The number of pupils being taught through Irish in primary school is due to climb to a record high in the current school year.
A combination of rising parental demand and patronage changes aimed at increasing access to Irish-medium education are among the factors behind the rise, according to education analysts.
The number of schools where children are being taught through the medium of Irish has climbed to almost 260 this year, up from 247 in 2018-19.
Three new gaelscoileanna have opened in the Dublin area alone in the 2021-22 academic year.
Latest enrolment figures indicate that around one in 12 – or about 45,000 children – are now being educated through Irish.
Irish as the primary language of education has risen steadily from 6 per cent of primary pupils in 2000 to more than 8 per cent in the last school year.
A majority of Irish-medium schools – about 150 out of 260 – are located outside Gaeltacht areas and are now among the fastest growing school type at primary level.
Caoimhín Ó hEaghra, general secretary of An Foras Pátrúnachta – the largest patron of Irish-medium schools – said more parents are more aware of the benefits of bilingual and multilingual education.
“In addition to being co-ed and multidenominational, these schools will also be multilingual. Children will learn a subject through a major European language such as music through French or PE through German.”
Gaelscoil Eoin, based on Haddington Place, is the first ever gaelscoil to open in the Dublin 4 area.
The decision to designate the school as a gaelscoil was due to a change in the school patronage process implemented by then minister for education Joe McHugh to increase access to Irish-medium education.
Under the changes, a new school being established in an area with a growing population will be a gaelscoil if there is no existing one.
In addition, at least one school will provide education through Irish where a number of new schools are being established in the same school planning area.
Cristín Ní Chairealláin, the school’s principal, said there are just six junior infants enrolled in the school this year as it only recently opened to enrolments. However, she said there is strong interest among parents and the school is projected to grow to about 240 pupils as it expands each year.
“The parents this year have taken a huge leap of faith in joining us. Most had places in other schools, but they decided to join us in a school building they hadn’t seen and which we only got the keys to last Thursday,” she said.
Ms Ní Chairealláin said there was interest in the immediate area which includes communities such as Sandymount, Ringsend and Irishtown. However, there are also pupils attending from as far away as Dundrum and Clonskeagh.
"They get all the benefits of being bilingual, using two sides of your brain and thinking differently. We're close to companies like Facebook and LinkedIn who see bilingualism as a real positive; there are no negatives," she said.
Children joining the school will not hear any English in the classroom for the first two years of education.
However, she said research shows pupils perform just as well in English compared to other schools in standardised tests.
“The languages skills transfer from one language to the other,” she said.
While gaelscoileanna have admission policies which welcome children of all nationalities and ability, some studies indicate that the proportion of non-Irish nationals is significantly lower in all-Irish primary schools.
While it has led some critics to say gaelscoileanna are a “closed system” , Ms Ní Chairealláin said Gaelscoil Eoin, like others, is “open to everyone”.
“It’s not a fair allegation. Everyone is welcome, there are no pre-conditions; there’s a welcome mat to everyone,” she said.