School for scandal UK.
School for scandal UK.
The numbers have been dwindling ever since. Last September there were just a dozen pupils left, taught by Connolly and one other teacher in two cavernous rooms. The village’s tiny school was under threat of closure. Then the Wards, a family of Irish Travellers, halted their caravans and sent their five children to Connolly. It seemed like a blessing: with five new pupils, St Joseph’s would be saved.
ut over the next few days, the village children stopped turning up. Soon, the classrooms were near-empty. Josephine Loftus’s 10-year-old son Cathal was one of the last to leave. “I would have been prepared to go back to school if every other parent had. If all the children had gone back, I’d have given it a chance,” she says. Within two weeks, all 12 village children had withdrawn. Now, with just the five Traveller children’s names on the register, St Joseph’s will close down.
“The first day I taught here, 35 years ago, the priest told me a tale about integration – about children of all creeds,” says Brid Connolly, who is now principal teacher. “He said you have to take every child regardless. That’s been my motto all through. All children would be treated equally. The villagers don’t think of the future at all. There are grandparents who won’t have a school for their grandchildren. A lot of them will rue it.”
Ballinruane, 40 miles from Galway town in the west of Ireland, is a small place – so insignificant that there’s not a single signpost to point the way – but far from quaint. The ancient fields are surrounded by newly built homes. It is an area of social ambition; the occasional row of fake ionic columns prop up front porticos that are always too cold and wet to sit on. It’s a sprawling place, with no church, no post office, no pub and no petrol pump. It’s a village without a heart.This is an unlikely battlefield for the principles of educational integration. But it has found its own place in the long history of what Travellers and Gypsies see as prejudice. Throughout the Roma world, and in the many Gypsy internet newsrooms, everyone has heard of Ballinruane.
In those two classrooms, Connolly is taking down photographs of the former pupils, removing their past work from the pinboards, and replacing it with that of the Traveller children. “I’m only just getting things sorted, putting their paintings up,” she says. Five-year-old Tom, the youngest Ward child, has coloured in Humpty Dumpty. Rebecca, 13 and the eldest, is writing her name. “I learnt to do painting. I learnt to do drawing. I learnt my English and my sums. I learnt to spell my name. I like this school,” she says. “I can write my name too,” chips in Bernie, aged nine. Seven-year-old Debbie, with big gold-loop earrings, points excitedly to a new word on the blackboard for spelling today. She reads it out loud – “school”.