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
After evening study on Wednesday we have a short break for dinner, followed by drama class. We’re working towards a staged performance of a Christmas play for parents and the community.
After a week or so I realised that living in a house with a girl your own age, with every need provided for, meals on the table after school and not even being asked to lift a hand to set the table, was so much better than living at home with your parents. I had pretty much moved out at the age of 15.
Being away so much obviously had an effect on my friendships at home, and I grew apart from a good few of my friends in Dublin. However, I stayed in touch with my closest friends, who are only a phone call, a Skype or a Facebook message away. The junior-cycle students use netbooks, and the school has access to 100MBPS broadband.
Thursdays are my favourite day at Coláiste Naomh Eoin. Our higher-level maths and biology teacher, Cormac Coyne, is shared between schools on Inis Meáin and Inis Oirr, so Tuesday’s and today’s timetable is filled with maths and biology. The afternoon ends with an art class.
The students here do well in national competitions and received national recognition in last year’s Junk Kouture final with a seaweed dress designed and made by my friends Nóra and Hannah, sisters originally from Co Clare who moved to Inis Meáin with their family.
Irish has always been my favourite subject, and I was one of the best in my class at John Scottus. So I was under the impression that I was going in with a distinct advantage. How wrong was I? I was disappointed and alarmed that my command of the language was weak compared with that of the locals and the other pupils who, like me, came to study. The islanders speak Irish among themselves with a raw haste that takes a trained ear from living among them to understand. They are aware of this and tend to slow down initially, so that learners become accustomed to it.
My principal and múinteoir Gaeilge, Mairéad Ní Fhátharta, is an islander whose passion is the island, its heritage and the Irish language and education. I am now very confident when speaking Irish, as total immersion has left me fluent after a year. This year’s classes are focusing on the oral exam that constitutes 40 per cent of the overall mark for higher-level Leaving Certificate Irish. We have already almost completed the prescribed course with such vigour and detail that there’s lots of time for exam techniques, almost like at a grind school.
Mairéad has a master’s degree in language-teaching methodology and is an experienced examiner with the State Examinations Commission. Her relationship with us students is very much on an equal level.
I go home to Dublin every second weekend on the ferry and then on a bus from Galway. The weekends I spend on the island tend to be quiet enough, which suits me fine, as it leaves me with ample time to study.