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No Irish students will be seen on Cape Clear or Ballingeary again this summer

June 14th, 2022 10:30 PM

By Kieran O'Mahony

New stamps launched to mark the return of the country’s Irish colleges this year, after the Covid closures.

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This is the third year in a row that there will be no Irish colleges in the two main locations in West Cork. Now some locals, who see several businesses being impacted, are fearful that they might never return

SOME locals in Ballingeary fear that their popular summer Irish college for teenagers may not re-open following the recent announcement that Coláiste na Mumhan will remain closed for the third summer in a row.

College bosses have cited staffing issues as well as lack of guidance on Covid protocols as reasons for the college in the Gaeltacht not welcoming students this summer.

This, however, also means that locals will be deprived of accessing the college’s two swimming pools, which were always a summer treat for them.

Speaking to The Southern Star, Tim Twomey, project leader with An Súgán, which is behind plans to create a museum of Irish language in the heart of the village, said his worry is that the college wouldn’t re-open ever again.

‘It will leave a big cultural hole in Ballingeary if we don’t have the college up and running.

‘The fact is that if you look at other coláistí around the country, they are running and fully booked,’ said Tim.

‘Ballingeary without the coláiste is not Ballingeary because of the history of the place. It would be disastrous for the economy here because during the summer it brings in money and tourists.’

He pointed out that Coláiste na Mumhan was the first Irish language teacher training college in the country set up in 1904 and feels that the establishment of a museum would complement the college and vice versa.

‘Coláiste na Mumhan has a place in the hearts of many people in this country as they were here when they were children and it would be a pity if it didn’t reopen.’

However, Diarmuid Ó Dálaigh, treasurer of Coláiste na Mumhan, is confident that the popular college will be back up and running next year and that the voluntary board is already engaged in developing a very ambitious strategic plan for the college, which is 120-years-old.

He said that two factors influenced their decision to reluctantly not re-open this summer – the difficulty in finding staff, as well as making sure the dormitory accommodation was safe post-Covid. He pointed out they were fully booked for the month of June and most of July.

‘Had we received a policy document sooner we could have worked around it. We were really gearing up to re-opening and were looking forward to it.

‘It means another year of people not learning Irish,’ said Diarmuid.

‘We’re terribly sorry that we weren’t able to go ahead this year despite having meetings with agencies and we’re very conscious of how this loss will affect the local community in many forms.’

He said it’s also a blow to the teachers and ceannairís (student leaders) that were lined up to attend, but he said they found it very difficult to find other staff to work in the kitchens and other areas.

‘When you put all these factors together, there were just too many risks and it was safer not to reopen.’

He said they are keen to future-proof the college and their strategic plan is central to this. ‘We’re probably the largest campus of colleges with pools and pitches and we want to ensure the future viability and sustainability and innovation in terms of language learning.’

They also plan to upgrade their two swimming pools, which would include solar heating the pools.

Local FF Cllr Gobnait Moynihan said the college closure is a fierce loss to the village and she said the ‘buzz’ that the students and visitors bring to the place will certainly be missing this summer.

‘Normally locals would have gotten summer jobs and those jobs aren’t there now. Also, the swimming pool which is such a great facility, will be closed to locals too,’ said Cllr Moynihan.

‘From a language perspective, it’s awful not to have Coláiste na Mumhan opened in Béal Átha nGhaorthaidh as this is where the whole concept of summer colleges began.’

It’s unfortunately a similar story in Cape Clear with Coláiste Pobail Chléire closed this summer.

According to Máirtín Ó Méalóid, bainisteoir of Comhar Chumann Chléire Teoranta, it’s all due to the lack of accommodation on the island.

‘When we were operating as normal we were keeping a number of students in the An Óige youth hostel in south harbour in the month of June  by  special arrangement with the person who had it leased. However, it is closed and An Óige aren’t leasing it at the moment,’ said Máirtín.

‘The hostel is a major loss as it has 47 beds and we would have students there in June over the last number of years when the college was running normally.’

They hadn’t taken bookings from students for this summer but had them on a list and they contacted them as far as back as January to let them know the summer college would not be running this year.

‘We were the first Irish college to let people know that we weren’t going ahead and there’s at least six not going ahead around the country.’

Máirtín said they are very disappointed not to be welcoming students to the island for the third year in a row but they hope to resume services in 2023.

‘There is also the knock-on effect for the island, in terms of the ferry and other businesses and it affects every single thing.’

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