Pupils from same Belfast school ... one joined UVF, one INLA

The book deals with Orangefield Boys School from 1957 until it became a co-educational school in 1990
The book deals with Orangefield Boys School from 1957 until it became a co-educational school in 1990

A former secondary school in east Belfast was attended by two of the Troubles’ best-known protagonists, taking up positions on opposite sides of the political divide.

This piece of Troubles trivia was unveiled by historian Jonathan Bardon in his contribution to a new book about Orangefield High School.

As a young Dubliner in his first job in Belfast, Mr Bardon had just taken up his post in the mould-breaking Orangefield Boys Secondary School in the east of the city in 1964 when he first encountered Ronnie Bunting.

Before Mr Bardon left four years later, David Ervine had also sat in his classroom.

Mr Ervine was a member of the UVF in his youth and later a PUP Assemblyman before his death in 2007.

Mr Bunting, the son of firebrand unionist politician, Major Ronald Bunting, took a very different path, pledging allegiance to the republican socialist ideals of first the Official IRA and later the INLA. He died in a republican feud in 1980.

“It’s rare that boys from the same school should have taken up diametrically opposed positions in the Troubles,” said the historian.

He continued: “My sojourn in Orangefield was during the last years of peace.

“Like most of my friends and colleagues, I was convinced that the bitterness of the past was slowly but inexorably being dissolved.

“How wrong I was. David Ervine was not the only former Orangefield pupil to become embroiled in what was to become the most protracted violent conflict in western Europe since the Second World War. Ronnie Bunting, one of only two or three Protestants to be interned in 1971, later joined the irreconcilables and paid for it with his life.

“I vividly remember frenetic discussions with Ronnie Bunting, Walter Ellis and Bruce Cardwell.”

Mr Ellis later became a distinguished journalist and Mr Cardwell a musician.

Other well-known ex-pupils at Orangefield Boys School include musician Van Morrison, who returned to his former school for a concert in 2014, and Beirut hostage Brian Keenan.

Orangefield Boys School closed in 1990 although the school continued in co-educational form until 2014.

Mr Bardon recalls his time at the school in a new book, Orangefield Remembered, A School in Belfast, 1957 to 1990.

He talks of his fascination, as a middle-class Dubliner, with the dialect of the mainly working-class Protestant boys as well as a run-in with the RUC which resulted in him being knocked unconscious.

The book, with contributions from many ex-pupils and teachers, will be launched at Malone Rugby Club on November 10 with an invitation to all former pupils to attend.