Over 160 former graduates of the Ulster College of Physical Education (UCPE) attended a recent reunion to mark the 70th anniversary of a ‘golden era’ in Northern Ireland.
Guests from throughout the province, the UK and abroad, including Canada and Cyprus, attended the event at the Magheramorne Estate in Larne to reflect on seven decades of the former Belfast college. Northern Ireland sporting legend, Lady Mary Peters was guest of honour at the landmark reunion.
Now known as the Jordanstown campus of the University of Ulster, the UCPE was established in September 1953 at Dalriada House by principal Dr Oonah Pim, a pioneer in educating and training young women to become physical educationalists.
During their physical education course, students studied a wide range of subjects and sports, from PE, physiology, anatomy, English, education and health. They were keen hockey players, starting the very first Pegasus team, as well as gymnasts, swimmers, netballers, tennis players and athletes. Most of the ladies went on to become teachers.
Recalling the 70-year history, Moyà Gibson, one of the organisers of the reunion event, explained: “Dr Oonah Pim was the principal and along with senior lecturers Miss Anna Richmond and Miss Maisie McLaughlin she had the vision of educating and training talented, enthusiastic young women to become specialist physical educationalists. Many of the students went on to represent their province and country in a wide variety of sports, including Lady Mary Peters.
“After 20 years since it’s inception male students were invited to attend the college, a valuable addition.
“This was a golden era when PE was introduced to grass roots level in schools by specialists. Extra curricular sports flourished after school and on Saturdays.”
Former students have always had a strong bond with the facility with many reunions over the years, however last month’s 70th was emotional with guests seated in order of graduation including ones from 1957.
Paying tribute to those that attended and supported the event, Moyà added: “The reunion was especially wonderful to welcome those who had qualified in the late 50s – absolutely splendid women!
“Everyone was treated to a magnificent afternoon tea provided by Jayne’s Kitchens and were entertained with many amusing sporting stories and anecdotes by Lady Mary Peters who also outlined the work of the Mary Peters Trust.
“A donation was given to the Trust, Northern Ireland’s leading sports charity helping disabled and able bodied young people to achieve their ambitions and sporting dreams.”
The site was also previously known as Ulster Polytechnic, and UCPE was a college within Ulster Polytechnic.