Tógtha ón Derry News 6/10/2016
Le Gareth Cross
Since Gaelscoil Éadain Mhóir first opened its doors in 1998 the school has gone from strength to strength.
The Irish language school started with just 6 pupils but in the last 18 years numbers have grown to over 150.
It was first situated adjacent to Seán Dolans GAA Club in Creggan before moving to its current site adjacent to The Gasyard in the heart of the Brandywell in 2001.
Gaelscoil Éadain Mhóir was founded by parents who wanted their children to be able to learn through the medium of Irish in a non-denominational setting.
The school was granted official recognition from the Department of Education in 2002 and has established a Naíscoil (Nursery) and Sure Start programme for two year olds.
Although the school is non-denominational it does prepare the children for the sacraments. Many lessons are conducted in the Irish language but the school also has English language lessons and pupils follow the same curriculum as any other school in Northern Ireland.
Principal of Gaelscoil Éadain Mhóir, Mary Nic Ailín, has worked at the school since 2003 and has been principal since 2008.
She said that the school owes a lasting debt to the parents who founded it.
“Those parents worked very hard and we are extremely grateful for their efforts.
“They moved forward attracting new pupils and staff and had to deal with a lack of facilities. They took a leap of faith based on their desire for Irish language education and their determination paid off.
“The school’s founders worked closely with community groups and it was the Gasyard that provided the land to the Department of Education for the school’s current location.
“Gaelscoil Éadain Mhóir’s ethos is first class education at the heart of the community. Through our Naíscoil and Sure Start programmes, we provide all round care for children.”
The school still has two of its original staff members working at the school, Antoin de Brún, who teaches the P7 class and Moira Armstrong, who teaches the P6 class, both of whom were part of the committee involved in founding the school.
“We still have some of our original staff members and we have former pupils working at the school as classroom assistants.
“One of the school’s original six pupils now has their own child in the nursery and we will welcome one of the early pupils back from St. Mary’s college for teaching practice soon.”
The school has seen year on year growth in numbers since its inception.
“We had 27 pupils in our P1 intake this year and that’s something we are extremely proud of.” Ms. Nic Ailín.
“We are one of the few schools in the area who continue to grow. We are currently considering a development proposal to allow us to increase the number of pupils we can accept each year.
“The increased numbers are a testament to the hard work and dedication of our staff.”
Ms. Nic Ailín is hoping the school will have a new build approved in the new future.
“We are hoping to remain on the same site and are currently working with the Department of Education.
“We need the new build to allow us to cater for increased numbers and have two new classrooms already confirmed.
“We are hoping to get an answer from the Department in the very near future.”
The Irish language is a huge part of life at the school.
“We want to provide opportunities for our students to use the Irish language in daily life both inside and outside the school.
“Our pupils are proud of their ability to speak Irish and many carry it on to secondary school with some choosing to attend Gaelcholáiste Dhoire, the new Irish language college in Dungiven.
“The Irish language aspect does not provide any unique challenges to the school, there are sometimes misconceptions around Irish language education but our children’s English doesn’t suffer and they have the same abilities as any other primary school pupil.”
Ms. Nic Ailín talked about some of the highlights of her time at Éadain Mhóir.
“We are very proud of the school environment we have fostered, a recent Education Training Inspectorate report said that our quality of leader and management is very good and that our children and staff are actively engaged and enthused throughout the day.
“The school also offers the opportunity for our pupils to become trilingual through Spanish language lessons.
“Language is a big focus at school with most of our pupils doing their GCSE Irish in P7. It does give them a great boost of confidence to go on to secondary school with one GCSE already completed and speaking multiple languages opens up multiple new career opportunities.
“We are proud of the support service we provide to pupils and parents. Often our parents are not Irish speakers so it is important that we engage with them on this and offer lots of support in and outside the classroom,” said Ms Nic Ailín.
The school also offers an extensive programme of extracurricular activities.
“We run a family fun scheme through the Brandywell Health Forum every Tuesday which allows families to come in and learn about healthy living, physical education etc. and this develops relationships between the families and the school.
“We offer different activities after school each day including Karate, gymnastics and gardening club.
“The school also celebrates culture through music, drama and Irish dancing. Each St. Patrick’s day we have a showcase to allow pupils to show off their talents for parents and the local community.
“We also work closely with Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin to provide more opportunities for the pupils.”
The school also plays an active role in the local community.
“We are organizing a Halloween party at the minute for Tuesday October 25 from 2.30 to 3.30pm for all children aged 1-4 in the local area. They can take part in arts and crafts and storytelling and get a look around the school.
“Any interested parent is more than welcome to contact the school at any time and make an appointment to look around and chat with staff,” added the local principal.