At the heart of the community

Off the fence
At the heart of the community

Off the fence
Anton McNulty

ON May Day, two communities on Achill Island - Saula and Bullsmouth - celebrated the centenary of their local National Schools with hundreds of past pupils from both schools travelling home from different parts of Ireland, the UK, America and Europe to be part of the celebrations.
Over 12 months of planning went into both celebrations with the whole community getting involved to make the weekend a memorable and enjoyable event. Hundreds of old photographs were pulled out of old biscuit tins and stories about the schools were written by past pupils. Flags, bunting and banners were put up throughout  the villages and everyone did their bit to brighten up the village.
As a past pupil of Saula school, I was in the thick of the celebrations over the weekend. Old school pals from different eras - many of whom had not met each other in years - reminisced on old times and those who could not make it sent congratulatory messages of support.
The turnout in such large numbers was evident of just how much importance the national school still holds for small villages like Saula and Bullsmouth.
The school is not just the centre of education for these communities, it is the heart of the community.
Many villages in Achill and throughout Mayo have seen their schools close in recent years because of the lack of numbers and have suffered as a result. Seeing the National School close its doors rips the heart and soul out of the community and that is why parents and teachers fight tooth and nail to ensure that their school is not left behind.
For many years due to the falling numbers in Saula, there was talk of having to close the school and send the pupils to the larger schools in the area. However, the people were having none of it and in recent years the school has been extended and is now a thriving modern school - and the same can be said of Bullsmouth.
Last July, Colm McCarthy, the author of An Bord Snip Nua, recommended the merger of smaller primary schools with 50 pupils or less in a bid to save €18 million in the national budget. I’m sure that Saula and Bullsmouth were the type of schools targeted by Mr McCarthy and other economists who  feel such schools .are a drain on society.
When looking at the cold hard figures they may claim that it is just not economically viable for the schools to remain open but they fail to mention the social cost such a move will have on small communities. Without a National School in the village what attraction is there for any young family to return to live in their native area.
Saula does not have a shop, a pub or a church but it still has its National School which the community are proud of and that is why hundreds of people returned home for the centenary. Here’s to the next hundred years.