Careers Breakfast

Career Advisors at BRA Breakfast held at the school in 2018

Career Advisors at BRA Breakfast held at the school in 2018

On April 19 the Breakfast Club met at the school for a speed networking event. Nine guest speakers provided career advice while 38 students shared breakfast.

The event was hosted by Martin Blake, President of the BRA OBA - who spoke briefly, but eloquently.

Old Boys' News:

We very warmly congratulate the following Old Boys:

Professor James Stirling CBE FRS, who retired this summer as the first Provost of Imperial College London, has been awarded an honorary DSc by Imperial in recognition of his distinguished service to the College:

Professor Ian White FREng, the Master of Jesus College Cambridge, has been appointed the next Vice Chancellor of the University of Bath:

BRA OBA Committee Members

Robert McIlhagger (President)

Robert McIlhagger (President)

David Haslett

David Haslett

Robert McIlhagger (President)

Denis Allen

Martin Blake

Adrian Brown

Louis Campbell

Jim Carolan

David Cavan

James Cole

Tony Cole


Moore Dickson (Senior Vice P

Moore Dickson (Senior Vice P

Philip McKenna (Hon. Sec)

Philip McKenna (Hon. Sec)

Geoff Simon

Geoff Simon

Nik Simon (Hon. Treasurer)

Nik Simon (Hon. Treasurer)

Louis Campbell

Louis Campbell

Robb Fletcher

Robb Fletcher

Philip McKenna (Hon. Sec).

Mark Cooper

Sheldon Coulter

Gareth Davies

Moore Dickson (Senior VP)

Robb Fletcher

David Haslett

Philip Ingram

Roly Jamison

Nik Simon (Hon Treasurer)

Iain Knox (Dinner Secretary

Michael McDowell

Ray McClelland

Andrew Magee

Chris Magee

Walter Miskimmin

Stephen Orr

Robin Reid

Tim Reid

Mark Shields

Geoff Simon

Jimmy Sloan

Trevor Sturgess (Junior VP)

Johnny Williamson


Donald Murray.JPG

We record with great sadness the death of a most distinguished Old Boy,

The Rt. Hon Sir Donald Murray LLD

Sir Donald, who was a former Lord Justice of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Northern Ireland, was Warden of the Board of Governors in the Academy's Bicentenary year 1985.

He was a pupil at the School from 1929 to 1940 and served on the Board of Governors from 1974 to 1995.

A Memorial Service to celebrate the life of Sir Donald was held at St Anne's Cathedral on 9th March 2018. The Eulogy was delivered by

The Rt. Hon. The Lord Kerr of Tonaghmore, a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and a former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.

Lord Kerr has kindly permitted us to reproduce his words here:

"As I flew home last evening, observing a glorious sunset over a lustrous Belfast Lough, I could not resist the thought that this iridescent evening was an enormously fitting tribute to the end of a magnificent life.

On a rather more prosaic note, however, as the plane was starting its descent, I found myself, as one often does at this stage in life, reading the obituary pages. The first was of Sir Julian Loyd, the Queen’s land agent at Sandringham, a man, we were told, of 6ft 4in in height. And with a direct, if benevolent manner, who had died at the age of 91. Apart from being a mere stripling compared to the man in whose honour we gather today, Sir Julian, I think shared some of our beloved Sir Donald’s characteristics.

The obituary recounts that Sir Julian’s son broached the delicate subject of a eulogy and received the somewhat peremptory retort, “Keep it short and don’t bang on about what I’ve done”. Well, I will try to keep this eulogy short – after all, one of the many wise words that Donald imparted to me was that a short judgment was much more difficult to write than a long one. But, I am afraid that I will have to “bang on” just a bit about the wonderful man in whose memory we congregate today.

Donald Bruce Murray was born in Belfast on 24 January 1923. He was the third child in his family of four, his much-loved sister, Moyna, being the fourth. He and all of his siblings attended Belfast Royal Academy, a circumstance that gave Donald enormous pride, a sentiment fully reciprocated by the school. Indeed, the school’s pride in the achievements of this most distinguished alumnus finds expression in the magnificent singing of BRA’s Chamber choir at the service today. And it is a particular pleasure for Donald’s family that several of the current senior pupils and members of staff at the school are here today and that the Old Boys’ Association has been represented by the former Headmaster, Moore Dickson, whom we heard from a few moments ago.

The secure, close-knit family circle that Donald enjoyed and the strong bedrock that his education at BRA provided led naturally to his undergraduate career at Queen’s University where he rejoiced in his study before those legal titans, Professor Montrose and Professor Newark. Many years later, in a public lecture he paid them the moving tribute, “to them I owe any understanding of the great principles of law and justice I may have been able to achieve in my lifetime”.

This statement is entirely typical of the man. Ineffably modest, underplaying his own enormous intellectual powers, his undoubted and profound insight and his innate passion for justice.

Although he claimed to have been an indifferent student at BRA, Donald was first in the Bar Final examinations in London, a quite remarkable achievement. He was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn in 1945. He might have stayed in London, having completed a pupillage at 11 King’s Bench Walk, one of the premier chambers in London at present. No doubt, he would have enjoyed a glittering career there. Fortunately for us, and for the legal system and the legal community in Northern Ireland, fate intervened and he accepted the position of legal draftsman at Stormont. He remained there for 6 years. The experience that this specialised area of law provided equipped him well for his future career but it was not nearly enough to exploit his manifold talents. Happily, for us, he decided to come to the Bar and was called in 1953.

Many of us who have practised at the Bar have been consumed by the work that preoccupies us so intensely. This is not a healthy way to live one’s life. And it was not how Donald lived his. He had a hinterland, long before the significance of the need for one was recognised. Part of that hinterland was his love of music. And in the early 1950s this led to his joining the Ulster Operatic Society. This was a most propitious, not to say serendipitous, circumstance. One evening he arrived for a rehearsal and heard what he later described as “a gorgeous voice”. I teased him that he fell in love with a voice and he came up with the unanswerable riposte that her beauty more than equalled the magnificence of her voice. And so it did. For the possessor of the voice and the bearer of the beauty was Rhoda Parke who became Donald’s wife in 1953.

Theirs was a true, undeniable love story; a love story that endured and grew stronger throughout their life together. They were, quite simply, utterly and absolutely devoted to each other. Rhoda was his beloved wife and soulmate from the time that they married until her death 52 years later.

Donald’s career at the Bar flourished. When I was called in 1970, he was the unquestioned leader of the Chancery Bar. But he was also a champion for his family. He and Rhoda had three magnificent and much-loved children, Adrian, Rosalind and Paul. Rosalind has told me of Donald’s assiduity in attending school prize-giving and concerts.  He played cricket with Adrian and Paul in the back garden.  He coached Rosalind in how to play his famously effective ‘half volley’ tennis shot. Family holidays, usually spent in the sun, were devoted exclusively to family pursuits. These are the mark of a rounded and grounded man, alive to the need to ensure that family comes first and I salute him for it.

Donald was appointed to the High Court in 1975 and appointed to the Court of Appeal and sworn of the Privy Council in 1989. He was always a delightful tribunal. He encouraged rather than challenged counsel. A characteristic remark was, “let me expose my mind” on a particular issue. It was typical of him to let counsel know how his mind was working so that he might be persuaded to a different conclusion. This was a refreshing, candid and helpful approach to the transaction of litigation which I think is an exemplar of how sensible, constructive resolution of contentious disputes can be achieved.

But let me return finally to Donald’s personal life outside the law. He had, as I have said, a wonderful hinterland. Part of that hinterland involved his passion for snooker. After the outrageous attack on Donald and Rhoda’s house in Cadogan Park, he and Rhoda established a beautiful home in Ballylesson. A central feature of that house was the dedicated snooker room complete with full sized snooker table and a small bar – affectionately known as the ‘Estoppel Inn’. Geoff Foote, Liam McCollum and John Creaney were his invariable playing partners. Yellow and red waistcoats were made for the members.  I just think that this is magnificent. Newspapers sometimes suggest that judges are remote figures, divorced from experience of real life. Donald’s way of living his life gives the lie to that.

His was a life well lived. He combined a committed, highly successful professional career with an enormous devotion to his family. That is something to which we should all aspire but which so many of us fail to achieve.

And the exemplar that he has provided as to how to deal with the vicissitudes of life is a stunning testament as to how to maximise one’s potential for happiness. One of the most inspiring and affecting of Donald’s later life was his living with his magnificent sister, Moyna. They came together after both were widowed and lived in great happiness together for many years. I had the great pleasure of having them visit us in London. My wife Gillian and I were so impressed by the closeness of their relationship and the warmth of their mutual affection.

And that sums up, I think, the symmetry of this magnificent life. Donald confronted what life served up to him and made the most of what life made available to him.

So should we all, if we had the sense that Donald possessed. And, therefore, say not in grief that he is no more but in thankfulness that he was."

In a charming personal anecdote Sir Paul Girvan, another very distinguished Old Boy and former Lord Justice of Appeal, recalls:

"Sir Donald, who was widely recognised for his serious legal mind, was called upon to speak at The Queen’s University Law Society Dinner Dance. The audience at this event, somewhat accustomed to serious and boring speeches on jurisprudence, was surprised, delighted and thoroughly entertained when he instead performed a song and dance routine."

Old Boys' News -

We are very pleased to announce and warmly congratulate two Old Boys on their recent appointments to Professorships:


Robert 'Bobby' McFarland has recently been appointed Professor of Paediatric Mitochondrial Medicine at the University of Newcastle.

Professor Bobby McFarland

Professor Bobby McFarland

‘Bobby’ McFarland, a former Head  Boy, left the Academy in 1987 to read Medicine at Oxford. After graduation, he spent three years studying clinical medicine at King’s College Hospital in London, qualifying in 1993. He then undertook a further three years of paediatric training in London and in Newcastle and began his PhD in 2000 on a Wellcome Trust Clinical Scientist Fellowship. This was followed by a Medical Research Council Scientist Fellowship which led to his appointment as Clinical Senior Lecturer and Consultant Paediatric Neurologist to Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust.

Professor McFarland’s research aim is to understand the processes that cause mitochondrial disease in children.

Mitochondria are responsible for producing energy in cells – thus enabling them to function in the organs and tissues of the body. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from one’s mother, and disease is caused by gene mutation, acquired or inherited. Mitochondrial disease causes the cells to cease functioning or to do so imperfectly. The commonest parts of the body affected are those which have the highest energy needs, such as the brain, the liver or the kidneys.

Professor McFarland leads the Newcastle paediatric mitochondrial disease service. His research is focused on understanding the processes that cause mitochondrial disease including the identification of mitochondrial and nuclear genetic defects. This work will hopefully enable the development of treatments. Mitochondrial disease, for which there is no cure at the moment, was given particular prominence recently as a result of media sensationalism with respect to what was described as ‘three-parent babies’, that is, in attempts to prevent mitochondrial disease, in vitro fertilisation was undertaken as a result of which an unborn baby’s mitochondrial DNA came from a third party." Prof McFarland, together with colleagues in Newcastle, now runs the only regulated service in the world offering this technique for women affected by mitochondrial DNA disease.

Further information about Bobby's work can be found here:


PROFESSOR MICHAEL SEMPLE BA (Sussex) MPhil (Oxon) DUniv (hc) (Sussex)

Michael Semple has been appointed a Professor at QUB.

Professor Michael Semple

Professor Michael Semple

The University press release states:

"QUB – Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences - New Practitioner Chair at the Senator George Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice, focusing on the intersections between practice and the academy, enhancing engagement with non-academic practitioners and leading on knowledge transfer on conflict-related research. Michael Semple researches the Afghan Taliban Movement and the challenges of peace-making involving Islamist militant groups.  He has contributed internationally to policy-making in this field. In his new role he will help to strengthen the Institute’s links with conflict transformation practitioners and to build its global impact."

An update on Michael's career was published in the The Owl of Christmas 2014:

"Michael left BRA in 1979 and after graduation from Sussex and Oxford universities, he accepted a posting with Oxfam. Shortly afterwards he became a political officer with the United Nations in Afghanistan, and successively, an adviser on human rights to the British government and to the European Union. In all, he has lived and worked in Asia for over twenty years and is acknowledged to be one of the most experienced and knowledgeable western officials to have worked in Afghanistan.

In a much-praised memoir of his time in Afghanistan, Cables from Kabul, Britain’s former ambassador to the country, Sherard Cowper-Coles, writes with particular regard of Michael Semple’s commitment to securing a lasting settlement for the people of the country.

Michael has been a visiting professor at Harvard University, and he currently holds a similar position at Queen’s. A familiar face on television news programmes, he has also published a number of scholarly works on a part of the world which is known to most of us only in terms of war and tragedy. His wife and their two children live in Dublin."