Van's old school could become Irish language primary

The first integrated Irish language primary school in east Belfast is planning a move to the site of Van Morrison's former school Orangefield High.

Naíscoil na Seolta first opened as a pre-school in 2021, and is planning to admit its first Primary One pupils in September 2025.

However, it has initially identified a proposed temporary site on Montgomery Road in the Castlereagh area, according to documents lodged with the planning service.

The school has received money from the Shared Island Fund to rent land in east Belfast and pay for a mobile classroom.

It also said it had seen an increased "number of expressions of interest" from the families of prospective pupils.

Irish language activist Linda Ervine, who helped set up the pre-school and sits on the school committee, said the site at Montgomery Road was a temporary plan.

Linda Ervine
Linda Ervine says the long-term goal is to have the Irish language school at the site of the now-closed Orangefield High [Getty Images]

She said those involved with the school have had a number of conversations with the Education Authority and the Department of Education about Orangefield High as a long-term site as “we visualise growth and development”.

“Our long-term goal is to move to Orangefield because this is just a starter site,” she said.

“The Department of Education has been doing a scoping exercise on the Orangefield site.

“We will not be starting to take P1s until September 2025.

“We hope to be in the Montgomery Road site for September 2024, but that might be a little optimistic."

Orangefield High closed as a school in 2014 and the land has remained vacant since.

Morrison returned to the school, which he had attended as a pupil, just after it closed for a series of concerts.

Ms Ervine said numbers for new school had risen “quite dramatically in terms of expressions of interest from the local community”.

She said that almost 40 children would be ready for P1 in September 2025.

The proposed temporary site for the school is on vacant land close to Lisnasharragh Leisure Centre - formerly the Robinson Centre - and Lisnasharragh Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) station.

It has room for a mobile classroom and a soft play area.

In the planning documents, Naíscoil na Seolta said the plan for the temporary site on Montgomery Road was for five years so would not affect the long-term development of the area.

The Education Authority (EA) it is aware of the plan for Naíscoil na Seolta to locate on a site on Montgomery Road in east Belfast - which is not in the ownership of EA.

It added the Orangefield redevelopment is "key to the successful future delivery of special educational needs provision for Greater Belfast in the long term.”