Irish medium primary school opens its doors in Cookstown

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GAELSCOIL Eoghain, the new Irish Medium Primary School in Cookstown, will open its doors for the first time on Monday, September 3.

Acting principal Caitríona Uí Dhoibhlin said this is a significant day for those who have an interest in the Irish language, culture and heritage and for those who appreciate children being given special opportunities in education. She said it will be a momentous occasion for the group of four-year-olds who will become the first pupils of Gaelscoil Eoghain.

In May this year, the Education Minister John O’Dowd approved a development proposal to establish Gaelscoil Eoghain and it is hoped it will build on the foundations created by Naíscoil Eoghain, the Irish Medium pre-school which opened in 2008 and is currently providing pre-school education to over 40 children from Cookstown and the surrounding area.

The new premises at Chapel Street, Cookstown, will be funded by the Department of Education and will be completed in August.

Principal Caitríona Uí Dhoibhlin, an experienced teacher of Key Stage 1, joins the school on secondment from Gaelscoil Uí Néill in Coalisland and will have the benefit of guidance and support from Conor McPhillips, the principal of Gaelscoil Uí Néill.

“I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to be the first teacher at Gaelscoil Eoghain and to provide local children with bilingual education,” said Caitríona.

She explained that the children in Gaelscoil Eoghain will have the opportunity to avail of their primary education with the benefits of bilingualism.

“They will follow the same curriculum as their peers in local primary schools, with the additional advantage of being taught through the medium of Irish. The ability to be bilingual and biliterate will ultimately give the children greater employment opportunities,” she said.

The principal pointed out that there will be parents in Cookstown unsure as to whether they can send their children to an Irish school if they don’t speak the language themselves.

“Dr Malachy Ó Néill, Head of the School of Irish Language and Literature in the University of Ulster and member of the Board of Governors of Gaelscoil Eoghain, said 95 per cent of parents whose children attend Irish medium schools have little or no Irish - and there are currently 36,000 pupils being educated in Irish medium schools throughout Ireland. Gaelscoil Eoghain will enable pupils to develop confidence and fluency in both English and Irish simultaneously,” said Ms Uí Dhoibhlin.

Parents too have welcomed this new primary school, with one parent, Laura Coey expressing her delight at her son having the chance to become bilingual.

“I’m delighted my son, Rian, has the opportunity to be in the very first class of Gaelscoil Eoghain. Before deciding to send Rian, I researched bilingualism at great lengths, which confirmed the many benefits of learning a second language at an early age,” she said.

“It’s also exciting to be involved as a parent - we have so much input into decisions about the running of the school, including opening time, lunch break, uniform colour, etc.”

The principal pointed out that with the class sizes smaller than most local schools, she will have significantly more time to devote to each child.

“Ultimately the quality of education the children receive is paramount and I am convinced all of our parents will be delighted with the choice they have made,” she added.

In recent years Mid-Ulster has experienced significant growth in Irish medium education.

Gaelscoil Uí Néill in Coalisland is now the largest Gaelscoil outside of Belfast, Gaelscoil Aodh Ruadh in Dungannon opened in 2011 and has doubled its intake in a year, and St Joseph’s Grammar, Donaghmore, opened an Irish Medium stream in 2010, accepting children from local Irish Medium primary schools without the need to sit a transfer test.

Anyone requiring further information can contact the principal at gaelscoileoghain@yahoo.ie or 07739 006398.