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New school keeps kids in touch with Polish roots

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Date Published: 18-Sep-2009

While most of the effects of the Celtic Tiger have faded away in recent months, one aspect of Irish life that began during the boom years is still strong in our society. The diversity of cultures that arrived with migrants from Eastern Europe, particularly from Poland, has led to our shores having to adapt to meet their needs, leaving an imprint on Irish life that has not gone away.
However, while many Poles have also embraced Irish culture, there are fears that their children may be losing awareness of the traditions, lifestyle and language that make their Eastern European nation so unique. It is to fix this problem that a new Saturday school for Polish children opened its doors in Galway city last weekend.
Located in the Holy Trinity National School in Mervue, the Polish school is the brainchild of school principal Agnieszka Grochola and Chairperson of the Polish School in Galway Association (PSGA) Bogna Truszczynska-Griffin.
“I was looking for a place to get my three year old daughter to learn to speak Polish,” said Bogna, when recalling how her involvement with the project began. It was then, in May of this year, that she met Agnieszka, who already had been working to get a school up and running in the city for the past three years. With the same goal in mind, they decided to form the PSGA.
Soon, the pair found the ideal premises in the Holy Trinity NS, which they rent each week for a nominal fee. Bogna is hugely grateful to the school’s principal, Peter Woods, who, she says, has been “more than accommodating”.
Interest in the Polish school has been high, with 275 children attending classes last Saturday, and more expected to enroll in the coming weeks.
Bogna hopes to stay in the Holy Trinity, which can accommodate over 400 pupils, for the foreseeable future, but hasn’t ruled out the possibility of having to move to another building should demand reach levels that the Mervue school cannot hold.
While the main aim of the school is to teach Polish, it is structured to help children that are due to return to Poland to ease them into the Polish
education system. Classes begin at 10am each Saturday during the regular school year and finish at 2pm, with 16 teachers in charge of pupils ranging in age from three to 15 years of age.
“There are two preschool classes, two for five to six year olds, three first classes, one second class and two third classes. The rest are from fourth class to secondary level,” says Bogna. “The children are
coming from the city and county … some parents used to have to drive to a school in Limerick.”
For third classes and younger, the teaching emphasis is mainly on the Polish language, while for the older children they are also taught Polish history and geography. All teachers have earned their qualifications in Poland, having being certified by the Polish Ministry of National Education.
While Saturday schools have become common across the country, the Mervue establishment is one of the first to use a system of education that is intended to prepare the children for a return to Poland, and also the first to not receive funding from the Polish government through their embassy in Ireland.
“There’s a good few (Polish schools in Ireland) but there’s been a little bit of a struggle with this one,” says Bogna. “They’re changing the law in Poland in funding the schools. They used to be funded by the Polish embassy, but not anymore – that’s why it’s taken so long.”
The lack of funding has meant that the Polish school in Mervue is, strictly speaking, a private fee-paying one. However, due to costs being kept to a minimum, such as teachers being paid only for their expenses, it costs just €3 each week for a parent to bring their child to the school.
The official inauguration of the school year took place last Saturday and was attended by Deputy Minister of National Education in Poland Krystyna Szumilas and Head of the Department of International Cooperation in the Ministry of National Education Malgorzata Krasuska.
They were joined by Polish Consul Grzegorz Jagielski, Deputy Mayor of Galway Terry O’Flaherty and Primary District Inspector Delores De Bhál. After the official ceremony a meeting was held among the Polish Minister, the Deputy Mayor and the Primary District inspector in nearby Flannery’s Hotel.
While it’s still early days, Bogna is confident that the school will be around for years to come, albeit in a slightly different format over time. The high numbers of children under six means taking part in the school lessons means that they’ll be around for some time yet, and as they grow older, their education needs will change. “In the future we could be preparing kids for going to universities in Poland,” says Bogna.
“The needs might change but for the moment we’ll continue with what we’re teaching them.”

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Archive News

Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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