West Cork school gets a surprise

Every weekday, 24 Irish children, ages 5 to 12, attend a two-room school house in the remote West Cork countryside between the villages of Drinagh and Drimoleague. It is here, under the caring guidance of Principal Teresa Holland, that these children prepare themselves for Irish high school and entrance to the ferociously competitive Irish University system.

The Derryclough National School, however, has barely enough funds to keep operating. Located in the famous West Cork rolling farm country, the school has been seriously limited by constant government budget cutbacks.

According to reporter Jackie Keogh in her February column published in The Southern Star newspaper, in Skibbereen, West Cork, “The pressure that all such small schools are under is compounded by the fact that the minor works grant was cut in 2012. The capitation grant – which covers schools’ day-to-day expenses – was cut last year, and again this year. In addition, resource hours have been cut, as has the ancillary services grant.”

Keogh goes on to say this is no different than other small schools the length and breadth of Ireland, all of whom have difficulty raising funds for any kind of special activities.

Americans may not understand the nature and fetch of these funding reductions, but it is easy to appreciate how so many of them might impact a school’s hard working teachers.

The Dublin government has little choice in making these cuts if they are to reduce Ireland’s dependency on European lenders.
But the parents and teachers of the Derryclough National School aren’t giving up. Recognizing the acute need, the school community is actively fund raising to provide the funds to help teachers continue a high level of educational excellence.

After becoming aware of the school’s plight through Jackie Keogh’s column, Boston’s Irish American Partnership contacted her to obtain more information after which the decision was made to issue a grant of $2,000 to the Derryclough School, which was sent to Ireland last month.

“Principal Teresa Holland has only been here two years,” Keogh noted in her column. “She and her assistant and a part-time special needs teacher take care of the 24 students. Holland takes charge of the ‘Senior room’ with 15 students and teacher Suzanne Murphy is responsible for the ‘Junior room’ with 9 students. One visit to Derryclough National School confirms why small schools are so deeply valued by pupils and their families. Here, children learn how to be confident and relaxed, how to get along with each other, and how to get their work done.”

Keogh goes on to note that “Derryclough National School is a Catholic school, under the patronage of the Bishop of Cork and Ross, but many of the children and families of different backgrounds find an open mind and warm welcome there. Indeed, the school community prides itself on the atmosphere of acceptance and children have the confidence and communication skills to deal with difference by learning from it.”

After the Irish Partnership grant was received by the school, Keogh wrote a second story the following week in which she quoted Principal Holland saing, “I could hardly believe it. It’s the last thing you would expect. No one ever thinks they are going to get a call from the United States offering them a sizable donation for the school. I received the message from Boston on my answering machine. When I played the message I was amazed and rang them back straight away.

After I got over the initial shock I was able to thank them. $2,000 is, by our standards, a lot of money and the fact that it came completely out of the blue was a source of great joy and celebration for all of us.”

The Partnership transmittal letter suggests that the funds be used to strengthen the school’s library and assist science teaching through the purchase of appropriate materials.

As we go into March celebrating our Irish heritage, Partnership donors can take pride in what they have done for this treasured school in West Cork.

Joe Leary is CEO and president of the Irish American Partnership.