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New building for Gaelscoil UĂ­ Dhochartaigh

There is a particular significance to the twenty-five years celebration of Gaelscoil UĂ­ Dhochartaigh, Strabane as it coincides with the Gaelscoil and naĂ­scoil getting a new ÂŁ5m state-of-the-art school building. It will be located on the Strahans Road on the outskirts of the town.

ColmĂĄn Mac an ChrosĂĄin, Cathaoirleach Bhord GobharnĂłirĂ­ na Gaelscoile recalled the journey to this stage,

 

This is a very special occasion for us as we are realising the vision we set out twenty-five years ago. Likewise, it is another milestone in the course of the language in the Strabane area.

 

For decades the fate of the language was left to a handful of committed people who tread a lonely path to keep the language alive but, in the early 1990’s a group of young local Gaelic language enthusiasts established a branch of Conradh na Gaeilge. They were the driving force behind the establishment of Naíscoil an tSratha Báin (the first Gaelscoil in County Tyrone) which opened its doors in Barrack Street in September 1994.

 

As the naĂ­scoil flourished talk turned to the next step in the development of the language. In the Spring of 1997, a meeting was organised to discuss the possibility of establishing an Irish-medium Unit in one of the local English-medium schools or perhaps transport to Bunscoil Cholm Cille in Derry.

 

Cathal Ó Donnghaile, Chairperson of GaeloiliĂșint was the guest speaker who inspired us to set those goals aside and instead, to set up our own Gaelscoil. This was in May and we had neither money, venue, staff nor pupils. Cathal’s powers of persuasion convinced all present, Conradh na Gaeilge enthusiasts and naĂ­scoil parents alike to set up a committee with the goal of establishing a Gaelscoil within three months.

 

The committee made the unthinkable happen – money was collected, staff employed, a venue secured and last but not least  of all we had four pupils come opening day for Gaelscoil Uí Dhochartaigh on the 1 September 1997.

 

It is not easy  to run a school without financial support from the State. We were struggling, from hand to mouth, every month trying to ensure that we had enough money for teachers’ salaries, rent, insurance, money for equipment and for books etc.

 

That experience was shared by every group that determined to make Irish-medium education available for its community. In common with the other areas commitment and enthusiasm enabled them to overcome the challenges faced. Fund-raising activities involving lotteries at ÂŁ1 per week were commonplace in those early days. It was a pain to go from door to door for one pound but it also served to promote the benefits and advantages of Irish-medium education within the community and to convince families to support and avail of it.

 

In addition to the generosity of the community GaeloiliĂșint and Cathal supported us in those early years along with the local GAA clubs.

 

As a result of the steady growth in enrolments we had to employ another teacher in 1999 but it was a struggle to bring in enough money to cover all the costs of running a school. Martin McGuinness came to our rescue when, as Minister of Education he lowered the viability threshold needed to establish a school outside of Belfast and Derry. It came as immense relief when he granted the Gaelscoil official recognition in December 2000.

 

At the same time, work was ongoing to relocate the Gaelscoil and naĂ­scoil to a site at the bottom of Ballycoleman estate belonging to the Strabane District Council. Bunscoil Phobal Feirste supported us by giving us mobile-classrooms, a hall and a block of toilets.In 2001, Iontaobhas na GaelscolaĂ­ochta enabled the location of this accommodation with a grant of ÂŁ41,000. Children in Need provided us with ÂŁ85,000 to locate the naĂ­scoil on the site also.

 

In the interim, the Gaelscoil was consolidating its number of enrolments and staff members. As a statutory provision the naĂ­scoil has been an integral part of the Gaelscoil for some time and combined, 170 children from Strabane are being educated through the medium of Irish each year.

 

As the years passed and the Gaelscoil continued to grow in numbers the accommodation deteriorated and we longed for a proper school building. In 2013, the then Minister of Education, John O’Dowd announced Gaelscoil Uí Dhochartaigh as one of the schools on the Department’s capital list.

 

We have had our share of setbacks and delays along the way, but we are grateful to those who have helped this most welcome turn of events to further develop the Irish language in Strabane.  The school and heritage is there for all, the current and former pupils and their families form a substantial part of the local community and have contributed and worked on its behalf.

The Irish language is no longer a poor relative but a thriving part of the social and cultural life of the town. It is spoken and heard daily in our homes, streets and shops and it is visible on the bilingual street-names.

It is now time to write the next chapter!

 

Parents and children from Gaelscoil Úi Dhochartaigh pictured at the new school site where work has started. DR74

Comhairle na GaelscolaĂ­ochta Conference 2022

Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta (CnaG), the representative body for Irish-medium education, held its Conference on 30th September in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Belfast, which was attended by more than 400 delegates. ‘Fios Feasa’ was the main theme for this year’s Conference, the largest ever organised by CnaG, which attracted delegates from local Irish-medium schools and representatives of schools in the south as well as numerous Irish language and cultural organisations from around the country.

Professor Antonella Sorace, Professor of Developmental Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh gave the keynote speech at this year’s Conference, focussing on the myths and the many advantages of bilingualism. Also, more than 20 workshops were delivered on various subjects, by speakers from universities across Ireland; from Irish-medium support agencies such as The Irish-medium Resource Unit; the Education Authority and from practitioners in the Irish-medium sector locally.

Amongst the subjects discussed on the day, under the sub-themes of Research and Resources; Immersion Pedagogy; Special Educational Needs and Wellbeing; Dr. T.J. Ó Ceallaigh spoke on ‘Teacher language
awareness as the anchor of practice in immersion education’; Dr. Orla Nig Oirc spoke on ‘Reproduction Theory in the Irish-medium sector; Martina Jordan presented on ‘Restorative Practices in Schools’ and a representative from Bremar Training spoke on issues around wellbeing for teachers.

Traditional musicians from Belfast’s Irish-medium post-primary school, Coláiste Feirste provided entertainment throughout the Conference and more than 25 Irish language, educational and cultural organisations brought information stands and exhibitions to the event.

CnaG Acting Chief Executive Maria Thomasson expressed her delight at both the numbers attending the Conference and the positive feedback received:

‘It is apparent to me and to the rest of my team that there is still a great demand for an event like this, where Irish-medium practitioners can come together both socially and to enhance their knowledge of the latest developments in Irish-medium matters and in education in general. This was the first opportunity we have had to come together like this since 2018 and having spoken to some of the delegates today, it is apparent that they enjoyed the experience and gained a lot from attending. It is also very encouraging to see such a large crowd attend this year’ event-further evidence of the substantial growth that the sector has witnessed in recent years.’

Keep an eye out for next year’s conference date…!

Launch of SealbhĂș

 ‘SealbhĂș’ Project Launch

Launch of resources and research to tackle the impact of the pandemic on Irish-medium Schools

In June 2020, Comhairle na GaelscolaĂ­ochta circulated a paper on the impact of the pandemic on the Irish-medium sector amongst the educational authorities. Although the impact on the education sector as a whole was noted, the paper showed the additional impact on IM pupils as a result of the periods spent outside the immersion environment. Additionally, the pandemic highlighted the long-standing issues faced by the IM sector: including a lack of investment in educational resources and Irish language infrastructure online.

Comhairle na GaelscolaĂ­ochta was delighted when the Department of Education recognised these additional pressures and made funding available for the 21/22 school year to allow for the creation of Irish language resources and for important research to be carried out on the impact of the pandemic on the IME sector.

There was a particular recognition of the lack of wellbeing resources available in Irish as young people struggled with the consequences of the pandemic. Funding was given to Comhairle na GaelscolaĂ­ochta to develop Irish language wellbeing resources that will go a long way in improving the wellbeing and mental health of our pupils.

Orla Nig Fhearraigh, appointed coordinator of the ‘SealbhĂș’ project, said:

“Although Coronavirus is still the public’s mind, our schools are returning this year with the opportunity to focus on teaching and learning primarily. The last two years have been a difficult period and the full effects are still to be felt.

Major efforts were made during the pandemic to put resources and infrastructure in place for pupils throughout the north to support them whilst learning from home. Comhairle na GaelscolaĂ­ochta was disappointed, however, that most of these resources were in English alone.

We were heartened, however, that after sustained advocacy from ourselves and the sector itself, we succeeded in obtaining this funding. This gave us the opportunity to tackle some of the additional pandemic related challenges faced by the IM sector, specifically language acquisition in the context of children not being in school for sustained periods of time.

We thank our partners in CCEA for their efforts in creating additional resources in a short timeframe and Gearóid Ó Domagáin, University of Ulster, for undertaking valuable research on the impact of the pandemic in the IM sector.

We look forward to celebrating the outcomes of this project next week.”

The launch of the resources and the research will be in CultĂșrlann MacAdam Ó Fiaich on the 1st September between 10:00-11:30a.m.

For more information, contact onigfhearraigh@comhairle.org

Orla Nig Fhearraigh, Advisory Officer, Comhairle na GaelscolaĂ­ochta

Employment Opportunity – Research Officer SMUCB

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