From feeling marginalised, these Cork students created an official Irish Sign Language anthem

From feeling marginalised, these Cork students created an official Irish Sign Language anthem
Members of the Student Council and teachers with Senator Jerry Buttimer

WHAT started with deaf pupils in Bishopstown Community School feeling marginalised while their fellow students performed the national anthem for the Lord Mayor turned into an official Irish Sign Language (ISL) version of Amhrán Na bhFiann.

“There wasn’t an ISL version of the anthem so they were talking about it in class, and saying they were left out of the occasion,” teacher Edwina Gottstein told the Evening Echo. 

“Hearing that we had to respond as a school.

“We wrote a letter to the Seanad and they invited us up to the public consultation hearing in December.” 

This was a whole school initiative from the start, with the hearing students just as involved as their deaf classmates. 

At the Seanad, student representative John Cottrell, deaf student Alain Newstead and deaf teacher Denise Dowling all spoke. 

They were delighted but a little overwhelmed when not only did the Seanad agree with their call for an official ISL anthem, they tasked the school with creating it.

“The reality hit that this was a massive task, and couldn’t be just the school and Cork coming up with it,” Ms Gottstein said.

They set up a steering committee in the school, who then invited experts to form a consultative group to assist them. 

These included the experts from the Centre of Deaf Studies in Trinity college, members of the Irish Deaf Society, interpreters, those in deaf choirs and some who had already interpreted the proclamation.

“We wanted the deaf community involved, this was going to be their anthem,” Ms Gottstein explained. 

“We reached out to schools with deaf pupils, to deaf choirs, we reached out online and asked anyone who wanted to submit a version. We got a good response, a lot of people interested and signed."

The consultative group decided the best version was one originally created in 2016 for the centenary, by Darren Byrne and Senan Dunne. 

The pair then worked with to incorporate some of the suggestions from the community.

“Darren and Senan listened to the feedback and they incorporated suggestions and adaptations to make it of the highest standard possible,” Ms Gootstein said.

“They incorporated one sign from a video made Calum Geary of St Columbus school in Douglas.

“We sent it into the Seanad, they accepted it and we got invited to the launch.” The next step was to get it performed at the official launch this week.

“We were asked to bring a choir to the launch and our students are on holidays so we reached out to the deaf community again,” Ms Gottstein said.

They pulled together a group who came from many counties around Ireland and performed at Government Buildings: “They found it very emotional, it was a huge moment to be involved in.” 

They have also made a video of the official version, performed by creator Senan Dunne, so it can be displayed publicly. 

On the last day of term, the school performed it themselves ahead of the launch. Jerry Buttimer attended as the leader of the Seanad, and presented certificates to the students for their achievements.

The teachers feel the episode has shown their pupils what can be done, and how much power they have to change and improve society when they work with each other and with the wider community.

“This came from student voices, they really engaged with this,” Ms Gottstein said. 

“We are a very inclusive school, and it showed students the impact they can have, be they hearing or student, to affect that change. It shows them what they can do when they come together and gives them responsibility as active citizens.”

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