Jody Ó Gallchóir, Principal at St Bricin’s College; Barrie Barby, site foreman with McVey’s Building Systems; Independent Cllr and BOM member Brendan Fay, and Martin Gormley of Wynne, Gormley and Gilsenen Architects Surveyors.

St Bricin’s College in Belturbet bounces back from near brink

ESSENTIAL Deis status set to be appealed

The sprouting up of new additional accommodation at St Bricin’s College, aligned to the biggest intake of first years in more than a decade come September, are major boosts for the Belturbet secondary school rebounding from the threat of planned amalgamation. “… and this is only the start,” says the newly installed St Bricin’s Principal, Jody Ó Gallchóir.

Six general classrooms, two Special Education Needs (SEN) classrooms and a general purpose facility have been added within the new modular build. On top of that, the Department of Education has sanctioned the purchase of the existing prefab classrooms - ensuring more space, an absolving itself of a costly rental tie-in.

It’s Mr Ó Gallchóir’s first principal job but, from when he first stepped through the doors at the start of this school year, he immediately felt “at home”.

He arrived aware of the speculation over the school’s future, but that only steeled his determination to make a success of his new position.

A native of Gort a’ Choirce in Northwest Donegal, arriving by the banks of the river Erne via Tallaght where he previously taught for 10 years with a Cavan wife, he says: “It’s been challenging, I won’t say it hasn’t, but it’s been very rewarding.”

On top of managing the day-to-day running of the school, Mr Ó Gallchóir has inherited the role of defacto project manager.

With 50 new faces set to arrive in September, that would put pressure on the resources of any rural town school. But with the new accommodation, Mr Ó Gallchóir says St Bricin’s is keenly placed to accommodate all, and more, if necessary. Currently, there are students of 26 different nationalities attending the school.

“Probably the largest number going back was 2011/12, when 53 enrolled. It’s a huge turnaround. I feel that’s very much evidenced by the investment we’re seeing now from the Department of Education, CMETB, the fantastic work that’s going on there, that all questions of the past have been put to bed, and that confidence is being felt by the community at large as well.”

The principal also credits the young and driven faculty of teachers who have, at all stages, “gone above and beyond” to provide for their students.

“A young staff, the majority of whom are all living locally and are invested in the school. These are all important factors. In the likes of Dublin, it’s a stepping stone, with teachers maybe staying for two or three years before moving on, whereas here people come to St Bricin’s to teach, to live, and stay locally. That continuity and stability is as important a message as anything else I feel.”

The latest phase of investment at St Bricin’s constitutes a doubling of the existing school’s classroom footprint. “It was needed,” admits Mr Ó Gallchóir.

Add to that the total refurbishment of engineering and construction studies rooms, a necessary fire alarm upgrade, emergency lighting to happen over summer, and suite of other proposed works, and there is a growing sense, not just in the school itself, but the wider community also, that after many years St Bricin’s is “on the right track” again.

The two prefabs purchased outright were bought as a part of a “long-term investment” on the basis of projected numbers coming to Belturbet in the years ahead.

“All of those works are a symptom of the huge commitment CMETB has to this school. When you have that level of commitment, it’s a solid foundation on which to build for the future.”

But Mr Ó Gallchóir notes even at that “it’s only the tip of the iceberg” for what is hoped can be achieved.

DEIS Status

Of priority among the short-term goals for the school, he sets out, is for St Bricin’s to be awarded DEIS status - something the principal deems “essential”. Being included in the DEIS scheme means schools gain access to targeted supports to address educational disadvantage. It also includes additional teachers, home school community liaison coordinators, grant funding and access to the School Completion Programme.

At the most recent meeting of the Board of CMETB, Chief Executive Fiona McGrath told members that Mr Ó Gallchóir had been asked to “make a further application”.

“We’ll see what the outcome will be,” she said hopefully.

“That’s something this community needs, something our school community needs. We need our Guidance Counsellor here, our home school community liaison and our School Completion officers here.”

In the medium term Mr Ó Gallchóir wants to improve the school’s overall appearance, and is looking for the community’s assistance to help out with painting and cleaning over the coming months.

“Even if it’s only for an hour, over three months over the summer, to have local businesses volunteer maybe a powerwasher, and everyone else to maybe chip in with some painting. It’s as much to remind people of the place the school has within the community.”

In the longer-term Mr Ó Gallchóir sees St Bricin’s staking an even firmer foothold in that regard.

“This is a school from 9am to 4pm, but is a community hub thereafter for anyone looking to use the building,” he says.

Already Bounce Back uses the building, while Belturbet Comhaltas avails of the facility on Thursday nights and will again for the County Fleadh come the June Bank Holiday weekend.

Beyond that Mr Ó Gallchóir is as conscious as many others are that Belturbet is in need of a dedicated community hall.

“Places you can have classes, mummies and toddler groups, Hen’s Sheds. Not a PE hall, but a community hub. We might use it during school times, but very much it will be there for the community as a whole.”

There are 40 people employed directly by the school at present, but that figure multiplies when indirect employment is taken into account.

“We are supporting a community as it stands. If the school was not here, that’s a huge loss to a town like Belturbet.

“That’s why we need to get everyone pulling together, collectively, to ensure St Bricin’s flourishes,” says Mr Ó Gallchóir.