Why I’m sitting my Leaving Cert on an island
A 17-year-old Corkonian has logged off social media to embrace Inis Meáin’s serenity
Zara Finn, a Leaving Cert student from Cork, has moved to Inis Meáin for the year. “I start my day with a run along the beach, the only sounds are the waves crashing against the limestone rock,” she says
Zara Finn, a Leaving Cert student from Cork, has moved to Inis Meáin for the year. “Instead of spending hours on social media, worrying about likes and shares, I’ve started to focus on living in the moment,” she says
Zara Finn, a Leaving Cert student from Cork, has moved to Inis Meáin for the year. “It has made me put my priorities into perspective. Being a part of a community so tight has taught me to be part of a team,” she says
“Inis Meáin? Why are you there?” It’s a question that surfaces as soon as the subject arises in conversation.
The answer? There’s a long story behind it.
My name is Zara Finn. I’m 17 years old and I’m from Cork. This year I’m attending Coláiste Naomh Eoin, Inis Meáin, a tiny school with just 40 pupils.
From before I was born until the age of 10 (yes, my mum was eight months pregnant with me when I first journeyed west), our family of six would spend every August bank holiday on Inis Meáin.
As a little girl, I took this weekend as an opportunity to run wild in a field with hope of winning a gold-painted medal, to go crab fishing on the pier with string and bacon (wrapped up so much against the wind that all that was seen was a few locks of wiry ginger hair from under a hat) and to eat as many cheese and onion Taytos as I could before I felt sick.
Seven years later, I’ve found myself back in my safe haven. I still run, but not in a field. The crab will remain safe in the bay until summer. But, let’s face it, you can’t go wrong with a packet of Taytos.
In 2011, I spent some time in the primary school here, and we were fortunate enough to have a visit from former president Mary McAleese.
Since then, it was always in my mind to return and I longed to spend another weekend on the island. Years passed and the opportunity never arose.
Until June 2016 when I came back once more, this time on my own. Having finished my fifth-year summer exams, my brain was frazzled. I was reflecting on my year, and wondering how on earth I was going to sit my Leaving Cert in 12 months’ time.
During my time that June, I met past pupils of Coláiste Naomh Eoin – from Dublin, Galway and Mullingar – who had finished from school but were back here yet again. That’s when I thought: wouldn’t it be mad to come to school here?
Many emails later, I found myself peering at the Atlantic Ocean from an Aer Arann plane.
At the time I felt nervous, comparing myself to Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, when the reality was that the mainland was seven minutes away. I was in awe at how peaceful it all looked from above, the shades of blue and navy in the ocean, the stone walls dividing the fields.
That serenity didn’t stop when I landed. Each morning I’m greeted with the cosmic peace. I start my day with a run along the beach, the only sounds are the waves crashing against the limestone rock and the animals braying.
School starts at 9.20am, and it’s safe to say that the still tranquillity is left at the front door.
Everyday there is something happening, and we’re encouraged to be creative and do things outside of our comfort zone. With nine teachers and only 40 pupils, the student-teacher relationship is really positive.
For me, my biggest worry was my Irish – well, my lack of it. After weeks of being immersed in the Irish language it was almost second nature for me to speak it.
Prior to this year, I had associated Irish with hours slaving over sraith pictiúir and the dreaded modh coinníollach.
Now, I actually love it. I’m proud to speak the language. And I’m exploring how I can incorporate it into the things I love, such as music. From the age of five, I attended music school, and came to Inis Meáin with my cello grades finished.
Coming up to Christmas, the school principal Mairéad Ní Fhatharta proposed I wrote, co-ordinated and arranged the music for the drama. It was a completely new experience for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. To be able to combine two interests so influential in my life was really special.
With the academic year almost over, and reflecting back, I realise how lucky I am to spend a year away from home like this.
It has made me put my priorities into perspective. Being a part of such a tight community has taught me to be part of a team.
Instead of spending hours on social media, worrying about likes and shares, I’ve started to focus on living in the moment, and to enjoy life through my own eyes, rather than through a screen.
The beauty and tranquility of Inis Meáin has opened my eyes, and now I live every day to the best of my ability. Life is too special to not take advantage of and here on Inis Meáin I make the most of each day.
And when my time here is over and I return to Cork, I know that Inis Meáin will never leave me.