Friday 18 October 2019

'If you set your mind to it you can achieve it - it's there for the taking'

Laurel Hill Colaiste principal Aedin Ni Bhriain with some of her students. Photo: Eamon Ward.
Laurel Hill Colaiste principal Aedin Ni Bhriain with some of her students. Photo: Eamon Ward.

David Raleigh

On her first day of school at Laurel Hill Colaiste, in Limerick city, Dolores O'Riordan announced to her classmates and teachers she was "going to be a rock star".

Over 30 years on, the Cranberries singer's musical legacy is routinely celebrated in those same classrooms, and remains a constant inspiration for students.

"We actively encourage ambition, in the most positive sense of the word, and we instil in the girls to have the courage to follow their star, to have the courage of their convictions, wherever it may take them," principal Aedin Ni Bhriain, told the Sunday Independent.

Established in 1935 by the Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ) order of French nuns, the school has earned a reputation as being one of the top college feeder schools, where high grades are the norm.

Ms Ni Bhriain is passionate about the school's proud Irish teaching traditions and its Catholic endeavour to include every student in a positive school life.

Feeder Schools: Click here for the full breakdown of where Leaving Cert pupils have gone to college over the past 10 years

Over the past decade almost all students have journeyed on to third level, with 75pc of students attending university.

In tandem with its strong academic results is an ethos of compassion and promoting a positive culture of wellbeing among students and staff. And success here is not measured on achieving straight As.

"We encourage the girls to keep up their extra-curricular activities because that's what life is all about - having a balance.

"You can't work all of the time. If you're a singer, stay in the choir; if you're a hockey player, keep going to training," says Ms Ni Bhriain.

Many of the 400 pupils actively engage with the school's rich tapestry of musical activities, which includes a 130-strong choir, a separate senior chamber choir, a school orchestra and a trad group.

O'Riordan's memory is present here in all sorts of ways, be that through her teachers reminding newer students of her incredible musical talent; in framed photographs; or in a wooden bench rooted in the calm of the school garden, where some of the singer's inspirational lyrics are engraved: "Always be yourself along the way, Living through the spirit of your dreams."

Ms Ni Bhriain, who "sang my way through school" when she was also a past student here, emphasises that, "music is huge in this school... always has been".

But, there's more than just music to keep busy students occupied.

The principal is a firm believer in "work hard, play hard" - encouraging a strong will to succeed on the playing field as well as in the exam hall.

Hockey is the school's main competitive sport and enjoys a great tradition of feeding players to Munster and Ireland squads.

Students can test themselves on the GAA pitch in camogie and football, or, if water activities are more their thing, they can try out for the school rowing club - still high from celebrating All-Ireland glory in 2017.

Teachers also routinely "go the extra mile" for their students, and can often be found "creating their own notes or writing their own iBooks" in Irish.

Transition Year is compulsory and "helps give students a space to branch into the hidden curriculum", outside of their academic learning.

There is a proud "buddy system" at the school, in keeping with its ethos of "minding one another". It involves fourth-year students pairing up with first-year students to take the newbies under their wings, helping to settle the transition from primary into secondary school.

Every student is encouraged to reach their own personal goal, Ms Ni Bhriain says.

"That is the message we give our students. If you set your mind to it you can achieve it - it's there for the taking."

Sunday Independent

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