It became known as the little school in the “next parish to America” and there was outrage when a Fianna Fáil government decided to close it 44 years ago.
A national campaign to save Dunquin national school, in the Dingle peninsula, secured huge support.
As the school was in the heart of the west Kerry Gaeltacht, looking out at the fabled Blasket islands, the campaign was also seen as a battle for the Irish language and culture.
It included a march from Dunquin to Dublin and a demonstration in O’Connell Street. There was also a brief occupation of the Department of the Gaeltacht offices.
Among those who supported the school at the time were writer Máirtín Ó Cadhain and poet Máire Mhac An tSaoi, who had attended the school in her youth.
A change of government in 1973, when a Fine Gael/Labour coalition took over, also brought about a change of heart with Education Minister Dick Burke, on assuming office, deciding to reopen the school.
Mr Burke is among the people interviewed in a new TG4 documentary — part of celebrations to mark the school’s 100th anniversary — as well as Máire and Breandán Feiritéar who were to the fore in efforts to keep the school open unofficially and who taught there then.
Recalling that time, ex-minister Mr Burke says: “It wasn’t a government decision. It was a personal decision. I did it on my own initiative and it had nothing to do with any protest or complaints. The school was reopened for cultural reasons only.
“I know there was another school in Baile an Fheirtéaraigh but, in my opinion, there was a difference between the special case of the Blasket Islands and this school that was right on their doorstep.”
Others in the programme include Máirín Ní Chearnaigh Tobin, daughter of Blasket Islander, Seán Pheats Tom Ó Cearnaigh; Frances Uí Chinnéide, grand-daughter of the legendary educator, Seán ‘An Common Noun’ Ó Dálaigh, and Máire Ní Chriomhthain Uí Uallacháin, now aged 84.
The slogan, ‘Ní dhúnfar Scoil Dhún Chaoin’ (Dunquin school will not be closed), was first uttered by a Dublin-based Irish language professor and frequent visitor to Dún Chaoin, the late Breandán Ó Buachalla, at a public meeting in the school after its official closure.
Members of the Ó Buachalla family also feature in this documentary, as well as members of the Ó Snodaigh family, several of whom attended the school in order to keep it open.
In the late 1960s, pupils from the school took part in the David Lean movie, Ryan’s Daughter, and were regularly transported en bloc to the ‘film school’, built especially for the purpose nearby.
Peter Carr, of Woodend Films, is the producer /director of the one-hour documentary, to be screened on TG4 at 7.30pm, on December 31. Mícheál de Mórdha, a former pupil and broadcaster, is the narrator.
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