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Smallest school sends out SOS

Katelyn Heanue (High Infants), Nathan Heanue (Fourth Class) and Ryan Heanue (First Class) are pictured with their teacher, Ms Mary Monaghan at Inishturk NS.
Katelyn Heanue (High Infants), Nathan Heanue (Fourth Class) and Ryan Heanue (First Class) are pictured with their teacher, Ms Mary Monaghan at Inishturk NS.

Smallest school sends out SOS

Minister pledges to help sustain island life on Inishturk

Áine Ryan

DOWN to just three pupils, this country’s smallest and most remote national school – St Columba’s on Inishturk island – has sent out an SOS (Save Our School) for more pupils and Minister of State Michael Ring has pledged to throw a lifebuoy to the tiny community.
Speaking to The Mayo News last night, the Junior Minister for Tourism and Sport said he would support and facilitate the community of just over 50 in their efforts to attract families to the beautiful island.
“I will do anything that can be done to help save this fabulous island and improve school numbers. I visited the island just last year and, as always, was met by a wonderful community. They are always prepared to come half-way in any initiative and do not take support for granted,” Minister Ring said yesterday.
He said that he would help open doors to any of the other government departments that may be able to help this dwindling community survive.
Earlier this Summer, Minister for the Gaeltacht, Dinny McGinley observed,  at the Cómdháil Oileáin na hÉireann AGM, that the republic’s depopulated islands were not abandoned by their communities, rather they were abandoned by the people and bodies charged with looking after them. He confirmed that government, despite depleted funds, would continue to support the 2,944 islanders who live on islands around the coastline.
Meanwhile, despite yesterday’s stormy conditions and high seas the three pupils at St Columba’s NS, and their teacher, Ms Mary Monaghan were all happily working away in their teach eolais, which teeters high on a winding boreen, overlooking the wild Atlantic, nine miles from the nearest mainland harbour at Roonagh Pier. 
Speaking from the windswept island,  Development Manager, Mary Catherine Heanue, who is spearheading the SOS campaign, confirmed there has been a number of inquiries in recent months by families interested in  relocating to the island.
“There was a family from Dublin whose children were in big schools who rang recently and a woman from Sligo inquired about the facilities on the island. The education is second to none here at St Columba’s. We have a fantastic teacher and with such a small number they get great one-to-one tuition,” Mary Catherine Heanue said.
She continued: “Anyone willing to move here would be given great support by the community. And there is a brilliant broadband service which would be great for starting a small business.”
She also confirmed that there are houses available for longterm rent.
Her daughter, Bríd Heanue has one son attending St Columba’s while her eldest son, Christopher, has just started  at Rice College in Westport .
“I am awful sad but he absolutely loves school. He was such a big part of my life but now he has made loads of new friends and joined the football team at Rice College,” Bríd Heanue said.
She also said: “I would love to see new families moving here and an influx of kids. To see three small children in the school, it is sad. I know they have each other and get on really well and they never complain but it would be lovely, from a social perspective, if there were more.”
When contacted by The Mayo News, Paul Keyes of the Western Development Commission’s www.lookwest.ie campaign said: “We would be delighted to engage with the community of Inishturk and help raise its profile with those families considering relocating to the region. After all our website had 40,000 hits in August alone.”
The lookwest.ie campaign was established in 2004 by the Western Development Commission as a guide to living, working and doing business in the western region.

Elsewhere on mayonews.ie
LIVING Inishturk – isolated islanders fight for a future