The Village School - the Heartbeat of Rural Ireland

Enjoying a communal meal, GAA Community Centre, Kiltormer June 2014
Last Saturday, I attended a wonderful 50th celebration of a school in the little village of Kiltormer in east Galway. Thanks to the herculean efforts of principal Grainne Dooley, the teaching staff of Margaret, Sean and Mary and their committee, the local population united in a supreme effort to celebrate, not just the opening of the present St. Patrick's National School in 1964, but even more to celebrate the meaning of 'community'.
Traditional musicians, GAA Community Centre, Kiltormer June 2014
There was an array of exciting events to mark the occasion: a parade, a communal mass, children's outdoor fun activities, a display of vintage farm machinery, a hurling match comprising players from across the decades; young traditional Irish musicians, an in-school local history museum and an exhibition of photographs of Kiltormer in times past.
Artifacts and old photographs on display, Kiltormer school celebrations, June 2014
I played a small role in this event by helping the school host an open community night where people from all across the locality brought in old photographs reflecting life in days gone by. 
These images are still being digitised, cleaned up and posted online as part of a digital heritage archive action known as BEO (Irish for Alive) which could become the most important national heritage project since the 1937 Irish Folklore Commission. It will reinforce the connections with the Irish Diaspora.
Eyreville demesne, 1930s
Like many towns and villages across rural Ireland, Kiltormer has been devastated by a high level of emigration exacerbated about by the economic collapse in 2008 that resulted from the activities of a greedy unpatriotic troika of property speculators, bankers and politicians. But the problem goes much deeper and further back in time, to 1973 when the state joined what was then known as the European Economic Community(EEC). The key characteristic of Ireland for over 5,000 years has been agriculture. But ever since the early 1970s, there has been a huge exodus of people away from farming as the policies of successive governments favoured the big rancher, supermarkets and agri-corporations at the expense of the family farm. This is not what the population expected- we were promised a sustainable agriculture that would give a living wage to farmers and their families.
The small manufacturing industries that once dominated rural towns have all but closed down as a result of cheap imports, with their localities failing to secure replacement jobs in the new technologies sectors such as biomedical and computing. 
Kiltormer village, 1932
Ghost Villages
Ireland in the 21st century has become a land of ghost townlands and villages as young people emigrate to Australia, Canada and elsewhere  to find employment.
As we the people and our descendants are being forced to pay for the gambling debts of financial and property speculators and their cronies, austerity measures are leading to the closure  of Garda stations. post offices, pubs, marts and schools across the country. 
Kiltormer School, 1959-'60
The decline of the small rural school
Schools are the lifeblood of rural Ireland.  Without schools, communities die. More than ever before, we need to ensure that the schools stay open so that the heritage, stories and memories of a hinterland are still treasured and passed on to a new generation; and the children and their parents continue to transform the word 'community' into a living reality. 
Carrowreagh Bog
Hopefully the politicians of this land wake up soon to the destructive nature of their economic and social polices on rural Ireland. So well done to St. Patrick's National School Kiltormer for the wonderful work that they are doing to help reverse what can feel like a terminal decline. Giving people a sense of place will give them an identity,  a sense of value, of belonging and of purpose. Everyone involved is a true patriot.
Hurling match, Kiltormer Celebrations, June 2014

1 comment:

Grainne Dooley said...

Thanks Brendan for the kind and inspiring words.
Grainne Dooley