Wednesday 21 February 2018

'It will break our hearts to leave' - island family forced to sell up home after school closure

Olive O’Neill collects her son William from the ferry on Sherkin Island. Photos: Denis Boyle
Olive O’Neill collects her son William from the ferry on Sherkin Island. Photos: Denis Boyle

Ailin Quinlan

Islanders Olive O'Neill and her husband Sean have been forced to put their home up for sale and are moving to the mainland so their children can attend school.

The primary school on Sherkin Island, just off the Co Cork coast, was open when Olive, a social worker, and Sean, a native of Sherkin, who works in construction and is a part-time farmer, built their house there five years ago.

However, when the island school closed after 124 years in the summer of 2016, the couple's nightmare began. Because both of them work full time, they cannot find a way to get their children from Sherkin to the mainland and back every day.

Access to school for young children on Sherkin Island is a significant issue, warned island community worker Aisling Moran. She said the problem could eventually see Sherkin become little more than a "retirement island".

Olive and her husband Sean with their children William, Christopher and Anna. Photos: Denis Boyle
Olive and her husband Sean with their children William, Christopher and Anna. Photos: Denis Boyle

The clock is already ticking for the O'Neills - their eldest son William is set to begin primary school in September 2018.

The difficulties faced by the couple in getting an education for William (4) and his two younger siblings, Christopher (2) and seven-month-old Anna, were highlighted when William began playschool a year ago.

William is chaperoned by his grandmother on the 10-minute ferry journey from Sherkin to the mainland town of Baltimore, where he attends playschool three days a week.

His grandmother waits for several hours in Baltimore until William's day ends, before accompanying the little boy back home on the ferry.

Mrs O'Neill said: "Over the summer we've been tearing our hair out. We realised how difficult it would be to get William to school and back every day."

They requested Department of Education support in the form of a chaperone, who would meet primary school-going children on the island each morning, accompany them across to the mainland on the ferry and see them onto the school bus in Baltimore.

But their request was turned down, so in recent weeks, the O'Neills have put their house up for sale and are preparing to relocate to the mainland.

"We've only got a year to sort things out as William is due to start school in Rath near Baltimore in September 2018. We have to look to the future.

"It will break our hearts to leave the island," she added.

Irish Independent

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