The principal of our children’s primary school retired at the beginning of September. There was a big party for him and parents of past pupils were invited to attend so we went along. It was a lovely evening and I was impressed by how all the teachers remembered us and asked after the children. We said to the principal how happy the children had been in primary school and what a great operation he ran and he said, “Oh yes, even herself though she was in one of the most difficult classes we ever had in the school.” This was news to us but she got on fine anyhow, I suppose.
The former principal is from the Kerry Gaeltacht (his mother was a great friend of Peig Sayer’s – of course she was) and he went to secondary in St Brendan’s in Killarney. The principal of the children’s secondary school was at the retirement gig also having retired himself this summer. He went to St. Brendan’s as well, in fact the primary principal was a prefect when he started there. All of the clever boys in the Gaeltacht got scholarships to go to secondary school in St. Brendan’s (this was before free second level education was introduced in 1967). A former colleague of mine went there also and he described to me how, the boys from the Gaeltacht never spoke Irish to each other in school (even though the school taught Irish and was very supportive of Irish) but only started speaking Irish to each other again on the bus home at the end of term. There is something very poignant about this.
The new principals of the primary and the secondary school are both fluent Irish speakers but both of them learnt their Irish in school. There are fewer and fewer native speakers and it’s not quite the same, is it?