Sowing the seeds for a new crop of scientists

Kinsale’s formula for Young Scientists’ victory is a well-kept secret, says Education Correspondent Niall Murray

WHAT’S the secret of success for the school that has just won a third BT Young Scientist competition in seven years? You’ve a better chance of finding out the third secret of Fatima.

So said Kinsale Community School principal Seán Ó Broin as he enjoyed the latest celebration at the school.

The town previously attracted visitors on the way to see the moving statue in Ballinspittle, and is renowned for fine dining and sailing. But Kinsale is possibly now more synonymous with science-savvy scholars than anything else.

The 770 students gave a heroes’ welcome yesterday morning to third-years Sophie Healy-Thow, Emer Hickey, and Ciara Judge, who scooped the top prize on Friday, along with the school’s other 35 entrants this year, who brought back another 15 awards between them.

Sophie said the support from the entire school has been amazing and they are now looking forward to representing Ireland at the EU Young Scientist contest in Prague in September. They will continue to develop their project, which identified ways of speeding up seed germination for food crops.

“There was a farmer who was asking us: ‘Where can I buy this?’,” said Emer, as the trio giggled through the latest round of photos with their trophy.

They had support not just from some of the country’s most enthusiastic teachers, but also the school’s three previous winners. Among them is Ciara’s older sister Aisling, who won in 2006 and who now studies chemical and bioprocess engineering at University College Dublin.

“I’m very proud of my little sister,” said Aisling.

“It’s well deserved for her and the two other girls. But it’s Kinsale that has had another winner, it’s not just our family.

“I think it’s the support system in the school that’s so encouraging, that the students can go on and do so well.”

Some of the loudest cheers in the packed hall were for Shaun Holly, the school’s Young Scientist co-ordinator. “I’ve had a few jokes about being a Kerryman helping Cork win an All Ireland but I don’t mind,” said the native of Tarbert in the Kingdom.

Mr Ó Broin said the real secret of success will remain just that, but hard work is another key ingredient.

“They were all working Saturdays and Sundays throughout the Christmas holidays, when the teenagers of Ireland were sound asleep in their beds.

“That is part of our secret, the other is part of Fatima, and you know they don’t tell that secret either.”

The support of past and present staff is what 2009 Irish and EU Young Scientist winners Liam McCarthy and John D O’Callaghan believe keeps the school topping the science league.

“It’s something you kind of want to do once. It’s like winning an All Ireland, everyone says the first one is the unique one, it’s the best,” said John.

For the two lads, the Leaving Certificate in June is the big focus. And for Ciara, Emer, and Sophie, there is the small matter of the Junior Certificate to think about.

“We have the pre-exams in three weeks, so who knows? But we’ll give it a bash,” said Ciara, laughing.

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