I am honoured, and indeed somewhat embarrassed, to have been elected as your President of the BRA Old Boys’ Association. I will endeavour to up-hold the high standards which have been set by my predecessors.

Little did I think, when my family moved to Belfast and I was sent to Wingfield, that one day, I would become President of the Association.

I would like to congratulate all those who have been elected or re-elected to the Committee of the Association and look forward to their continuing support, without which the Association would not flourish. In particular I wish to pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Martin Blake, for his commitment and drive, in establishing the Breakfast Club (for younger members) and initiating the re-vitalisation of the website.

Education at BRA was second to none for my era. The staff were dedicated and caring and they provided an education system which provided the opportunity to develop my full potential, both on and off the playing field. I was fortunate enough to have been taught Mathematics by George Taylor and Nan Savage who provided me with the skills to complete an Engineering Degree and Doctorate at the Queen’s University of Belfast.

On the playing field, the facilities of the day were excellent and this led to an enjoyable experience on the rugby pitch and in athletics -- the former I was able to continue, initially, with the BRAFP and then the Academy Rugby Clubs, after leaving school.

Circumstances dictated that I lived in Lisburn and as my family was growing up, it was not conducive for them to travel across Belfast, with the result that they all attended Friends’ School. However my passion to put something back into education remained and I served as a member of the Board of Governors, representing Friends’ on both the Association for Quality Education (AQE) and the Governing Bodies Association (GBA). Needless to say that it was there that I first came into contact with Billy Young and Moore Dickson, who were instrumental, with the support of the BRA Board of Governors, in up-holding high academic standardsand the Voluntary Principle in Northern Ireland and leading the education system forward. I was kept informed as to what was occurring at BRA.

On graduation from QUB, after a short spell in England in the aerospace industry, I joined the Lambeg industrial Research Association to work on ‘textiles’, went on to establish a textile company from a green-field site, before joining the then Ulster Polytechnic to establish a research base for transfer to University status later to become the University of Ulster.Ultimately I established the Engineering Composites Research Centre there, bringing together my experience as an aeronautical engineer with textile technology and polymer processing, working on composite components for transportation systems.

Without the all-round educational foundation laid at BRA,including leadership skills, I would never have had such a rewarding work experience and, indeed, life.

It will be a privilege to represent you all as the President of the Belfast Royal Academy Old Boy’s Association.

Robert McIlhagger