In our native tongue you might call it a ‘bua bua’ situation – there are students who love Irish or just want to improve their grasp of the language and there’re are island schools that needs to keep up pupil numbers . . . so if you marry the two, everyone’s a winner.
Which is why the Island Scholarship Scheme may well be one of the best ideas – as well as one Ireland’s best kept secrets.
Funded by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, ‘Scéim na bhFoghlaimeoirí Gaeilge’ offers a once in a lifetime opportunity vis-à-vis full scholarship for an entire academic year on the five offshore post-primary schools in Ireland.
Three of them are on Aran – Coláiste Naomh Éinne on Inis Mór, Coláiste Ghobnait on Inis Oírr and Coláiste Naomh Eoin on Inis Meáin – along with Gairmscoil Mhic Diarmada (Óileán Árainn Mhór), agus Coláiste Pobail Cholmcille (Oileán Thoraí) in Donegal.
Recipients of the €5,000 scholarships are awarded the golden opportunity to experience total immersion in Gaeltacht life and culture.
Places are open to students from first to sixth year, and boarding accommodation with a host family is also provided.
“The schools on these islands are the heart and spirit of their respective communities,” says Bríd Ní Dhonnacha, Príomhoide at Coláiste Ghobnait on Inis Oírr.
But depopulation of offshore islands coupled with changing demographics and a modern persuasion towards smaller families, poses a very real threat to the future prosperity of Gaeltacht island communities.
Census figures reveal the five islands shared a collective population of 4,506 in 1901, compared with 1,909 in 2011 – that’s a 42% drop in population.
But this is a two-way street – because while the schools need the students, there’s plenty in this too for the visiting students themselves….the culture, recreational activities, friendliness and sense of community that life on a small island brings
From an academic perspective, the immersive experience offered by their scholarship programme, says Bríd, “could be the difference between your first choice and your second choice” – because, as she says: “when it comes to the CAO, those five or ten points are gold dust”.
These island schools commit themselves to cultivating the inquisitiveness of youth, quenching their thirst for knowledge and instilling confidence in conduct of their teanga dúchais.
But Bríd also admits that these offshore schools also face “unique challenges” not experienced by mainland schools.
It’s hard to find teachers who are willing and able to teach through Irish at second level – and then to convince them to live on a remote and secluded island.
Last year, the €1,658 island allowance for offshore teachers was cut from the budget. Bríd says this supplement needs to be reinstated – immediately.
“It is not attractive for teachers to apply for a job on an island school,” she says.
“With it comes leaving your family on the mainland and relocating to the island. It would not be feasible to commute on a daily basis to the islands and often there are not full teaching hours with the vacancy.
“For teaching on an island to be enticing, we need to have the island allowance reinstated,” she says.
Other crucial proposals also need to be implemented to safeguard the future of island schools.
These include ensuring air services between islands and the mainland, reinstating island allowance, increasing teacher quota from one to 2.5 (to allow for curricular provision), and increasing the schools budget by €10,000 (to offset additional transport and servicing costs), ensuring there are at least two management roles per school.
They also want to increase the number of residential scholarships from ten to twenty per island school.
“These are not wants – they are needs – for island schools to survive,” she insists.
Despite their troubles, island schools also possess distinct advantages like their low pupil to teacher ratio, ‘way above average’ CAO points, wide range of extracurricular activities and sporting facilities, safe environment, independent learning and personal development.
One scholarship student with Coláiste Ghobnait, Inis Oírr, said the experience “opened my eyes to my heritage, nationality and the realisation of how important community and culture is”, adding that both host family and teachers helped to create a “positive learning experience”, bestowing her with “the gift of enriching my Irish”.
At the moment, the schools are struggling to cope with budgetary cuts to financial aid and lack of resources – and it’s a fight they are determined to win.
“If there’s no school, there’ll be no island life – it really is the heart of the community. We want to keep the islands inhabited and keep the culture alive,” says Bríd.
US basketball champion boasts impeccable Galway roots
An Irish American basketball player with impeccable Galway roots helped end a 50-year NBA famine for the Milwaukee Bucks last week.
Boston-born Pat Connaughton, whose grandparents hail from Clostoken, Loughrea, played a pivotal part in his side clinching the NBA championship final series over the Phoenix Suns.
The 6ft 5in shoot guard was involved in all six games of the final series, including the last, which the Bucks won 105-98.
Afterwards, the 28-year-old said: “It’s incredible. The fans supported us through thick and thin. They’ve had our backs. To be able to do it and to win it and to be able to call ourselves World champions in front of our own fans . . . it’s incredible. The city of Milwaukee deserves it and I’m just proud that I could be a part of a team, with my teammates, that gave it to them.”
One of his cousins in Loughrea, Madeleine Connaughton, told the Connacht Tribune that his relations in Galway were incredibly proud of his achievement.
“It’s absolutely brilliant; he’s a celebrity in our eyes because he has done so well,” said Madeleine.
“It’s brilliant that Pat is flying the flag for us over there. He was the only person to play both professionally, baseball and basketball with Notre Dame. He was as good a baseball player as basketball and had to choose.”
Madeleine joked that there ‘is a clatter of us’ in Loughrea related to Pat Connaughton, including the Connaughtons, Tierneys, Keanes and Burkes.
Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Galway duo make sporting history as out first Olympic medallists
The motto of the Ireland Women’s Coxless Four team, which includes Galway’s first ever Olympic medallists, Aifric Keogh and Fiona Murtagh, has been drilled into them by coach Giuseppe De Vita: ‘Winter miles makes Summer smiles.’
At twenty-three minutes past two on Wednesday morning Irish time, during the Tokyo Olympic medal presentation ceremony at a windswept Sea Forest Waterway, the rowing quartet’s smiles beamed from ear-to-ear.
It was a testament to the hard graft they’ve put into the sport over many years, especially the past 18 months, and the last eight weeks in particular in the build-up to the biggest six minutes of their careers to date.
Keogh (29) from Aill an Phréacháin in Na Forbacha, Fiona Murtagh (26) from Gortachalla in Moycullen, and Eimear Lambe and Emily Hegarty were well entitled to smile after a remarkable rowing performance that earned them bronze medals in the Women’s Fours Final.
As they presented each other with their medals, in keeping with Covid-19 restrictions, and waved their bouquets into the air, back home, their smiles lit up the television and computer screens in living rooms of their family, friends and new legion of fans throughout the land.
It was a history-making feat – Galway’s first Olympic medallists, Ireland’s first women rowers to win Olympic medals, and the nation’s first at Tokyo 2020.
Both women were ecstatic afterwards as they spoke with the Connacht Tribune via Zoom from the media centre in the Olympic Village.
Read the full interview with Galway’s Olympic heroes in today’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie
Olympic dream comes true for Galway sprinting star
It was March, 2019 when the Olympic dream of Cillín Greene went up in smoke – or so everyone thought.
On day one of the European Indoor championships in Glasgow, the Claregalway sprinter was progressing nicely in a 400m heat.
He was in lane two, minding his own business, when, all of a sudden, he was ‘bounced’ by a Polish competitor on his inside.
Cillín steadied himself after the collision but was unable to react quick enough to hop over a Czech runner who tumbled in front of him. Both hit the deck. Bad enough that his race was run; worse again, afterwards it emerged he’d sustained a serious injury.
“He was knocked on the track and broke his elbow,” recalled his father, Colman.
“I think it put his whole make-up out of line for a long time. He started pulling hamstrings after that, and things like that. It took a long time to get it right. It’s like a fine-tuned sports car, everything has to be right. Last year, he had a lot of injuries and he wasn’t really going anywhere,” he said.
Glasgow was just over a year out from the Tokyo Olympic Games, and almost certainly wiped his chances of qualification.
But then Covid-19 delayed the Games, giving time to rehab; and the Galway City Harriers clubman worked relentlessly in Lockdown to get back on track.
The result? This Friday, along with another Galway man, Robert McDonnell (19) from Knocknacarra, 23-year-old Cillín Greene will become an Olympian when he competes in the mixed 4x400m relay heat at the Olympic Stadium at 12 noon Irish time.
See the full story – and comprehensive Olympic coverage – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie