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Preparing children for life in the real world

Judy Murphy

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Shane O’Connell, principal of Galway’s first Steiner National School: “Children learn for themselves – the teacher’s role is to guide them,” he says. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Lifestyle –  Judy Murphy meets Shane O’Connell, principal of Galway’s first Steiner National School which will open this September

Given Galway’s City’s reputation for arts and culture, it’s amazing that it has taken until now for the child-centred Steiner system of education to establish a foothold here.

Finally it has, and the principal of Galway’s first Steiner National School, which will open this September in Knocknacarra, is Tipperary-born Shane O’Connell.

The Steiner method of teaching, which places a huge value on arts, nature and imagination, was developed in Austria nearly 100 years ago by academic and mystic Rudolf Steiner. It caters for children’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs as well as their academic requirements. Its ethos is co-educational and non-religious.

“It’s about fostering the child’s imagination,” says Shane who describes it as “experiential learning” rather than learning by rote.

The Steiner emphasis on hands-on education, and learning in the outdoors tallies with Shane’s approach, which he has honed by teaching in national schools in West Cork, including in Leap where he was vice-principal and in the International School of Havana, Cuba. He previously worked in Kenya as a volunteer after graduating from college.

Shane had initially qualified as an actuary, which set him up for a career in finance, assessing and managing risk. Instead, he opted to go to Kenya with the Volunteer Missionary Movement where he worked with a Catholic diocese in a region about the size of Ireland, helping to secure funds for schools which were passing from church to state ownership.

That experience led him to return to college and train as a primary teacher. Despite the fact that it’s a far less lucrative career financially than actuarial work, it was the right decision as teaching is his passion.  It’s a bit of a family passion – three of his four sisters are primary teachers, he says with a laugh.

“Steiner was something I was interested in and coming back from Cuba was the perfect time,” he says of his appointment to the Galway position.

He hopes the school will have 15 pupils when it opens, as this would entitle it to two teachers.

Starting off with Junior Infants it will grow by one class a year to have a full complement by the time this year’s intake has reached sixth class.

The school’s current location, on the Western Distributor Road, is temporary, and the plan is to move further out towards Barna, to be closer to woods and to the sea.

In preparation for his role as principal of the Knocknacarra school, Shane has spent time in two Steiner Schools in Co Clare. Raheen Woods in Tuamgraney was set up in the mid 1980s, while Mol an Óige in Ennistymon is 10 years old.

The children in both schools “have overalls and Wellingtons and out they go, whatever the weather” to learn outside.

“Children learn for themselves – the teacher’s role is to guide them,” explains Shane. “Steiner is very much about finding where a child is and letting them develop at their own stage.”

Traditionally, the Irish education system, even at primary level, was based on a child being passive rather than active, with rote learning being a cornerstone. Early reading was another linchpin – children began in Junior Infants at the age of four.

That State approach meant a system like Steiner, where children led the way was regarded with deep suspicion by the Department of Education.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

 

Connacht Tribune

Dancing with wolves is Green way of the future

Francis Farragher

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Country Living with Francis Farragher

THE Green Party, in their relatively short existence, have had their ups and downs but in a world of ever-growing environmental awareness, there can be little doubt but that they have a role to play in the country’s political landscape.

Most of the time, what they say, makes a fair bit of sense in terms of reducing and eventually eradicating our dependence on fossil fuels; the need to protect our ecology and natural environment; and to produce our food in a more sustainable fashion.

But, every so now and then, with the try-line in view, they tend to drop the ball in the clumsiest of fashions. Could I really believe what I was hearing last week? Yes, the Greens want to reintroduce wolves to Ireland.

No, it wasn’t April 1 nor was it fake news. There was the leader of the Greens, one Eamon Ryan, making the case for the return of wolves to the Irish countryside, all by way of a great vision to turn our farmlands into one gigantic wildlife park.

For a minute or two, I thought of all the sheep farmers over the years that I’ve written stories about, whose flocks were savaged by marauding dogs, animals that should have been under domestic control – but weren’t – and who wreaked the most horrendous cruelty, often during night-time hours.

Publicity campaigns and damages claims against pet owners have helped at times to reduce the incidence of dog attacks, but at least this is a threat than in many cases can be contained.

There aren’t too many farms in Galway, or across the West of Ireland, who are more than a mile away from rough areas of cover – bushes, briars, trees and gorse – an environment that would make an ideal recluse for the new wolves of Ireland.

Maybe, we should all forget about farming, and revert back to leaving Ireland as a rural wilderness of no cars with wolves roving freely through the fields and forests while it might also be convenient to round-up the locals and move them all into the nearest town.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app

The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City  and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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Connacht Tribune

Theatre history – it’s a class act

Judy Murphy

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NUI Galway Archivist Barry Houlihan

Lifestyle The extensive archive collection at NUI Galway, much of which is available online, covers everything from Irish theatre to land-ownership and offers a unique insight into the past. Archivist Barry Houlihan, whose latest book demonstrates the links between theatre and social history, guides JUDY MURPHY through some of its riches.

The coffee stain on the bottom right-hand corner of a 1976 poster for Druid Theatre’s production of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days in the city’s Fo’castle Theatre is a clear indication that the people involved in that production 43 years ago never thought it would become part of history.

They were wrong.  The Fo’castle on Dominick Street is long gone but Druid has become a force in theatre nationally and internationally, with archives that offer a hugely valuable insight into the artistic and social history of Galway from the mid-1970s onwards.

The Happy Days poster and Druid’s other archives – posters, flyers, correspondence, photos, programmes, films of productions and much more – are housed in a temperature-controlled basement at NUI Galway’s Hardiman Library. It’s part of a massive archive which ranges “from vellum to the Cloud”, according to archivist and historian Dr Barry Houlihan, a man who can make the past come alive. And like most of NUIG’s archives, it can be accessed by anyone with a computer and internet connection.

NUIG’s archives cove politics, theatre, language, land-ownership, and Ireland’s Direct Provision Centre, offering a window on the past – and the present.

When it comes to theatre, the histories of the Gate, The Abbey, Druid, Belfast’s Lyric Theatre, Macnas Theatre company and An Taibhdhearc are just some of its treasures.

These have been mined for Barry’s latest book, which will be launched next Thursday, October 24, at NUIG by Dr Catríona Crowe, retired Head of Special Projects at the National Archives of Ireland.

Its theatrical topics include wages and working conditions, minute books from the Abbey Theatre’s early board meetings, the treatment of women in the industry, and the work and correspondence of playwright Thomas Kilroy, former English professor at the university.

While this is a book that will be read mostly by academics, the archives at NUIG are an incredible source of information on many aspects of Irish history – and it’s not just confined to Ireland.

A 1932 letter written by the then Abbey Theatre Tour Manager, Arthur Shields, during the company’s extensive tour of North America, describes a performance of a Lennox Robinson play (either The Far-Off Hills or The White-headed Boy) at a college in Tuskegee, Georgia.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app

The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City  and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway In Days Gone By

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Happy faces and varying fashions at the Shantalla Sports Day in June 1974.

1919

State of the asylum

At the monthly meeting of the Ballinasloe Asylum Committee of Management held on Monday the Most Rev. Dr. O’Doherty, Bishop of Clonfert, presided. Other members present were: Rev. Fr. Brennan, Messrs. J. Millar, T. J. O’Brien, T. Martin, A. Derivan, T. P. Killeen, J. McKeige.

The Resident Medical Superintendent reported that the health of the institution was fairly satisfactory; there was one case of enteric fever.

The staff in the institution was to some extent discontented with his interpretation of the fifty-six hour week. It was for the committee to define exactly the terms. He took it to mean as the necessity of duty permits.

One patient was given permission to attend the Horse Show and he failed to return; it was technically an escape.

There were 1,417 patients in the asylum. As compared with 1,422 in 1918 and 1,399 in 1917.

Cool heads required

Proclamations, hunger strikes, daily suppressions, courtsmartial. Thus is Ireland governed. The people have need to keep cool and think with clarity.

The operation of Carsonism in Kildare-street Club, in the star chambers of Dublin Castle, in the secret rooms of the Cabinet, overthrew Constitutionalism, and rushed the country into the Rebellion of 1916.

On Wednesday, Sir Edward Carson’s chief Galloper, now exalted to the woolsack, came to Ireland “upon an official visit,” but none the less as a member of the Cabinet Committee that is setting about the congenial task of dishonouring the King’s Signature upon the Statute Book, and ensuring that the Peace Treaty shall not apply to Ireland.

Forty Irishmen are hunger-striking in Mountjoy because the undertaking given by Mr. Duke that political prisoners should be treated in a class by themselves, not as criminals, has been shamelessly betrayed.

Six of them have already been removed to hospital, and nine have been released under the Cat-and-Mouse Act.

The official Sinn Féin Press has been most thoroughly supressed. At a time when it is urgently necessary that men who hold by Sinn Féin should have the benefit of restraining leadership, this influence for restraint has been ruthlessly removed.

Can we wonder if in such an atmosphere malicious injuries pile up until the unfortunate ratepayers wince under a burden over which they can have no control and which is the natural outcome of five years of deliberate misgovernment and exasperation?

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app

The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City  and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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