logoAn unsung hero: BILLY TATE (PC 1965 - 1972)by Andy Pollak


Billy Tate is one of the unsung heroes of cross-border and cross-community cooperation in Northern Ireland. This Ulster Unionist Party member and former soldier in the Royal Artillery is the principal of Belvoir Park Primary School, on the edge of an overwhelmingly Protestant working class housing estate in south-east Belfast. After trying hard - and failing - some years ago to attract a local Catholic school to twin with his school, he went south and forged a partnership with Scoil Mhuire National School in Howth, County Dublin, through the ICT-based Dissolving Boundaries project.

But that was not enough for this extraordinarily outward looking school principal. Belvoir Park has adopted an 'international policy', and has moved since 2004 from being a 'single identity' school in an estate once perceived as a 'no go' area for Catholics to one which boasts children from Nigeria, Poland, Lithuania, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India and South America.

Meanwhile Billy Tate's outreach to the island of Ireland and its culture has continued. First he introduced Irish traditional music and dancing into the school. Then some of the children asked if they could try their hand at Gaelic games. He turned for assistance to two visionary secondary principals, P.J. O'Grady of St Patrick's College, Bearnageeha in Catholic north Belfast and Andy McMorran of Ashfield Boys High School in Protestant east Belfast, who had come together in a mould-breaking initiative to play hurling and shinty together (see below). GAA coaches from Tyrone and the Bredagh club in south Belfast coached the Belvoir Park children in Gaelic football and hurling, and in their first hurling tournament they won one game and drew two.

'We see sport as a bridge-builder', says Tate. 'There is something profound about watching children in Rangers or Linfield shirts playing Gaelic games, and it points to a new future in Northern Ireland for everyone.' He is pretty sure this is the first time that Gaelic games have been played in a controlled (i.e. largely Protestant) primary school anywhere in Belfast, and probably in Northern Ireland. His hope is that it will begin to make the GAA 'more accessible and welcoming to the Protestant community' and that Catholic schools will start to embrace his beloved rugby in the same spirit.

The GAA is already responding. Two years ago the first sporting contacts had been initiated between Ashfield High and St Patrick's Bearnageeha. Last year this led, under the guidance of the Ulster Council's community development manager, Ryan Feeney, to five boys from each school, plus five more from Corpus Christi College in Ballymurphy in Catholic west Belfast and the Boys Model School on the Protestant Crumlin Road, forming a squad which went to Inverness in Scotland to play in an under-16 shinty tournament there (for those not in the know, shinty is a close Scottish relation of hurling).

This month marked two more landmarks in this extraordinary experiment in peace building through sport. On 3rd July a Scottish under-16 shinty team played a return match against the new cross-community team, Belfast C'chullains, in front of an invited audience (including senior officials from the Ulster-Scots Agency and Ulster Unionist Party, SDLP and Sinn Fein politicians) on the playing fields of Stormont. On the 18th the team crossed the Atlantic to play challenge matches in New York and Washington, before going to Philadelphia for the GAA's Intercontinental Youth Games, which bring teams together from North America, Britain, Europe and Ireland every year.

The Ulster Council has now started to formulate ambitious plans to have a cross-community hurling team in every large town in Northern Ireland and the three Southern border counties. Last autumn saw the then DUP Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Edwin Poots, visiting Newry for a McKenna Cup football match between Down and Donegal, and one of the North's most senior Orangemen in Croke Park for the all-Ireland hurling final, both as guests of the GAA (I have been asked not to use the second man's name, since he has been publicly vilified for his attendance - a remnant of the bad old Northern Ireland!). One wonders how long it will be before a courageous young man from the Shankill Road or the Newtownards Road (for the four pioneering schools in this initiative draw most of their pupils from Belfast's working class heartlands) joins him on the pitch there. Not too long, I hope.

Andy Pollak
Director, Centre for Cross Border Studies.
Secretary, Universities Ireland.
Secretary, Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South (SCoTENS).


MBE winner dedicates his award to the former headmaster at College.


MBE Investiture at Buckingham Place of Mr Billy Tate on Wed. 15 July 2009.
MBE Award for Services to Education in Northern Ireland New Year's Honours List 2009.

Photograph: Left to Right: (Son) Craig, (Wife) Margaret, Billy Tate, (Daughter) Anna.

A school principal awarded the MBE in the recent New Year's Honours List has dedicated the award to his former principal, the late Donald Woodman of Portadown College. Billy Tate (55), who was born and brought up in Portadown, received the award for services to education in Northern Ireland.

He said Mr Woodman had been his inspiration and one of the people who had most influenced his teaching career. 'He was unique. He was an exceptional man and at a time when there was no leadership training, a great principal. He loved his pupils and we loved him," said Mr Tate. The other person who influenced him was Jim Barriskill, his principal at Thomas Street Primary School whom Mr Tate described as 'an excellent role model within teaching".

Mr Tate, who is principal of Belvoir Park Primary School, began his teaching career in 1977, and has been a principal for the past 20 years. During his career, he has also taught in Holywood High, Armagh Secondary and Aughnacloy Primary. One of eight children of the late Molly and Harold Tate, he was brought up in Burnbrae Avenue, just off Thomas Street, and attended Thomas Street Primary School and Portadown College.

He then went on to Stranmillis College of Education, Queen's University Belfast and the University of Hull, where he obtained a Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree, a Diploma in Educational Leadership and a Master of Business Administration Educational Leadership International (MBA).

In a recent contribution to the Portadown College Class of 1972 website, Mr Tate fondly recalls his day at the college. He notes that while his parents' concerns centred on being able to afford the school uniform, he was more worried about being a 'working-class boy" preparing to go to a 'middle-class school".

However, his first day was full of warmth and excitement, 'feelings that have remained with me to this day for a school that transformed my life". Recalling Mr Woodman, he adds, 'We did have some fun at Mr Woodman's expense but he always took it in good grace. Mr Woodman knew every one of us on the first day and he never lost that personal touch, as we progressed from the front of the assembly hall in first-year to the rear of the hall in Upper-Sixth. This journey turned us into adults and inculcated us with a broad and liberal education that has served us well to date.

'It was a privilege to listen to his talks in assembly and during religious education classes. He challenged us intellectually and spiritually, both by his actions and in his professional dealings with us in school. He led us from childhood to adulthood during the most formative years of our lives."

He added, 'The school was never solely about results but spiritual, personal and social growth to enable us to serve within the community, both as leaders and followers. Mr Woodman was inspirational and I still detect the echoes of his teachings in my peers' conversations, as we fondly remember him. 'Today the world of education is catching up to the point he had already reached during the 1960s. Pastoral care has to be taught today but for him it was a life-well-lived, as he walked in the shoes of the fisherman from Galilee"

Mr Tate has also worked extensively within the youth and voluntary sector and is well know for his work in cross-community reconciliation. He has received a number of awards for this work and is chairman of Aughnacloy and Truagh European Studies Schools' Project (Cross-Community and Cross Border) Peace 2 EU Programme.

During his years in Belvoir Park Primary School, he has also been involved in speech and language therapy. He is a member of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People Review on Speech and Language Therapy Services for Children and Young People, a member of the DHSS Regional Speech and Language Therapy Task Force, and a member of the Department of Education's Community Relations Policy Review Group

He also finds time to fulfil other roles, as a fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce, a member of the Chartered Management Institute, an assessor for the School Inspection Branch, and a co-ordinator of the Investor In People Award.

Mr Tate and his wife Margaret live in Waringstown. They have four children, Craig, Ryan, Ross and Anna.


Billy Tate Career Profile 1977 - 2008
1977 ' 1984 Holywood High School
Head of Careers & Teacher of History
1984 ' 1990 Armagh Secondary School
Head of Special Educational Need's Department

1990 ' 2004 Aughnacloy Primary School
' Principal
' DENI/RTU Small Schools' Research Project Steering Group
' Chairman Aughnaloy & Ballygawley RTU Small Schools' Research Project
' Co-ordinator Investor In People Award
' Chairman (ATESSP) Aughnacloy & Truagh European Studies Schools' Project (Cross-Community & Cross Border) Peace 2 EU Programme
' Chairman ATESSP Marcel Rudloff Prix de la Tol'rance (Strasbourg) Award
' Chairman ATESSP Allied Irish Bank Better Ireland Community Award
' Chairman ATESSP Northern Standard & Bank of Ireland Special Millennium Award for Peace & Reconciliation
' Co-ordinator International Curriculum Award
2004 ' 2008 Belvoir Park Primary School
' Principal
' Co-ordinator Impetus Award Institute for Global Ethics UK Trust
' Health Promoting Schools' Award
' Member Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children & Young People Review on Speech and Language Therapy Services for Children and Young People
' Member DHSS Regional Speech and Language Therapy Task Force
' Member DENI Community Relations Policy Review Group
Leadership Courses
Centre for Educational Management & Northern Ireland Electricity Board
' Middle & Senior Management Course
Regional Training Unit School Leadership College
' First Time Principal's Leadership Course
' Quality People Management Course
' Organiser NAHT(NI)/Regional Training Unit' Small Schools' Summer School Conference
' DENI/RTU Small Schools' Research Project Steering Group Member
' RTU Small Schools' Research Project
' Strategic Leadership, Accountability & Management Course (Pre-PQH NI)
' Investors In People (IIP) Course
' European Framework for Quality Management (EFQM) course
' PQH (NI) Fellows Course
' Visit Adelaide South Australia Centre for Leaders in Education. The International Leadership Institute.
' RTU/University of Hull MBA
' Visiting Speaker RTU First Time Principal's Course
' Leading Learning Course
' Extended Schools Course
Educational Links
' Educational Research Sabbatical Stranmillis College Student Representative Council
' National Association Head Teachers (UK) & (NI) Small Schools' Representative
' National Association Head Teachers (NI) Past President
' DENI Associate Assessor School Inspection Branch
' Fellow Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce
' Member Chartered Management Institute
Youth Service
' SEELB Youth Leader Holywood High School Youth-Annex
' SEELB Youth Service Outdoor Education Mountain Leader and Canoeing Instructor
' SELB Youth Service Vice-chair Armagh & District Outdoor Education Development Panel
' SELB Youth Service International Exchange Leader ADOEDP
Educational Experiences
Stranmillis College of Education
' Certificate of Education (Cert. Ed)
' History
' Guidance & Counselling
Queen's University of BELFAST
'' Bachelor of Education (B. Ed)
' Education
' History
The University of Hull International Leadership Centre
' Diploma in Educational Leadership (Dip. Ed. L)
' Master of Business Administration Educational Leadership (International)


See also Billy Tate obituary on Memorial page.