Those were just some of the aspirations at Coláiste Treasa in Kanturk, where a bagpiper and school trad music group were just about audible over the screams and applause of 500 teenagers welcoming home their national champions — Eimear Murphy and Ian O’Sullivan.
For principal John Murphy, it was a chance to remind the gathered student population of what they can achieve when they put in hard work and apply themselves to something, after the school’s only entry at this year’s BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition came out on top from 550 projects on display.
“To imagine that we finished at the very top of the pile, it’s a phenomenal achievement. It’s a huge honour for the school, and I want to thank their parents who helped them, and their science teacher Derry O’Donovan,” he said.
Coláiste Treasa is one of 30 second-level schools under the control of Cork Education and Training Board, whose chief executive Ted Owens was only making the case to the Department of Education on Friday — when Ian and Eimear were being quizzed by judges — for new science and home economics rooms at the school. “I can assure you I’ll be onto them again today telling them there has to be a new science room, given the great victory Ian and Eimear had,” he told students and staff.
The message was welcome news for science teachers in particular, including deputy principal Veronica Walsh, who pointed out that most senior cycle students take two science subjects for Leaving Certificate, far higher than most schools.
But it was Mr O’Donovan who was in the limelight, although he admitted underplaying the project’s chances of success on the way to Dublin last week; not because he was not confident of its merits, but because only one social and behavioural science projects had previously won the overall prize.
“They were visited by 13 judges from Friday morning, so we thought maybe they’ll get something in their category. Then they called out the category prizes and it didn’t win, so we were really surprised and very disappointed, and thought that was it,” he told the packed school hall.
But that all changed soon after when their names were called out from the stage by RTÉ broadcaster Aidan Power.
“We went nuts, we were roaring and screaming and shouting. The hard work paid off for Ian and Eimear,” he said.
The two 16-year-olds thought they were out of the running when they won nothing in their category, but were delighted to pick up the Health Research Board (HRB) special award. So when the last prize was about to be announced, they were hardly even paying attention.
“I was actually on my phone, I was texting someone,” said Ian, speaking on stage to Ms Walsh in front of the assembled school community.
“I looked up to see who would win it, it was such a long ceremony we were waiting to see who’d win it, and then it was completely bonkers,” he said.
For Eimear’s dad John, the reaction was somewhat similar, as he was as shocked as the students themselves.
“I almost knocked an old woman down, I jumped up and she was behind me,” he said.
His wife Kathleen said it was a whirlwind since Friday so last night was a change to relax at home.
“Just to meet each other and chat,” she laughed, recalling how much time Eimear had given the research since September.
Ian’s parents Eileen and Donal said he too had been particularly busy for the last few months, working away quietly. But they almost missed out on the excitement of their son’s proud moment, having headed back for home from the RDS on Friday evening.
“We were gone home because we weren’t expecting them to win anything,” said Donal.
“They just rang us to say it might be nice to come up, so we decided at the last minute to come up again,” said Eileen, an accounting teacher at Coláiste Treasa.
“We were there at quarter past seven, and the announcement was at quarter to eight. We were absolutely amazed and shocked,” she said.
With hopes high of Ian and Eimear’s success inspiring more projects, Mr O’Donovan told students he looks forward to hearing their ideas for the 2016 competition.