Gael Choláiste Chéitinn – fostering the Irish language of a distinctive nation

In a modern Ireland where people from many countries, nationalities and languages are being welcomed there has never been a stronger enthusiasm for the Irish language.

In recent decades a strong movement in support of the language has seen Irish primary schools, gaelscoileanna, being formed in almost every town in Ireland, and as those children grow up and progress on to secondary school so the Irish education community has moved with them and now all-Irish secondary schools are becoming a familiar sight.

In Clonmel we can now celebrate almost two years of Irish secondary education at Gael Colaiste Chitinn.

Last weekend the achievement of the parents, teachers and supporters of the school was marked with a special civic reception from Clonmel Borough Council.

Mayor Niall Dennehy said it was the greatest honour the Borough Council could bestow on any organisation or institution.

"A great community effort has led to the evolution of the Gael Choliste, with its origins in the commitment and dedication of the pupils, parents, teachers, board of management and supporters of the Gael Scoil primary school. There was great public support for the creation of the Gael Scoil Chitinn," the Mayor said. He also acknowledged the great support the school has received from South Tipperary VEC.

Accepting that not everyone loves the Irish language, Mayor Dennehy said that "while the language has its enemies it is one of the major characteristics which makes us and inspires us to be the distinctive nation we are.

"Our cultural heritage in particular, which was a strong motivation factor for our patriots, is deserving of special attention. To this end the new found official status for the Irish Language, which is now enshrined in National and European legislation marks our maturity as a nation," he added. "The unity of purpose which underpinned the campaign to achieve this status for Irish holds huge potential for other areas of national interest."

Gael Colaiste Chitinn welcomed its first class of first year students in September 2004 and this year has a total of 28 students. Gaelcholiste Chitinn is an autonomous Irish language post-primary school within the VEC system. It was established in September 2004 as a constituent school of the Central Technical in response to a demand for second level education through the medium of Irish.

The movement to set up a gaelcholiste began when parents of children attending Gaelscoil Chluain Meala, and other supporters, came together in March 2002 to campaign for a gaelcholiste.

They gauged the level of interest and approached the VEC, where they were greeted enthusiastically. Premises were offered in the VEC building at The Mall and in September 2004 the first 14 pupils arrived in the school. Another 14 pupils enrolled last September, doubling the school numbers.

Although the majority of the students are from the Gaelscoil in Clonmel, the pupils from other schools have settled in well.

Last November Gael Colaiste Chitinn held its official opening ceremony with Minister for Education and Science Mary Hanafin.

Minister Hanafin said the foundation of Gael Colaiste Chitinn shows there is an interest in the Irish language and to see that extending from gaelscoileanna to a secondary gaelcholiste is encouraging. "It's really a proud year for gaelscoileanna in Ireland because for the first time there is one in every county," she told those at the opening.

Minister Hanafin told the students and teachers of Gaelcholiste Chitinn that they were doing their part for Irish. Their challenge now, she said, is to spread that language into the community. "The future of the Irish language depends on a high quality education and depends on it being used," the Minister said.

The principal of Gaelcholiste Chitinn is principal of the CTI, Charlie McGeever. Speaking at the opening ceremony Mr. McGeever praised the 'leap of faith' taken by the students who enrolled in the gaelcholiste and he also congratulated their parents for choosing the gaelcholiste.

Speaking at the civic reception Cllr Phil Prendergast said that the understanding of the importance of the language and the fluency that students of Gaelcholaiste Chitinn will acquire would make them eager to use the language. Increased exposure to people from other countries who speak their own languages will give them an added incentive to use Irish.

Cllr Darren Ryan said it was appropriate to be honouring the Gaelcholiste at this time, both because of Seachtain na Gaeilge and also because of the visit of groups from Clonmel's twin towns around the world: it sends out a message that we in Clonmel treasure and honour our language, and that we are doing everything in our power to promote it and to help people speak it

A presentation of a Tipperary Crystal Vase and a framed certificate were made by Councillor Dennehy to Charlie McGeever, Principal of CTI, to mark the occasion.

Ag labhairt thar ceann Ghaelcholiste Chitinn, ghabh Mathin " Caoimh, Minteoir i bhFeighil, buochas leis an Mara agus leis na Comhairleoir as an on"ir mh"r a bh bronnta acu ar an nGaelcholiste. Bh s ag glacadh li n thar a cheann fin ach thar ceann na ndaoine iomadla a raibh baint acu leis an obair: an Promhoifigeach Fionnuala Mhic omhair, an Promhoide, Cathal Mac omhair, Coiste na Scoile, agus an fhoireann go lir.

He said he was deeply appreciative of the good-will shown from all sides towards the venture. The local authorities had been particularly supportive. It was vital for an institution to have the approval of the community, and it was obvious to him, from the extent of this good-will, that Gaelcholiste Chitinn was an idea whose time had come. In his forty years in Clonmel, he had known at first hand the traditional support for the Irish language and culture in the town, a support fostered by the activities of the Cumann Gaelach and the work of the schools.

Good-will of itself was not enough to ensure the survival of the language, Mr " Caoimh said. It needed the support of institutions. A vital recent development, in which South Tipperary, to its credit, played its part, was the establishment of Irish as an official language of the European Union. This, along with the phenomenal recent growth of Gaelscoileanna and Gaelcholist, was evidence of a newfound self confidence in a prosperous and successful modern Ireland.

Also at the civic reception was Deputy Samas Healy who called to mind all the organisations down through the years who had kept the language and traditions alive.

Ghabh Ruair " Caislein, Cathaoirleach Choiste na Scoile, buochas leis an Mara. He also thanked everyone who had lent a helping hand along the way.

Gaelcholiste Chitinn takes its name from the 17th century priest, poet, writer, scholar and historian Geoffrey Keating who was from Burgess, Ballylooby, just outside Cahir.

Because of the Penal Laws, he studied for the priesthood on the continent and, returning to Ireland in 1610, he worked as a priest in the area.

Keating realised that a tide had turned in Irish affairs and he foresaw the inexorable encroachment of English language and culture. He was anxious to preserve for posterity a record of the ancient glory of the Irish race. Foras Feasa ar irinn, a compendium of the history and myth of the Irish race up to the Norman invasion, is such a record. For over three hundred years, this work has greatly influenced the writing of both history and literature in Ireland.

Apart from the importance of his historical work, Geoffrey Keating's prose writings have earned him the title of father of modern Irish prose. To honour him and to honour the values for which he stood – a love of learning, of Gaelic Ireland, and of his God – the school was named Gaelcholiste Chitinn.


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