THE celebrations are about to begin as Schull Community College prepares to mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the school.
It was in September 1983 that the now-renowned school first opened its doors, to just 71 students.
‘In 1978 the need for the first secondary school on the peninsula was proposed to the then Cork County VEC by the Schull Development Association,’ teacher Julie O’Mahony told The Southern Star.
‘At the time 12% of the children living on the peninsula were at boarding school, while others faced a journey of up to 60 miles, and four-and-a-half hours a day on buses, just to get to school.
‘The Schull Development Association gathered 800 signatures and Dr Larry O’Connor drove senior members of the Department of Education and the Cork County VEC around the peninsula to see for themselves the numbers of children waiting for the buses on cold and wet winter mornings.’
The site for the new school on Colla Road was purchased from the Church of Ireland and this allowed for Schull Community College to be built in its unparalleled setting, with direct access to the foreshore and overlooking Schull Harbour.
The go-ahead for construction of the college, at a cost of £816,810, was finally approved and the doors were officially opened by then Minister for Education, Fine Gael’s Gemma Hussey in October 1983.
‘Enrolment at Schull Community has always had an international flavour, and this mingling of students from different backgrounds and cultures has always created a positive atmosphere,’ Ms O’Mahony said.
Reflecting this diversity, at various stages the college has established exchange programmes with schools further afield – in Northern Ireland, Germany, France, Holland and Lesotho in southern Africa.
With its ideal location on the foreshore overlooking Schull harbour, the school quickly established itself as a top sailing centre.
‘Sailing has grown in strength over the years at Schull Community College, with the school now regarded as the top school in the country for sailing, producing some of the top sailors in a number of disciplines internationally, like Revelin Minihane and Fionn Lyden,’ she said.
Other past pupils include Olympic gold medallist and world champion rower Fintan McCarthy, Google Science Fair winner Fionn Ferreira, actress Ayoola Smart, and the leader of the Social Democrats, Holly Cairns.
Schull Community College is also home to, and famous for, its incredible planetarium.
‘Where the idea for a planetarium came from is debatable, but German businessman Josef Menke, who had holidayed in Schull, fell in love with the area. He donated a Zeiss Sky Projector on condition that the local community would provide a building for it. It continues to attract visitors to its regular star shows,’ Ms O’Mahony said.
To mark the 40th anniversary the school is planning a special weekend of fun events beginning on Saturday September 16th and ending on Sunday September 17th with a fun day where past pupils, staff, and indeed anyone with a connection to the school, are invited to come and enjoy the day.
As for the future, Schull Community College is set to welcome many more students. ‘A lot of future plans will be based around improving our facilities,’ principal Sarah Buckley told The Southern Star.
‘We have been granted permission for a two-classroom SEN (special education needs) build and we will look at developing an Astroturf pitch once the build is completed.
‘And we have introduced student devices for first and second years. We will be evaluating how that is going over the next year or so.’
Ms Buckley added that, having worked in a lot of schools, there is ‘something very special’ about the atmosphere in the college.
‘I want our school to be a place where everyone always feels safe and feels like they can be themselves and be accepted for who they are. I say to students at the start of every year, I want them to be happy, safe, and successful. At the end of the day, that is what we are all about.’