Lisdoonvarna

*Lisdoonvarna.

AN INFLUX of Ukrainian students in Lisdoonvarna has made a larger secondary school a necessity.

By Flynn Egan

Plans for a new school have been in place since January 2022, mostly due to a need for specialist rooms. However, the large increase in student numbers has left the school struggling to fit its students in regular classes.

“The fact that we have a greater student population now just shows that this need needs to be met sooner rather than later,” said Mona Hynes, principal of Mary Immaculate Secondary School in Lisdoonvarna.

When asked about the school’s response to the large number of new students, she said: “We are a CEIST school, and we are going to respond to this crisis. These students, they are in need of and have a right to education and continuity of learning, and that is what we are in the business of”.

She emphasised that they have a positive approach to the situation, and that they are “trying to make [the refugees] feel like students of Mary Immaculate.”

Mona mentioned the importance of Ukrainian students committing to the Irish education system during their time here. “The great hope was that they would return to their home country, but that’s looking less and less likely,” she said, adding that, “Once they commit they have such a work ethic that really is admirable”.

“Unfortunately we have a very large waiting list for Ukrainian students in the area,” she said, also calling on further support from the Department of Education, with regards to resources and teaching English as an additional language.

Concerns had also been raised locally around healthcare and transport facilities. With only a small GP office and a rarely used bus stop, the town was not well equipped to deal with such a large number of people last March when refugees first arrived.

Speaking on the matter Jacqueline McCoy of Lisdoonvarna Fáilte admitted, “In terms of having a small rural village, it wasn’t fully prepared. A very quick response was needed in order to get it to a place where we could accommodate people”.

Since then the HSE has assigned a team of professionals to visit hotels where refugees are staying twice a week, and additional bus routes have been provided by the TFI Local Link system.

Jacqueline also mentioned community integration efforts that have happened in Lisdoonvarna. In particular the coffee mornings held every Friday, where locals and refugees meet, and have begun sharing crafting skills and expertise.

Anastasiia Bloshchynska is a Ukrainian who has been working with Lisdoonvarna Fáilte since last summer. “Now we have almost 50 or 40 percent of Ukrainians at the Coffee Morning,” she said when asked about the effectiveness of the events. She has seen benefits for everyone involved, with friendships bringing the communities closer. “People who already have some friends there, they come every morning now, just to chat and share skills”.

The time spent together with Irish people has also greatly improved the Ukrainians English. Anastasiia said, “Not everybody has good English so sometimes there’s difficulties, they’re scared to speak. The people who usually come to the Coffee Morning, they help them to relax”.

Anastasiia emphasised above all that “Ukrainians feel more a part of the community, since they have more friends here now, and they do not feel separated”.

Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG) said, “A change like this is a shock,” but was proud of the efforts made in his native Lisdoonvarna, saying, “Schools were very quick in their response”. Schools all over North Clare have organised extra bus routes, added “improvised classrooms”, and hired Ukrainian refugees as translators and teachers.

On a more negative note, he also mentions the damage done to local businesses and local tourism. With refugees occupying many of the hotels, the area has seen a decrease in visitors. However he says, “Income, from an economic perspective, has been a big increase,” due to the additional support and grants the area has received because of the refugees.

“What it has shown is the capacity of people to be welcoming,” added Cllr Garrihy mentioning events like the coffee mornings, and the benefits it has given to the entire community. “It’s for everyone,” said Cllr Garrihy.

While Lisdoonvarna is in need of further support in order to deal with this crisis, so far much good has been done. Though the new school and more long term planning is imperative at this stage, the community can be proud of what it has achieved in the past year.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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