One of the highlights for many people in rural communities and urban neighbourhoods across Ireland is the hosting of the annual Christmas concert in the local school.
It is when the children become the stars of their locality as they sing, dance, do comedy and tell stories to an audience comprising their parents, grandparents, cousins, friends and neighbours.
Due to globalisation, mechanisation of farming, a drop off in regular attendance at traditional Irish places of worships and the ongoing population drift to the big cities, the local school is the only glue that binds many rural communities together. These learning institutions are the living active embodiment and repository of all the knowledge, experiences, ballads, poems, literature, arts, culture and history of a local community. If they close the lifeblood and heritage of a locality going back generations can be lost for ever.
The small country and neighbourhood school provides all too rare opportunities for local people to come together and to be involved in their local area.
The Christmas concert is a great example of collective community volunteerism in action. Usually a small army of parents support the teachers by preparing/serving food, selling tickets, securing spot prizes and constructing stage props.
But it is the teachers that are the unsung heroes of such events as weeks of rehearsals with their pupils teaching them to act, to play musical instruments and to sing finally pays off.
I attended the Christmas concert this year in St Theresa's National School in Cashel Connemara where I watched the children perform in the Nativity play and in lots more beside. So well done to the principal Cepta Stephens the teachers, the parents and particularly the boys and girls for a most enjoyable experience.