The attitude and outlook of the principal teachers of Gaelscoil Eadain Mhoir and Gaelscoil na Daroige are very similar in their shared passion for the language, education and the sense that they both have of adding real value to the communities they serve. Both schools have also grown from one room with a few children, to thriving centres of education where pupils can progress easily from nursery throught to primary 7 and are as confident and able in their use of English as they are in the Irish language.
Both also see the future of the Irish language growing through their students wth the schools’ primary 7 pupils sitting their GSCE this summer with fantastic results.
The principals see the language taking a real and living root within Derry and far from worrying about the schools being small, they see the class sizes and community feel as a big bonus.
“The reason that the children here are so comfortable with the Irish language from the beginning is because it’s no big deal for them when they are surrounded by Irish all day, they just soak it in and it comes naturally to them,” said school principal of Gaelscoil Eadain Mhoir; Mary nic Ailin.
“We were delighted when the school started back again this year and former pupil Chloe Dunne came back as a teaching assistant. She has just finished her degree in Irish and wants to get some experience before applying for teacher training at St Mary’s in Belfast.
“We saw the first batch of graduates from university this year and they succeeded in a range of subjects, from business to law and of course languages.
“The school is now at capacity and we had to turn children away from the nursery this year so we are growing all the time. I think that’s because parents are starting to realise the benefits of bilingualism and that in a very competitive world, having fluency in another language is another string to your bow.
“The size of the school means that all of the parents know each other and all the children from nursery to primary seven know each other too. The big ones help the little ones and they love that.
“We feel that the school and the success we have had is certainly helping to keep the Irish language alive and we hope that is set to continue.”
Oisin Kehoe who has been principal at Gaelscoil na Daroige since it opened 10 years ago has the same vision for the community in Ballymagroarty.
“We have had the street names changed to Irish on the estate wherever there is an Irish speaker so that we can make the language real,” said Oisin.
“Some would say that smacks of a little bit of tokenism but we feel that it gives pupils pride in the fact that they can speak the language.
“It’s about 400 years since Irish was spoken as the native language in this area and now because of the roots that have grown out from the school, we have whole families who can speak Irish.
“We started with a few pupils in the nursery and now we have 90 this year and it has been agreed in principle that we can have a replacement school which will probably be built on the green site next door.
“We also have a two year old programme which we have inherited from the great work done by Sure Start but this programme is specifically for those who have an interest in learning through the Irish medium.
“The parents and children love the community feel that we have here and tell me that their kids are happy, confident and more able with English than their kids who didn’t go to the school.
“We certainly see our school as a success and hope that it continues to grow.
“It’s hard to believe that we are 10 years old this year and that the school has grown in the way that it has.
“Credit for the success that we have had has to go to the parents and pupils who have worked with us so well.”