School Days, Irish Style



The kids of Gael Scoil 2011.

The kids of Gael Scoil 2011.

By Tom Slattery

Not only did Mercer County’s AOH Division 10’s 4th annual Gael Scoil attract a record number of students, but it also added new cultural sessions, some high-profile teachers and an Irish breakfast. As the student count kept rising, the committee had to scramble to keep up, but like any good show, the audience was unaware of the backstage maneuvers.

At the last minute we had to go to a three-track program; however, this was almost seamless because we had put in place a formal monitoring system, with a supervisor moving the monitors as necessary. Yes, you have to have at least a male and a female monitor in each session to accompany the kids for nature calls and to report quickly on any student or facility problem. You also have to have a registered nurse on duty for emergencies which are going to occur when you have 64 7- to17-year-olds moving around, including an hour session outside learning Irish football and hurling.

But it was the infusion of qualified (actually, overqualified) faculty that marked the success of our 2011 offering. Dr. Christine Kinealy, author of seven books on the Great Hunger, gave two classes for the older children (12-17). Of course, she presented An Gorta Mor, along with a session on Irish Women. Carol Russell, author, art critic and Northern Ireland activist gave a class on Irish Literature, again for the older kids. Mary Kay Mann, an outstanding musician who also teaches, ran two classes on the tin whistle, each class with close to 30 students. The only way to prevent pure mayhem was to have three monitors in the room holding onto the whistles until Mary Kay had a chance to introduce the topic and was ready for the kids to sound off. Realizing the number of younger kids, we added a second storyteller, Dave Emerson, who has already been invited back for 2012.

Pat McCabe, a Dubliner and brother of Mick, who started the program, once again came over from Dublin to help the GAA run their sessions; however, as a chef by trade he indicated he would like to cook up something for the kids. As a result, with the generosity of Breffni Foods of Hamilton, owned by Division 10 member Frank Connell, and a contribution by Gerry Maguire, another Division 10 member, the 64 kids and some of their parents were served a great Irish breakfast of sausage, bacon, eggs and scone. Michael Snowden, a horseman who has taken two horseback riding vacations in Ireland and who was attending as a driver, ran two showings of National Geographic’s video “The Irish Horse,” and showed pictures he took in Ireland—including riding the horses into the Atlantic Ocean. These were run for the younger kids. We also showed “The Secret of Kells,” a great documentary making full use of today’s graphics, in the cafeteria during lunch. Lunch (pizza, juice and cookies) was included in the program.

Other sessions included Irish Language once again run by Daltai na Gaeilge, this time just for the younger students; two musical instrument sessions taught by Mark and Tim Carroll; a bagpipe demo and talk by Marty and Ian Ferrick; an Irish Song session led by Tom Glover; a step dance exhibition by the DeNogla Dancers; Irish Geography by Jim MacFarland; a session on Irish Heroes and one on the Wee People by Tom Slattery.

Saturday afternoon we handed out the “hoodies,” which always seems to create the sense of a school and camaraderie. On Sunday, like every Sunday before, all students wore their hoodie.

Sunday’s lunch time has become a beehive of activities, with the entire school moving around the spacious cafeteria, which is decorated not only with the Irish flag but also with the 32-County and Four-Province flags. One group is eating, while another is baking (scone), and still a third is making Brigid’s Crosses. Those who finish ahead of their classmates are able to view the copy of the Book of Kells, check out the GS library of 40-plus Irish youth books, or just relax and listen to the traditional Irish music in the background.

Sunday’s last half-hour was a great wrap-up. The kids all got called up to get their Certificate of Completion. This year they also received a scroll tied together with a green ribbon. The scroll contained the Irish Declaration of Independence. In their binders they got handouts from some teachers, a tri-fold on the Book of Kells; and info on the Irish Way Program presented by the Irish American Cultural Institute, who also loaned us a copy of the Book of Kells.

Of course, all of the above does not just happen. Starting in late September, the committee starts biweekly meetings. Within a month we move to weekly meetings. The committee, which has been intact since the first Scoil, includes GS founder Mick McCabe, Division 10 members Don Carroll, Gerry Maguire, Gerry O’Rahilly (Division President), John Walsh (Division Past President), as well as Trenton Division 1 member Jim MacFarland and Montgomery County (PA) member Tom Slattery. This year we added June Balaz, Division 10 LAOH, to oversee the Monitor program.

Key to keeping the cost low ($100 for first child in family, $75 for each additional) is the generosity of Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, N.J., which permits us the use of their fantastic facility, along with major sponsors McCabe Concrete, CCC Celt, and Niall Brady. Thanks to those who sponsored students; AOH Philadelphia Division 88, NJ AOH State Board, and Bob McNally.
Thanks to LAOH 10 for supplying the scone baking assistance; and to James “Trader Jim” Walsh who made the tin whistles available for every child. Thanks to Daltai who made the language support pins available to the children.

Planning for 2012 is already under way. We look forward to creating a fourth-track for the young’uns (6- and 7-year-olds) that will pave the way for future entry into the 8- to 17-year-old main program.

You can follow the Gael Scoil history on . At their March 10 banquet, the Friendly Sons & Daughters of St. Patrick of Mercer County presented their annual Community Service Award to the Gael Scoil.

 Photos by Gerard O’Rahilly

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