Three’s a crowd as west Cork school celebrates biggest pupil intake in five years

All provisions including lunches have to be ferried to Scoil Mhicil Naofa on Bere Island

Staff and pupils at Scoil Mhicil Naofa on Bere Island. On the front row far left is Erica Murphy, second from left is Meabh Hobbs and third from left is Abigale Harrington.

Staff and pupils at Scoil Mhicil Naofa on Bere Island. On the front row far left is Erica Murphy, second from left is Meabh Hobbs and third from left is Abigale Harrington.


The first few days at school are always memorable but for the staff and pupils of Scoil Mhicil Naofa on Bere Island off West Cork last week was particularly special.

The school had its biggest intake of pupils in five years when three new pupils were added to the roll book.

Abigail Harrington (4), Erica Murphy (4) and Meabh Hobbs (4) had all come in for a day in June so they knew each other already but there was a big welcome for them from principal, Deirdre Ni Dhonnchada and fellow teacher Katrina Ladden as well as from their fellow pupils.

“Meabh has an older brother, Tadhg (10) who is in Fifth Class while Erica has an older sister, Emily (6) who is in First Class so they would have had a few familiar faces here on Thursday morning but with only 19 pupils in total everyone gets to know everyone very quickly,” said Ms Ní Dhonndhacha.

Located at Ballinakilla on the northern side of the island, Scoil Mhicil Naofa had 18 students last year, two of whom left to attend secondary school.

The three new recruits have offset this and is the biggest intake since the three current members of Fourth Class students arrived in 2012.

Bere island.
Bere island.

“Katrina teaches Junior Infants to Second Class even though we have no Second Class because there was no intake that year and she has seven pupils while I teach Third Class to Sixth Class and I have 12 pupils while we also have a learning support teacher, Caoimhe Healy two days a week,” she said.

Not the smallest

“We are a small school but we are not the smallest in the country - West Cork, Kerry, Mayo and Donegal have the highest number of two teacher schools.

We’re not an unusual school at all -I believe there are around 50 one teacher schools around the country so we are not the smallest.

According to Ms Ni Dhonndhacha, Scoil Mhicil Naofa is no different in many ways to any two teacher school on the mainland with pupils collected by bus and brought to and from school even though she and Ms Laddin both live on the mainland so their commute involves a ferry.

“I live in Allihies and Katrina lives in Eyeries - it’s about 20 minutes for me into Castletownbere and 10 minutes for Katrina and then we catch the ferry across to the western end of the island - that takes 10-15 minutes and we have an island car at the pier that we use to drive the 2kms to school.

“We’re a designated DEIS school probably because of our geographical isolation but the designation means that our pupils get school meals via a Department of Social Welfare grant so O’Donoghue’s Bar in Castletownbere provides the lunches which we bring them over with us on the ferry.”

“Our school is no different to any two-teacher school on the mainland except the two of us have to co-operate in a much closer manner - we have to share a car, which we pay for ourselves, and we travel together all the time so it’s like a marriage of sorts.”

“We bring everything over on the ferry - the toilet tissues, the mop, the rat poison, the chalk - I could be carrying anything under my arm when I step off the ferry in the morning,” she said with a smile as she recalled the new pupils’ first moments at Scoil Michil Naofa this morning.

“Things were very quiet initially but they are getting a little bit more lively now that they are settling in.

She asks the new pupils as they completed their first week: “Tell me girls, what is it that you’ve liked most about school so far?”

Abigail, Erica and Meabh answer in unison: “Playing outside”.