Graduating Gaelscoil style

The first ever Rang a haon class at Gaelscoil Na Dar�ige, this is the pupils pictured seven years ago, they move to secondary school this summer.
The first ever Rang a haon class at Gaelscoil Na Dar�ige, this is the pupils pictured seven years ago, they move to secondary school this summer.

Gaelscoil Na Daróige will see their first ever primary one class graduate today. The first ever pupils through the Ballymagroarty gaelscoil doors have seen the school mirror their own development. From independent, unregistered beginnings in 2003 to a fully funded Department of Education school before the first pupils graduated, it truly has been a remarkable journey. “We have made large strides in a few years,” beams principal Mr. Oisín Mac Eó. “When we opened the Naiscoil we didn’t think we’d open a primary but it was a natural step. We had to do it otherwise what was the point of opening the nursery?

“Initially there was one staff member, me, now there are 11. There were only nine primary one pupils on day one, there are now 11 in that class and the school is used by over 60 families. In the early days we had one portacabin, though some classes had to be taught in Hazlebank community centre. Now we have a protacabin for each class, two playgrounds, a football pitch and a garden for the children.”

Describing the early years of the school’s development as “always challenging,” Oisín praises “the parents and community as they were very supportive. We were always confident and never thought there was a possibility of us going under.”

This was even the case when the principal doubled up as both bus driver and chef. “We did have to cook the childrens’ school meals on an old cooker Saint Vincent de Paul supplied to us. Everyone had to take on extra roles, we still do. The big thing for us was the belief showed in us by the parents. We wouldn’t be here had we lost their confidence. “We’ve always thought of ourselves as more than a school, as having built an Irish language community in Ballymagroarty.”

The school was founded in order to meet the demand in the area as children who were using the Naiscoil found they had to travel to Shantallow or the Brandywell to primary school. Funding from Cumann an Ghrianáin allowed them to get started: “And when that money ran out we relied on the goodwill of the community,” said Oisín. “We’ve had to do door to door collections in the past when we couldn’t afford home heating oil.”

That situation changed three years ago when then Minister for Education, Catriona Ruane, formally recognised the school. “Minister Ruane stood by the school and we think she’s been proven correct to do so.”

the school did fail its first inspection by the department but Oisín, (as even his pupils call him) said: “We were judged on the same criteria as funded schools. We were a small independent non-funded school and we were told we did not have enough equipment for the chlidren. We emerged from the formal intervention process following our 2011 inspection. In fact it is only english medium schools now left in that situation.”

The future is bright for Ballymac’s Gaeltacht: This summer they hope to replace the classrooms with new portacabins, enrollment is increasing and the Big Lottery Fund have awarded the school £9,000 to develop a new play area for the nursery. Their independent beginnings have stood to them: “Our budgeting skills are second to none,” laughs Oisín, “we’ve been under budget in our first two years.”

Asked how he felt watching his first Rang a haon graduate, Oisín said: “I’m very proud of the children. I feel very privileged to have worked with them. I couldn’t imagine doing anything more enjoyable. “I catch myself listening to the p7s speak fluent Irish in our new playground and think back to when they were in P1 when the school was sat amid rubble and marshland. I have a smile in those moments, We’ve come a long way thanks to the pupils and their parents. The hope now is to keep them involved with the school, in summer schemes or after school clubs.”