A Former Portora Royal School student and vice-principal, Robert Northridge, will soon be leading the opening lecture of the Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Arts Festival 2022, which will mark 100 years since Beckett’s time at Portora, 1920-1923.

The festival opening lecture will take place in the Steele Hall of the former Portora Royal School, now Enniskillen Royal Grammar School, at 6pm on Thursday, July 21.

Talking to The Impartial Reporter, Robert explained that his lecture – which will be illustrative and last for approximately 50 minutes – focuses on the fact that Samuel Beckett first attended Portora in January, 1920, some 13 months after World War I had ended.


Robert Northridge, former pupil and vice-principal of Portora Royal School.

Robert Northridge, former pupil and vice-principal of Portora Royal School.


Through the lecture, he will share his research and thoughts on how the aftermath of the war may have impacted Beckett, his fellow students and staff.

“During the war, 76 Portora people had been killed, and 371 had gone to the war. So I wondered, what was the school actually like, in the immediate aftermath of the war? When all these people have been killed?

“Was the school a very depressed sort of place, because people were thinking about all the young men who’ve gone off and never come back?

“Was the atmosphere of the school such that it had a depressing effect on the boys who were there?” said Robert, noting that these are some of the questions that he has used to form his lecture.

“So, it is looking at Beckett’s time at Portora in the immediate aftermath of World War I, and wondering what the school was like,” he said, adding that he wasn’t going to give away his conclusion ahead of the event on July 21.

He went on to explain that within his lecture, he examines Portora, looking briefly at the people involved in World War I, and the person who collected the data about the people who were being killed.


“In December, 1914, the school started collecting the names of all those who were killed and all those who were serving up to when the war ended,” said Robert, noting that one teacher, named Tetley, was responsible for collecting all of these names.

“He taught Beckett and he had also taught all 76 [students] who were killed, because he’d been there for 30 years.

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“So I wondered if Tetley, in particular, was very affected by the war, and if other members of staff were very affected by the war, and did their sadness, if there was any, rub off on the students,” said Robert, who first came across Mr. Tetley, a mathematics teacher, in the book, ‘Portora, the School on the Hill: A Quartercentenary History – 1608-2008’ which was published in 2008 to mark its 400 years.

“In this book, it says that Tetley was not much liked by Samuel Beckett. In 1932, Beckett wrote a piece of prose called, ‘For future reference’, where he writes: ‘...that little bullet-headed bristle-cropped red-faced rat of a pure mathematician...’

“It is widely believed that this quotation refers to Tetley. They did not hit it off,” he added.


The Portora cricket team in 1922 with Samuel Beckett seated on the left.

The Portora cricket team in 1922 with Samuel Beckett seated on the left.


In 2014, Robert wrote his own book, entitled ‘Portora & Portorans in the Great War, 1914-18’ using information from Portora school magazines and the aforementioned quartercentenary book.


“When I did the book on World War I, I was aware that this Tetley had collected all the names, regiments, battle honours, and deaths and everything was recorded very carefully.

“When I finished that book, I wondered what effect it had on the school, so the idea of this talk has been sort of floating around my head for six or seven years,” he said, noting that he found researching for the lecture “astonishingly interesting”.

“It is based on information from the school magazines between 1914 and 1923, during the war, and up to the end of the time that Beckett left,” he added, going on to tell this newspaper that he enjoyed the process of putting together the lecture, and is honoured to have been asked to open the Beckett Festival with it.

Organised by Arts Over Borders, the Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Arts Festival 2022 starts on Thursday, July 21, and runs until July 25.

The principal partner of the festival is the T. S. Eliot Foundation, and it is funded by Tourism NI and Fermanagh and Omagh District Council.