Armagh's scholarly ascent

October 13, 1995

In the Ulster city of saints and scholars, only the former seemed well catered for - until now. Armagh has two towering cathedrals and a dozen other churches but only one, fairly run down, further education college.

But the town has just seen its first university campus open, linked to Queen's University Belfast. It is a realisation of vice chancellor Sir Gordon Beveridge's grand vision to make Queen's one of the foremost universities in the United Kingdom.

It is only the first of new outreach centres planned by Queen's across the province. As the first of the 200 full and part-time students began work in the 200-year-old building, the university stole a march on the University of Ulster's plan for a "peace line" campus which has been stalled for several months.

The Belfast university's ambitions coincided with the local district council's wishes to boost their city after the terrorist ceasefires and with the peace process still fragile. The council bought the stone building, the derelict former city hospital, from the Department of Health and Social Services for about Pounds 110,000.

The council calculated it would cost ratepayers an extra 2p in the pound to attract the campus but chairman Jim Nicholson, an Ulster Unionist MEP, said the mini-campus was a highly significant coup for the ancient city.

He and Sir Gordon believe it could bring economic as well as cultural benefits for Armagh, which was awarded the Queen's seal of approval as a city last year.

It has been transformed into a state-of-the-art centre of learning and research, which includes the first centre for the study of religion of the whole of Ireland.

"With the appointment of outreach development officers for both Armagh and Omagh imminent, we can expect to see the once barren landscape of third level education south of the Belfast line changing dramatically in a very short time," said Mr Nicholson.

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