Connemara school fears for its long-term future

Principal hopes remote working as a result of Covid might encourage families to relocate

Pupils during playtime at Scoil Cholmáin in Muighinis near   Carna, Co Galway. Photograph: Joe O Shaughnessy

Pupils during playtime at Scoil Cholmáin in Muighinis near Carna, Co Galway. Photograph: Joe O Shaughnessy

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A small Connemara primary school is trying to encourage families to relocate to the area as it seeks four more pupils to replenish a dwindling roll in order to retain a second teacher.

Scoil Cholmáin in Muighinis near Carna, along with parents and locals, are running a social media campaign to promote the school and life in their community, hoping that remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic might help entice people to the Connemara Gaeltacht.

Principal Róisín Ní Chualáin said pupil numbers would drop by half to nine students from September and four more pupils were needed to retain both its teachers for the 2022-23 school year.

She fears the loss of its second teacher might jeopardise the long-term future of the school.

The island’s school dates back more than a century but it has stood in its current location – on an acre of sandy dunes near one of the island’s beaches – since 1950.

Ms Ní Chualáin worries a one-teacher school might be at a disadvantage, discouraging parents from sending their children to Scoil Cholmáin, which she describes as “like a little family”.

“We need to keep the second teacher. We need to get four more pupils enrolled in September for that to happen and then I think we will have a very strong future,” she said.

The school and local supporters hope the viability of remote working witnessed during the pandemic might draw people seeking a move to a rural community.

Parents and the local community have set up a Facebook page to promote the area and the school, and have compiled a list of houses to rent in the area if people wish to move.

“We are selling ourselves across the country, not just in Connemara or Galway, but to anyone who might want to move to a rural area,” said Ms Ní Chualáin, who previously worked as an actor, appearing in the Irish language television drama Ros na Rún.

The Irish-speaking school has a tutor to help new pupils learn the language. “You don’t need to have Irish to come. We welcome everyone and anyone,” she said.

‘Necklace of islands’

Known for its boat-building of old and its sandy beaches, Muighinis – a five-minute drive from Carna – is home to about 130 residents. Joined to the mainland by a road causeway, it was described by the late Roundstone-based writer Tim Robinson as one of “a necklace of islands” along the south Connemara coast.

The last shop on the island closed more than three decades ago and the school and a graveyard are the only two remaining community places on the island.

“It would be sad if it went,” said Dara Ó Maoilchiaráin, the principal of the nearby secondary school in Carna who attended the Muighinis school that also taught his parents and his children.

“It has been a focal place for meetings and get-togethers and school plays and different occasions. It brings the people of the community together.

“It is the only steady employment that has been on the island of Muighinis over the past century and that should be conserved as much as possible,” said Mr Ó Maoilchiaráin.

“It was in danger at least once before. If we can get through the next couple of years, then the school would be vibrant again.”

Ms Ní Chualáin said the school played an important role in the daily lives of locals. “People have said to me: ‘If that school closes, I won’t hear the laughter and the playing at lunchtime.’ Not to have that any more would be heartbreaking.”