Graduation Day in a Little School on a Hill in Connemara
A few days ago, I completed my official involvement with St. Theresa's National School, Cashel, Connemara. In my capacity as chair of the board of management (to Dec 1 2019), I gave a speech of thanks and best wishes to the graduation class of 2020 at their online (Zoom) conferring.
With only a few dozen pupils in this fine learning establishment. Andrew and Arnold were the entire graduation class of 2020. But if it is a small school, it is one with a very big heart as wide as the Atlantic Ocean whose waters almost lap against its gates.
As with many little rural schools across Ireland, it is the heart beat of the local community giving meaning, purpose and identify to its people.
Thanks to the force of nature that is its principal Cepta Stephens, the graduation celebration of last Tuesday, though taking place online in the strange surreal environment that is COVID 19, was the living embodiment of all that is good and beautiful in our people and in our countryside.
All the children and parents of the school took part in the ceremony. There were excellent live music performances and literary renditions from many of the children; the showing of thematic videos; a presentation in story and in imagery of the history of the two graduates during their school days, from infant to senior class; tributes from the parish priest, music mentor, parents' representative, board of management, and from all of their fellow classroom pupils (3rd, 4th & 5th classes). Uachtarán na hÉireann/President Michael D. Higgins even ‘turned up’, starring in a short film that he made for the benefit of all the primary school graduates of 2020 (It surprised and impressed Andrew and Arnold as I am sure that it did for all graduates). The two hour ceremony was so enchanting, so emotional, so friendly.
I am a big fan of all the schools of Ireland. But I have a special affinity for the small rural school which, in a world of impersonalised fast-moving globalisation, is in many cases the key custodian and embodiment of local identity. When such an institution is forced to close its doors, then a sense of community can soon disappear.
The principals in these little country schools have one of the toughest 24/7 (but most rewarding) jobs in the country- having to be teacher, administrator, parents’ liaison, sports manager, musician, friend, doctor...the list is endless!
In mid 2016, Cepta asked me to consider becoming chairperson of this school located in the heart of southern Connemara. Having long being an admirer of her visionary principalship and holistic teaching, it did not take me long to say ‘yes’.
But my involvement goes back to 2005. Over the years, I have mentored heritage, medical, scientific, Internet Safety and coding programmes in the senior of the two classrooms. I hope that this continues on into the distant future as I see a school that provides top class education to its pupils and one is strongly supported by the local community.
Finally as I said in previous postings written during the Great Lockdown, I also see a bright future for all of rural Ireland if green, smart and community-centric sustainable policies are implemented.