want to share with you three things in particular that I have learned through this.

The first is that I thought I understood racism. I used to run an all-black school in South Africa, a society still largely shaped by the monster of Apartheid. The legacy of that racist ideology is easy for all to see. Too easy perhaps, as South Africa stands as the most unequal country in the world. The current debate, and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, has exploded since the death of George Floyd, as if black people are saying ‘enough is enough.’ The foundations of the USA were built on racism and those effects remain to this day. We can all be experts on the glaring injustices that are evident in South Africa or the USA and we will have strong opinions about them. It can be reassuring to look at ‘that racism over there.’ However, I have learned that it is much harder to spot the issues of racism that might be carrying on under one’s nose, the subtle, undermining and corrosive instances that wear people down and sap their self-esteem. That requires a new way of looking at things, honest listening and a commitment to not ignoring the ‘micro-aggressions’ that are the lived experience of many black people in this country.

Secondly, I realise how inadequate the current school curriculum is to teach young people about the history of racism. Again, I have made myself very conversant in the history of colonialism and in particular the part my country, the United Kingdom, played in that extraordinary period of history. The British History curriculum is hot on the Tudors and on 20th Century dictators, but there is nothing concerning Empire and its legacy. However, I have come to realise that the modern world is impossible to understand without an understanding of colonialism. The reason that my country is full of immigrant communities is because of Empire. Or, to put it as others have, ‘we are over here because you were over there.’ This summer I read Black and British by the British Nigerian historian David Olusoga. It was challenging and uncomfortable and made me realise, similar to my first point, that it is one thing to be an expert in the problems of other countries, but another to know the history of one’s own country. I knew everything about Apartheid and a fair bit about the history of race in the USA. To my shame, I knew nothing about the history of black communities in my own country, let alone in Ireland. In both Ireland and the UK, for sure, there is a need to adapt the curriculum to educate young people in such matters. And, as adults, we are all responsible for informing ourselves about why things are as they are and I would recommend everyone to read up on it. Don’t parrot the opinions of other people…develop your own opinions through reading and study.

Thirdly, I have learned about the importance of creating a culture within a school in which young people feel comfortable to talk about their experiences. If we have failed to provide that sort of environment then that is my fault…and it is my responsibility to do something about it. There is always a danger that pupils keep things bottled up inside themselves until there is a crisis, rather than feeling free to express themselves and air their frustrations. It is no good talking about it without intentionally creating the conditions for such honesty to flourish. That is one of the big challenges for me personally this coming year.

I hope that we will be a better school at the end of this process than we were at the beginning. No one likes to be shown up and admit shortcomings, but, as I often say to the pupils who have misbehaved and been brought into my office, making a mistake is not the end of the world…how you respond is what is important. I am determined that we as a school respond in such a way that we can set an example to other schools of how to build a community in which everyone feels welcomed and cherished.

Mark Boobbyer.



On Sunday, May 31st, St. Columba’s College was contacted by a former pupil of the College, who bravely shared her experiences of racism while attending the school. Her actions motivated other people, both former and current pupils, to share similar experiences.  We thank them for having the courage to bring these matters to our attention.

The Board and Management of St. Columba’s College is taking these matters very seriously and has taken, and continues to take, a number of steps to address and respond to the issues raised. In the first instance, in June of this year, the College established an independent review to consider the issues raised by the pupils and former pupils and specifically how systemic racism, as alleged, could be avoided, such that diversity and inclusion are fostered and maintained in the College and, importantly, to make appropriate recommendations arising out of the review.

The aim of the review, based on submissions made by a number of former pupils and parents, as well as interviews with staff, was not to challenge or interrogate the facts or to pass judgment on individuals, but rather to use the past to inform the future and to make recommendations for how issues and concerns could be handled better.

This review has now been completed and the College has received a comprehensive report. The College accepts the findings of the report and welcomes the honest and robust analysis of the past contained within it. It thanks the author for the time invested in the production of this valuable piece of work and for the sensitive manner in which she facilitated the raising and discussing of these important issues. The College accepts that, as has been raised in the report and the recommendations, there is a need for greater understanding when dealing with matters of racism. St. Columba’s is a school with a large international contingent, that prides itself on its pastoral care, and where people have felt let down, it accepts its responsibility.

The completion of the review is only the beginning of what will be a long journey of education, awareness-raising and change. The College is committed to that journey. The report contains a substantial number of recommendations for the College to implement as it seeks to learn from the past by improving responses and procedures in the future.  The College plans to immediately put in place a Working Group comprised of staff, pupils, parents and board members who will take the review, its findings and its recommendations, and develop it into a roadmap for change.

Mark Boobbyer, Warden of St. Columba’s College said: “The College wishes to thank all those who contributed to the review and who participated in interviews. With the completion of the report, we now have clear guidance and direction on what we need to do in order to make the future better for all members of the Columba’s community.

“I also want to apologise to all pupils, both past and present, who feel let down by the manner in which we have addressed incidents of racism in the past. I specifically want to apologise to the two former pupils who first brought these matters to our attention. Their courage in sharing their experiences with the school has led us to do a lot of soul-searching and ensured that we will learn from the past in order to build a more inclusive school for all our students.

“This has been a difficult experience for the College but the Board of Management and the Fellows of the College are determined that the lessons learned, and the difficult conversations of recent months, will help to shape the College’s future.”