A LEAVING CERT WITH A DIFFERENCE For Nadine Neary, a Leaving Cert student at Our Lady's Secondary School in Belmullet, the last year has been a rollercoaster.
A new normal may be within touching distance in Belmullet but in Our Lady’s Secondary School ‘normal’ is never the appropriate adjective. The impressive seat of learning sitting on the edge of the ocean where it’s constantly decorated by a tableau of colour and brilliance radiating from every crashing wave.
Our Lady’s is a very special place and although Covid-19 has changed things dramatically for the past 13 months, there is now a sense that new adventures are stretching out in front of the students and teachers.
“We’re all hoping for better times. The past year has been very tough for everyone, but we got great support and now we’re all looking forward to getting back to normal things,” Leaving Cert student Nadine Neary told The Mayo News.
The Corclough teenager had enjoyed an untroubled opening four years in Our Lady’s. She arrived through the doors in 2015 and walked into a school buoyed by a €6 million facelift and Nadine embraced everything the school provided.
“I honestly love the place. The facilities are amazing, but the teachers are even better. They truly care for us and help us in every way possible.”
Things took a turn for Nadine and every student in Ireland in March 2020 when schools suddenly shut their doors. A new method of study arrived and it took some getting used to but the Belmullet girl is confident the future is now as bright as ever it was.
“Things are gradually coming back to normal and we just have to get on with it anyway. Of course it was tough and we’ve missed out on so much in school and life in general. Everything changed in a flash and that was a shock in itself. Life had been so normal and then it all seemed to go upside down in a single day.
“I didn’t get to see my friends and I missed them a lot. People constantly posting on social media about how awful lockdown was definitely didn’t help. You just couldn’t get away from the negativity and it definitely impacted on many people’s mental health. Everyone was doing the best they could to get through it and then to have negativity constantly in your face made it worse.”
The ups and downs
As a family, the Nearys made the best of it. Nadine and her siblings Leah, Bethany, Ali and Paul couldn’t visit their four grandparents or their great granddad Seán Neary and that was tough, but there were positives too.
“I’m the oldest and it was new, the five of us being together at home all of the time. We were killing each other for a while, but then we got used to it. We missed not being able to visit the rest of the family. That was so tough and we missed seeing them so much.
“There was a great side to it too though. Dad works away in Dublin and would be gone all week so it was lovely for the seven of us to be together for so long during lockdown. There were some good points to it, but we missed so many other things.
“My sister Leah is very sporty. She plays football on every team possible in Belmullet and boxes with Geesala, so she really missed that and we all missed going to Mayo matches because we just love those days. Things that seemed so simple were gone.”
Nadine even missed out on one of her cherished goals – getting her full driving license.
“I had all the lessons done and the test date had come through. Then, two days before the test we went into Level 5 and I missed out. I could hardly believe it. I haven’t been able to do it since because I’m not an essential worker, so I’m really looking forward to the tests opening up again,” she explained.
The teenager is also looking forward to the challenge and opportunities the Leaving Cert will bring in the coming months.
“I always thought this year would be the best in my life because there is always so much excitement in school around the Leaving Cert class. The teachers have tried really hard to make it special for us and they’ve done a great job, but it has been different.
“However, we’ve received huge support and are determined to do as well as we possibly can. We all have different dreams and I’d love to go to Mary I in Limerick to train as a national school teacher. I love Irish and would love the opportunity to teach it to younger children in the future.
“Outside of school, we all so excited about real life coming back. Of course everyone wants to get their hair cut and we want to be able to meet again and I’d love to go back working in The Talbot Hotel again in the summer – and of course we would absolutely love to get back to Mayo games.
“Nothing is ever really normal here because every day is different, but we’re all looking towards things being a lot more like they used to be.”