“Céard atá uainn don Nollag? Gaelcholáiste nua!” (What do we want for Christmas? A new Gaelcholáiste.)
Schoolchildren from five Irish-medium schools gathered at the gates of Leinster House on Wednesday morning where they sang songs and chanted slogans telling Santa Claus and Minister for Education Norma Foley that they want an Irish language secondary school for Christmas.
Parents, teachers and students attending Bunscoil Synge; Gaelscoil Lios na nÓg; Gaelscoil Eoin; Scoil Bhríde; and Gaelscoil Inse Chór called on the Minister to approve their request for a Gaelcholáiste to serve their Dublin 2, 4, 6 and 8 areas.
The gathering was the latest in the long-running campaign for a co-ed multidenominational Irish-medium secondary school. Despite having a population of 200,000 people and 40 English-medium secondary schools serving the area, there is no Irish-medium follow-on secondary school provision for the five Gaelscoileanna that provide immersive Irish-language education.
Campaigners have been critical of the Department of Education’s refusal to approve their request for an Irish-medium secondary school and say it is unfair to ask their children whose education to date has been entirely in the Irish language to start the second phase of their schooling in an English-language setting.
Parent Irene Kavanagh said the failure of the Department of Education to allow their request for a secondary school was “very frustrating”.
“We’re in Dublin 12 and attend school in Dublin 6 and we’re not facilitated at all. My daughter went to Coláiste Íosagáin [in Booterstown], which is a great school, but we had to travel across and back every morning and every evening. The travel each day was terrible. All of her friends were over on that side of the city so it was really frustrating. During the summer she was never close to her friends so on the social and development side it was difficult.”
“We have two boys aged Marcas (9) and Cuán (10) in second and third class. For us this is really important. We’re hoping that there will be a school they can go to nearby. Their father is from Connemara and his first language is Irish so for us it is really important that they have Irish-medium education all the way through.”
Colm Ó Nualláin, príomhoide (principal) of Gaelscoil Inse Chór, said: “The children who are here have very little prospect of continuing their education together.
“They have to travel the four ways of the wind to avail of Irish-language education and because the journey time is so long, many end up going to English-medium secondary schools whereas if they had the option close by they would avail of Irish-medium education.
“The benefits are huge. In terms of fluency and becoming lifelong Irish speakers, especially, those formative years between 12 and 18 are so important.
“So much is invested in the Gaelscoileanna and so much is lost if they have to go on to English medium despite there being a desire to continue to Irish medium.”
Dylan (12), who is in Rang a 6 and attends Ranelagh’s Gaelscoil Lios na nÓg, said he enjoyed learning through Irish: “It’s really fun. It’s a different language to the one I speak at home and it’s a different way of learning.
“It’s not fair for the people who don’t have access to schools. We have a lot of bunscoileanna [primary schools] but we don’t have a secondary school in our area.”
Oscar (12), who is also in Rang a 6 at Lios na nÓg, said he was present “to ask Daidí na Nollag for a Gaelcholáiste nua”. Speaking in Irish, he said he enjoyed learning in a different language: “Is maith liom bheith ag foghlaim I dteanga éagsúil seachas an Béarla, tá sé sin go deas.”
Julian de Spáinn, general secretary of Conradh na Gaeilge, said: “We’ve been campaigning for at least three years now for a Gaelcholáiste in the Dublin 2, 4, 6 and 8 area. It’s not good enough that we don’t have a Gaelcholáiste for students attending these five Gaelscoileanna. The argument that there are other schools available in other areas that they could attend is just not good enough.
“They are suppressing the demand for the Gaelcholáiste. It’s a travesty when you think of the five Gaelscoileanna here. We could have a vibrant Gaelcholáiste in our own area and increase the use of the language in general in the area as well.
“They promised in the Programme for Goverment that they would double the number of children attending Irish-medium education and would establish Gaelcholáistí if the demand was shown. If five Irish-medium primary schools don’t represent demand for a Gaelcholáiste, they’re never going to set up another Gaelcholáiste.”
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