Carlow school ahead of the curve on musical education

State scheme aims to give all children access to musical education within five years

On Thursday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny unveiled a Government initiative aiming to give every Irish child access to musical education within five years.

Students at Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Carlow, however, are four years ahead of the curve.

The school’s 441 pupils have been learning how to sing, play tuned percussion, violin and the cello since they partnered with Music Generation four years ago.

The project is cofounded by the Department of Education and Skills, The Ireland Fund, local music education partnerships and U2.


"The programme essentially serves to overcome financial and geographical barriers for young people," said the organisation's Aoife Lucey. "We bring the music to them, or highly subsidise what already could be there."

Children, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access or afford tuition, work with professional musicians and tutors in their local areas. Currently operating in-school and out-of-school programmes, instrument banks and tuition in 12 areas of the country, Music Generation serves 38,000 children.

Only two pupils at Scoil Mhuire gan Smál had been receiving private instrument lessons outside of school before implementing the programme in 2012. Now, all of her students are exposed to the transformative power of music performance, said principal Bernie Murphy.

“It’s true equality of access, and it’s true equality of opportunity,” she said. “Because regardless of their social, their economic, their cultural background, all of our pupils have access.”

Participate together

The all-girls primary school has students from more than 40 countries, Ms Murphy said. The lessons they learn playing violin or cello also spill over into other parts of their academic and personal lives.

“We all participate together,” she said. “It really does help the work ethic, the commitment to something, and the appreciation that to achieve excellence requires work and honest input.”

Sorcha Russell is a former pupil who returned to her old stomping ground two years ago as a Music Generation tutor. Ms Russell, whose principal instrument is violin, says she has seen her students transform through musical expression.

“They get to express themselves differently than they might in normal, everyday class,” she said.

“Last year when I first came to them, they were a little shy and nervous. They would do whatever I asked them to do, but they were nervous about exploring it more. But this year, they’re asking way more questions. They’re like, ‘Oh why is it like this? If I do it like this, is it better?’ It’s great to see them getting more involved in their own understanding of music.”


Learning music as a child gave her confidence, Ms Russell added. She hopes to pass this experience on to the five young cellists in front of her, playing Jingle Bells with furrowed brows, and pursed lips.

The much-loved carol will be part of the school’s fundraising efforts to sustain the programme. Although Scoil Mhuire gan Smál receives funding from its local education and training board through Music Generation, the Carlow school must match what it is given.

For the past two years, running early music education and string programmes has cost about €11,000, Ms Murphy said. The school’s last Christmas concert managed to bring in nearly half the amount they needed.

Next year, the primary school plans to establish a string ensemble for girls who are particularly passionate about music.