Primary school in Roscommon and two in Kerry to reopen as multi-denominational
Three schools in Ireland will make history this week by becoming the first to abandon their Catholic ethos and become multi-denominational state-run schools.
The transfer in patronage reflects an ebbing of the Catholic church’s dominance in education – it runs about 90% of primary schools – and efforts by small rural schools to attract more pupils to avoid closure.
The three small primary schools – Lecarrow in County Roscommon, and Tahilla national school and Scoil an Ghleanna, both in County Kerry – will reopen for the new term on Thursday under the umbrella of local education and training boards.
They will offer a multi-belief and values programme rather than Catholic instruction. Preparation for the sacraments of communion and confirmation will take place outside school hours.
The schools hope to retain and draw pupils from Ireland’s growing number of atheists, agnostics and non-Catholics. Lecarrow and Tahilla national school have just eight pupils each. Scoil an Ghleanna has 14.
“We had a third of our pupils who were non-religious, so we had to look at this,” Sorcha Ni Chatháin, the principal of Scoil an Ghleanna, told RTÉ News. “We needed to look at how we were going to keep pupils, and entice others. We are a beautiful school in the most stunning location, and now we can show – formally, on paper – that we are all inclusive.”
Teachers, parents andCatholic clerics endorsed the transition as essential for survival. “This is what the community wanted and I was happy to facilitate that process,” said Fr Patsy Lynch,the parish priest.
Under the education and training board structures, the schools will gain more state help for staffing, IT and building maintenance.
The Catholic church has previously transferred unused school buildings to multi-denominational patronage but this is said to be the first “live” transfer.
A wave of social liberalisation – same-sex marriage, abortion services, a gay prime minister – has swept over Ireland’s conservative Catholic tradition at the same time that sexual abuse scandals engulfed the Catholic church. Attendance at Catholic services has declined. An influx of immigrants – 17% of the population were born abroad – has swelled the number of non-Catholics.
The initiative by the three schools reflects a desire to stem decline in rural areas, where closed schools are a common sight. The closure of post offices, banks, police stations and pubs in villages and small towns has prompted warnings of a crisis in rural Ireland.