A Dublin girl finds her place on Inis Meáin

After winning a scholarship to spend transition year in the Gaeltacht, Joy Flaherty loved island life so much that she’s staying for Leaving Cert. Here she recounts a week in her life

Tue, Oct 29, 2013, 01:00

I’m 16 years old and in sixth year at Coláiste Naomh Eoin, on Inis Meáin, in the Aran Islands. I started school here the September after my Junior Cert and went straight into fifth year. Before coming here I went to John Scottus School, a fee-paying school in Donnybrook, Dublin. I really liked it, and I only ever planned to leave it temporarily, for transition year, to improve my Irish.

It didn’t work out like that, and island life grew on me. The year on the island was so worthwhile academically that it served as my fifth year, a common occurrence among students who come to Inis Meáin for transition year. I didn’t have to think twice about coming back for sixth year.

When the idea of coming to Inis Meáin was suggested to me first, I was sceptical. To spend an entire school year away from home – and not just away from home but on a small Irish-speaking island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? No thanks. But I thought about it a lot and talked it over with my friends and family. I have two older brothers, David and Eoin, who are in college and who I miss a good bit when I’m away. Both of my parents thought moving here was a great idea and completely supported it, although my mam gets a bit sick of being the only girl in the house.

Irish had always been one of my favourite subjects, but the idea of being almost completely independent of my parents for a whole year was probably what tipped it for me in the end. The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht run a scholarship scheme, so I completed the application form, did the interview and was offered an accommodation scholarship.

My adventure started there and then. This island has attracted great scholars, including John Millington Synge, William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory and Patrick Pearse. They were influenced by island life and folklore, as well as learning Irish. That set the bar for my ambitions.

I was woken up on Tuesday morning by one of my room-mates getting up early for Irish traditional-music lessons. I really relish these leisurely mornings, because last year my Tuesday mornings started with a chemistry class before school, an option offered to those who take it as an extra subject. I took up construction studies for the first time in fifth year, as it wasn’t offered in my last school.

Coláiste Naomh Eoin has only 28 pupils, with just eight in the senior cycle, and the small size of the school really comes in handy.

In the first week of term the entire school went on a bonding day trip to Galway. We went kayaking on Lough Corrib, using NUIG’s facilities, and then to a big sports centre called Pure Skill. It really helped to break the ice with the new students. By the time we got back to school we were all a lot more comfortable with one another. In such a small school, one person can affect the entire dynamic.

Going to school here is completely different from Dublin. You always feel so safe here. The idea of having an alarm on your house or even locking your front door would be laughable – completely different from having to watch your handbag as you walk around Dublin city. I found it a bit difficult to settle in at first. Not that I was homesick, as such: more that I have always lived in the city. You can jump on a bus into town after school or stay the night at your friend’s house. I’m too busy for that here.

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