‘This is a beacon for the inner-city. It shows that education and our students are valued’

An extension to an old Dublin school caps a remarkable turn-around in its fortunes

Kathleen Breadon recalls being taught by one of the 1916 heroines, Margaret Skinnider, with a clarity as if it was yesterday.

"She was a very good teacher, though she didn't like teaching us about English geography," says the 75-year-old former pupil. " So we were taught Irish ballads instead – The Croppy Boy and The Three Flowers."

It was typical of Skinnider, a rebel and sniper during the Rising who went on to teach students at Mount Carmel secondary school in Dublin's north inner city right up until the 1960s.

Yesterday, Breadon, along with other past-pupils aged in their 70s and 80s, gathered for the official opening of an extension to one of Dublin’s oldest schools, Mount Carmel, named after the 1916 patriot.

The five-classroom building, which sits on the the corner of Bolton Street and King's Inns Street, includes a music room with a stunning roof-top vista over the historic Henrietta Street.

Gerry Cullen, the school's principal, is particularly proud of the new building – Áras Skinnider. They are not just gleaming new facilities, he says, but a sign of the ambition of the wider community.

“It shows that education is valued and students are valued,” says Cullen. “It’s a beacon in the inner city for education.”

Thriving

What’s most impressive is that Mount Carmel, a girls’ secondary school, is thriving at a time when many schools in the north inner city are struggling with falling enrolments.

Cullen estimates that numbers are higher than they have been in the past 25 years. “It is also encouraging to see the number of students progressing to third level has doubled in the past decade, up from 30 per cent to nearly 60 per cent.”

The school, which is under the trusteeship of the Religious Sisters of Charity, says it caters for students from all religious backgrounds and cultures.

Almost four out of 10 of all the school's students were born outside Ireland and come from over 30 different countries.

“We’re a very inclusive school where every student is accepted and respected for who they are,” says Cullen, who was appointed as the first lay principal 11 years ago.

“A few years ago we received a very positive report from the Department of Education. My favourite line reads: ‘all who met with the inspectors described the school as a happy place’.

At the official opening, Minister for Education Richard Bruton paid tribute, saying the school is a great example of the multi-cultural vibrancy of the city.

“Students in the north inner city will now greatly benefit from these new state-of-the-art facilities.”

Following dreams

Earlier, the school's students gathered to hear from the managing director of Microsoft Ireland, Cathriona Hallahan, who urged students to voice their ambition and follow their dreams.

Having also grown up in a disadvantaged area, Hallahan’s message of developing a “growth mindset” went down well with the audience of 400 or so schoolgirls.

“She came from the similar background to us, so it’s easy to relate to her and makes it all the more interesting and inspiring,” says Niamh MacDonagh, a fifth-year student.

Niamh Murphy, a fourth-year student, says: "People think disadvantaged schools have a bad name. But we get incredible opportunities. We get to hear people like her. We all get a chance to do what we want and explore what we're interested in."

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