BY JACKIE KEOGH
AFTER 124 years in existence, the primary school on Sherkin Island has closed.
There were only two children from the mainland in attendance on the final day of term at the Sherkin Island Girls and Boys National School, and it will not re-open in September.
However, during a visit to the island last Friday, Sean Kyne TD, who is a Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources, had some good news. Mr Kyne announced that the department has provided €40,000 in funding for the island’s unique DIT Bachelor of Arts programme – funding which covers the academic year from September 2016 to May 2017.
There are, at present, four children living on the island, but a family with four more children is expected to relocate to Sherkin Island before the summer is out.
These children will attend Rath National School, near the village of Baltimore, but details – such as ferry times and a bus transport schedule – have yet to be agreed by the various Government departments.
Aisling Moran, who is Sherkin Island’s community development worker, said Minister Kyne them an assurance last Friday that he would raise these matters with the Minister for Education.
She said: ‘Minister Kyne and our three West Cork TDs will be working with us to ensure the provision of suitable ferries and a transport schedule so the children living on the island can continue to get a primary school education at Rath National School in September.’
Cllr Mary Hegarty (FG) who attended the meeting, and a community event involving past pupils and teachers, acknowledged: ‘It was a very sad occasion.’ But, she added, ‘the fact that the two children were coming across (on the ferry) from Baltimore to the school wasn’t an ideal situation either.’
Cllr Hegarty said the continuation of the school was ‘not feasible’ and, although there are still some young children living on the island, they are too young to have an impact on the attendance rates.
Michael Collins, chairman of the Sherkin Island Development Society (SIDS), acknowledged that the school will close ‘for the purposes of primary education’ this August, but said the island community was resilient and would ‘look to the future.’
One local man, Sean O’Neill, who has two young children, said: ‘Continued access to education is vital for my family as it secures our future here on Sherkin and means we will not be forced to move to the mainland once my eldest attends primary school.’
Aisling Moran said: ‘Sherkin Island Development Society is hopeful for the future of the island. This is a new beginning, a change in old ways of thinking, a recognition of new ways of living and encouraging employment – not only from farming and fishing but also island art and tourism.’