Whole generations stretch between them, yet strong links of friendship have been forged between schoolchildren and their elderly neighbours in a West Cork parish school.

A three-month long project between 15 “gransterz” and a group of 10-year-old ‘youngsterz’ has reached across the generations, involving both groups in a fascinating artistic and cultural project.

The village of Rossmore, near Clonakilty, West Cork, has a national reputation for drama, hosting a massively popular annual drama festival at its state-of-the-art theatre, and winning All Ireland competitions for productions year-on-year.

Three months ago, about 15 actively retired members of the local community, who have since been affectionately dubbed ‘The Gransterz’ by the children, threw themselves into a project linking them with ‘The Youngsterz’ — a group of children from Kilmeen National School to share new experiences together, both in the school and at the nearby Rossmore Theatre centre.

“Traditionally there was a strong and organic bond between the generations, but this has really been severed in modern times because of the speed of modern living and the highly scheduled life of modern children and their families,” says drama teacher Liz Twomey, who along with composer, musician, and singer Fiona Kelleher, co-ordinated the project.

“We wanted to regenerate that link and investigate what both generations had to offer each other. We felt there was a good cross- fertilisation of interests, ideas, and philosophy.”

On being asked, 15 older people between the ages of 70 and 85 signed up to the 12-week project, which involved working with the schoolchildren on everything from music performance, composing, drama, gaming, zumba, and yoga to poetry, art projects, local heritage, baking, and gardening.

The two groups are now working on a special “inter-generational garden”.

Ms Twomey described as “humongous” the benefits to both groups of the initiative, which is officially called Traces, The Kilmeen Intergenerational Project, and is funded by The Arts Office of Cork County Council.

“The children really could not believe how ‘cool’ the older people were and how much they knew about things,” said Ms Twomey. “They swapped skills and participated in activities neither group had done before, like zumba and African drumming.”

The project was also a revelation to many of the older participants, said Ms Twomey, many of whom, she revealed had “grim” recollections of school as an oppressive, scary place, where pupil-teacher relationships were often built on fear.

“For them, going behind the walls of a modern school and seeing how happy the children were, and the complete lack of fear in corridors, classrooms and playrooms was marvellous,” she said, adding that the project was the first of its kind in West Cork.

The Kilmeen Intergenerational Project culminates in an exhibition in Rossmore Theatre this Thursday.


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