‘Lady Gaga’s costume designer has joined our programme’

My Education Week: Dermot Carney, arts officer at the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals


Lady Gaga’s costume designer Sorcha O Raghallaigh has joined our Creative Engagement programme. I’ll be heading down to meet her tomorrow. In the meantime, off to the Docklands in Dublin in the freezing easterly wind. I get my bike out of car at the M3 Parkway and board the train.

After checking emails and texts on the train I cycle from Docklands to the office. Helmet is on. Catherine Sheils in the office reminds me daily to wear it.

Creative Engagement (CE) funding is on the agenda at the morning meeting. CE sees students produce arts projects from film and theatre to choirs and sculpture, and all arts in between. Artists are brought in to work in local schools. There is short-term employment for them throughout the country in this scheme. They impart their skills and knowledge through working with students. We still need further funding. Private sector funding is again discussed.

Meeting of the arts-and-culture committee of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD), chaired by Mary Hanley. A progress report on school visits is given and the committee begins planning for the second Creative Engagement exhibition, in October. Seventy schools will be involved this year.

Then to the National Gallery to meet Isabell Smyth, head of education at the National Heritage Council. We discuss partnership between NAPD and the Heritage Council. Michael Parsons of NAPD is on the Heritage Council this year.

When I emerge from the gallery I discover that my bike has been stolen! Walk to Connolly Station, take the train to M3 Parkway. Home to Athboy, Co Meath.

At 7.30pm I’m at a board meeting, as Gaeilge, at Scoil Náisiúnta Rathchairn. Great to be immersed in Irish for two hours. The only English spoken was “balance sheet”.

Home, TV. Read, sleep 1am.


Icy roads. Drive to Birr, Co Offaly. Welcomed by Ming Loughnane, principal of St Brendan’s Community School, and meet Sorcha O Raghallaigh.

Sorcha is working with students at St Brendan’s as part of the Creative Engagement programme. She has designed and made costumes for Lady Gaga, Kate Moss and many other celebrities, and she works much of her time now in London. Being a past pupil of the school, she was invited back as part of the Gathering.

So we have an international star in the Creative Engagement programme this year. Art teachers Yvonne Claffey and Sharon McConnell are delighted to have their past pupil back imparting her knowledge to the transition-year students. Sorcha has samples of her work for demonstration purposes which I presumed were made in three days or so. She corrected me. It took four weeks to make them. I took the foot out of my mouth.

The students are delighted to be working on the project, designing costumes inspired by the masked balls of the past in the heritage town of Birr. I am reminded that another famous local artist, the singer-songwriter Mundy, will also be working on the programme in the school at a later date.

Many other schools are in contact as a variety of arts-in-education projects are under way in the midwest, including outdoor ceramics at Moate Community School and aerial dance at Elphin Community College. Now that is something to see.

The principal also joins in the aerial-dance project, suspended from the ceiling. The Backstage Theatre group in Longford are the external artists involved in that project.

The project will continue over the year, and the costumes will be displayed as part of the second national exhibition of Creative Engagement at Collins Barracks, Dublin, from October 5th this year.

I give a speech thanking all involved in Creative Engagement at St Brendan’s Community School and am given a 5,600-year-old bog-oak candle holder as a gift. Driving home I feel elated but all of 5,600 years old.


Car to M3 Parkway station. Train to Docklands. Emails and texts checked on the train. Bike gone, no helmet required. Office reached 9.30am.

I telephone Derek West in Berlin, editor of the Leader , the NAPD magazine for second-level school leaders. We discuss the role of the arts in the new Junior Certificate programme.

This is the first opportunity in second-level Irish education where the arts can be inserted for all students in the short courses at second level.

School leaders have the freedom to design these courses. Unfortunately this is still only optional for the arts. NAPD take the view that the arts should be at the centre of the curriculum. We encourage our school leaders to use the opportunity presented to introduce it.

Call from Sorcha O Raghallaigh. She’s going back to work on her summer collection in London.

Home, make salmon and baked potatoes. Run 7km. Get confused with son’s Project Maths homework. Draw. Sleep.

I love this job. It is perfect, as my background is as an art teacher and, later, a deputy principal and then a principal.

I am enthused by the industry of the arts community in Ireland and the positivity I find in schools throughout the country in spite of the headwinds.

Home. Cook chicken burritos. Cremate them. Not good in the culinary arts, unfortunately.

Run 7km. Read. Watch the Late Late . Sleep 1am.

Porridge. Work on my latest painting of Athboy. It has morphed stylistically from classical

through expressionist to nihilist. I travel to Bororra to watch youngest son playing soccer with Athboy Celtic under-15s. Discuss fracking in Canada and Leitrim with the young footballers travelling from the game. Bright lads, but they lost the match.

Go to the gym in Trim in the afternoon with my daughter. She is preparing for the Leaving Certificate oral French and Irish exams.

I speak poor French, so my attempts to help her in that area are rebuffed. My wife is a French and English teacher, so I’m on a hiding to nothing. But the French do arts properly in their education system.

I still think the extra points for maths exclusively in the Leaving Cert is unfair. One of the lowest percentages of A1s in the Leaving Cert is in higher-level art. How about extra points there as well?

Watch Brendan O’Connor’s Saturday Night Show on TV. He looks like he is losing weight. Sleep 1.30am.

More Porridge. Aifreann i Rath Chairn. Travel to Kells to watch Clann na nGael, the Athboy, Rathcairn GAA club. Eldest son playing. Absolutely freezing on the sideline and arctic on the pitch. Jerseys flapping in a force 7 from Siberia. A draw. It is not as welcome as the run to the warmth of the dressing room at the end.

I managed a lot of these players as underaged footballers. Out of 15 players, three have now left for Australia. The GAA continues to be one of the adhesives that has kept Irish society together over the past five years.

I continue my painting again in the afternoon. Great to have the light improving this time of year, but I would rather have a studio. It is hard to know when one is painting at home where work finishes and home starts. However, I am reminded by all where the border lies if the paint starts flying.
Run 6km. Go to the cinema, to see a movie called Side Effect s. Outstanding. And to think I wanted to see GI Joe: The Retaliation.