Saturday 21 April 2018

Dublin cousins treasure island of opportunities

Alex Burtenshaw (left) and Michael Finn pictured at home in Dublin last week before returning to school on Inis Oirr. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Alex Burtenshaw (left) and Michael Finn pictured at home in Dublin last week before returning to school on Inis Oirr. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Michael Finn took a big leap last September when he opted to leave Dublin to spend his first year of post-primary education on the Aran Islands.

He loves it so much he is planning to go back for second year in September.

Michael (13) and his cousin, Alex Burtenshaw, also 13, set off together on the big education adventure.

The seed was planted when Michael, while attending a gaelscoil, visited Inis Oirr with classmates. He came back not only feeling very positive about it, but talking about the option of spending first year there on a Department of the Gaeltacht scholarship.

It started a conversation in the extended family. His aunt Emma, Alex's mother, thought it presented an "interesting opportunity", and "Alex was kind of open to it".

She adds: "We went out to the school and did an interview and it had the nicest feel - everyone we met was very friendly and very open."

While Alex wasn't immediately convinced, they left the decision to him "and he changed his mind", she says.

Michael admits that he was apprehensive about the transition, "but when I got there, it was really good".

The boys live in a local home with another student under the caring eye of a bean an tí, and he says they speak Irish all the time.

While he misses his friends from primary school, Michael has no complaints about island living, which he describes as "nice and peaceful". He says the only downside is the lengthy trip home - all of five hours - every second Friday. It involves a boat and two buses, and the same on the way back on Sunday.

While Alex didn't have the same early immersion in Irish as his cousin, his mother says that it took about three weeks for him to make the transition from English, "but once it happened, it happened".

He suffered a bout of homesickness in his second week and his mum went down for a few days "and by the end of the weekend, he was fine."

She describes it as a "really great experience" and particularly values how it has helped them to become "much more independent and self-reliant".

Irish Independent

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