is a phrase commonly used and heard along the corridors and classrooms of Coláiste an Phiarsaigh, encouraging students to work to the very best of their ability and achieve their full potential.
The motto has always been particularly pertinent for the Glanmire secondary school, though perhaps never more so than in recent years.
Like all schools, things at Coláiste an Phiarsaigh changed overnight with the outbreak of Covid-19 in March 2020. Thrust into a new world of remote learning and uncertainty over whether they would still have State exams or when they could return to the classroom and reunite with their friends and teachers, it was an especially tough period of time for students.
However, now that the lockdowns have ceased and things are steadily returning to normal, Irish teenagers are emerging from the whole ordeal with plenty to show for it, proving they’ve adapted masterfully to all the challenges of the past two years.
Earlier this month, the Leaving Cert class of 2022 received their long-awaited results nationwide. Results day is always one of celebration and relief in every school, regardless of the actual marks achieved, as the uncertainty finally comes to an end. Few schools had as much cause for celebration, however, as Coláiste an Phiarsaigh.
This year’s Leaving Cert exams saw 83% of their students earn over 400 points, while 58% of the students scored over 500 points and — to add to the unbelievable success — there were a number of extra-high achievers, with 17 students receiving over 600 points and a whopping seven students earning the maximum 625 points.
As well as these academic achievements, it’s also been a great year in sport for Coláiste an Phiarsaigh. “Two of our students were in this year’s Irish junior rowing team,” beams Principal Micheál Ó Tuama. “The captain of the Cork minor camogie team, who won the All Ireland this year, and the captain of the Cork ladies’ minor football team are also both sixth year students here in Coláiste an Phiarsaigh, as well as a number of other players on those teams. In the boys’ hurling and football, we’ve had a lot of county representatives over the years too.”
The achievement Principal Ó Tuama is most proud of, however, is owed to his students who all too often don't make the headlines. “What’s pleased me the most, especially after seeing everybody getting their results this September, has been the students that we really fought to keep in school, even when it was tough. Some students had horrendous circumstances at home, for example, but persevered” he shares. “We looked after everybody, we cared for everybody until every last pupil sat their Leaving Cert and got a result they could be proud of. As an overall group they did exceptionally well, and it was a great payoff for them as well as the excellent teachers and staff here who supported them. Many of them came in to just express their thanks on results day, even though the results were released online, which was a lovely sign as to how much they valued the school’s help over the years.
“Whether it be in the exam hall or on the sports fields, we always celebrate our students’ small wins too. With the sports, obviously we’re tremendously proud to see students excelling on a national scale, but that’s not the main thing for us. It’s about participation, taking part and making friends, being part of a team and fostering a team ethos, because we're very much about team here in Coláiste An Phiarsaigh. It’s not the team of teachers versus the team of students either, it's the one team: the team of Coláiste an Phiarsaigh.
That team is a mighty impressive one too, with 550 students and a staff of 50 at the school currently. While students and staff alike are from all walks of life and different backgrounds, there is one thing that unites them all: a grá for the Gaeilge. “All our education at Coláiste an Phiarsaigh is carried out through the medium of Irish, it’s the language of the corridor, the classroom, the staff room, and the language of the schoolyard,” explains Micheál. “We’re very proud of that. The students and staff here all but into that culture and ethos of our school.
“We place huge significance of languages in general here in Coláiste an Phiarsaigh. We teach French, German, Spanish, Italian and even some Chinese in transition year. Many of our students go forward to study languages, a lot of them choose to study Irish as a third level language in particular — one or two are even going to DCU to complete their third level education exclusively through Irish.
“Many students also come back here to work as teachers or as supervisors in our boarding section, as we’ve five day boarding available to students from outside Cork. Many of the staff there would be past pupils of Coláiste an Phiarsaigh who’ve come back to continue Irish on as a living language.”
The fact that so many past pupils opt to return to Coláiste an Phiarsaigh in adulthood is a testament to how welcoming the place is, something that Micheál and the rest of the staff pride themselves upon: “We are a caring community and look out for everybody, making sure everyone’s happy. We sweat the small stuff and get it right, especially for newer pupils. We foster an atmosphere of welcome, fairness, openness, respect and cooperation from students and staff alike.
“We treat our senior students like young men and women and we expect them to come up to the mark in terms of maturity and making decisions for themselves, while for the junior students we place huge emphasis on making sure that their transition from primary school is smooth and that they feel settled, that they’re part of the fabric of Coláiste an Phiarsaigh. We’ve a lot of resources to achieve that, from our year heads, to our class teachers, to our special needs coordinators and our guidance counselors who all play a central role in embedding the students into first year and making sure that they're happy. We also do a lot of ground work their last year of primary school, as sixth class pupils come into the school on three different occasions to meet our Meitheal group, made up of excellent youth leaders from our senior classes, and to meet the teachers and myself. The main point we try to get across during those visits is that any child can fit in at Coláiste an Phiarsaigh because we have something for everyone here.
“We provide music, home economics, history, geography and all the standard core subjects but in transition year, students study absolutely every subject we have on offer, so they get a taste of everything before they enter senior cycle. They get experience of many different elements outside of the timetable as well, as they try out some gardening, some environmental studies, they do athletics, they put on a musical — the list is endless really!
“They also delve deeper into our wellbeing programme in transition year, but from day one as part of first year we have wellbeing very much built into our timetable. Our students have over 400 hours of wellbeing built into their timetable within their junior cycle, and those classes would look at different elements of wellbeing — mental, spiritual and physical — and make sure those students’ needs are being met. Our year heads drive that programme and it's a very important part of the curriculum here.”
“Of course, our extracurricular activities promote the overall wellbeing of our students too. We cover all interests, including hurling, football, camogie, basketball, athletics, rowing and much more. We also host many different clubs after school such as drama, music, debating and we have problem-solving clubs at lunch time. We also run a homework club during the lunch break for first years to help them get used to the new workload.”
To see what Coláiste an Phiarsaigh has to offer your son or daughter, head along to the school’sbeing held next at .
“Everybody is welcome,” promises Micheál. “We’d love for people to come along and get a feel of the place, especially because we haven’t been able to have in-person events like this for the last few years!
"Obviously the gaeilscoileanna in the locality are the main schools that send their students to us, and we always look forward to meeting them, but students can and do come to us from English speaking schools as well. We always give them the support they need to acclimatise to the Irish language environment and to come up to speed with the rest of the students. In truth, all parents should see our school as a viable option for their son or daughter, because we can get the best out of anyone.”
For more information visit www.colaisteanphiarsaigh.ie.