There is something wonderful about a new school. It is as if the newness is willing you on to learn things. It is the equivalent of the nice clean blank page in your copy book. It dares you to write on it, to make sure that its journey from tree to page is not lost on something less than meaningful.
New schools have the same effect. Because you can see their purpose more clearly, the facilities provided act as an inspiration.
That new build/new school smell will be filling the nostrils of the hundreds of students who will occupy Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh. You can bet they’re still buzzing on those new corridors. Amazed that things work; that there is space to think and to learn.
You can see the joy on their faces in the photographs in this paper, you can see the pride in the picture of principal Dairíona Nic Con Iomaire who recalls that this school opened to just 20 pupils a quarter of a century ago.
This is an impressive building — The new school, which will be one of the biggest primary schools in Ireland operating through the medium of Irish, can accommodate up to 720 pupils. It contains 24 classrooms, five support rooms, library, staff room, two multi-purpose rooms, offices, suitable playing areas as well as parking facilities.
But more than just educating those 720 children, it sends out a signal to Galway that it is imperative that we keep highlighting what is different about the city and county.
Our bilingual status has long been fought for and now attained, it is essential that the great work of all who campaigned for it, and groups like Conradh and Gaillimh le Gaeilge are encouraged to drive on.
I spoke last year at the Best of Galway awards about what it is that sets Galway apart, what is that difference, and this fell under many headings. However, one of the most unique is the importance that we have attributed to the Irish language. After all it contributes to our corporate economy but also to our cultural economy.
Home to the headquarters of the country’s largest Irish language media, Galway has shown the way in terms of how we can build the language into our everyday lives, so that it now has become a subject that is learned with enthusiasm by our chidlren, and not fear, as was the case in my day, when the ever so depressing tale of Peig Sayers was as good as it got in Irish class.
The importance of the language is not lost either on our new bishop Dr Brendan Kelly who has has a lifelong and scholarly affection for it; and also on the new president of NUI Galway, Professor Ciaran O hOgartaigh who took office this week, and whose family name is that which adorns the city’s top Irish language prize for business, the Gradám run by Gaillimh le Gaeilge.
I wish Dairíona, her staff, the board of management and the community who will benefit from the new school all the best and I hope that the 720 pupils will take the grá for the language with them throughout their years in that school, and then bring it to the wider community, creating a whole new bedrock for the teánga in Galway and copperfastening that strong difference that sets us apart here in the west and across Europe.