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Monday 18 December 2017

Roddy Doyle joins school celebrations

Renovations, ribbon cutting and Roddy Doyle are the three Rs at St Oliver Plunkett, writes Ian Morris

Iconic: Author Roddy Doyle made a special appearance at St Oliver Plunkett National School in County Dublin, which caters exclusively to children with specific reading difficulties.
Iconic: Author Roddy Doyle made a special appearance at St Oliver Plunkett National School in County Dublin, which caters exclusively to children with specific reading difficulties.
Ian Morris

Ian Morris

Amid a day of celebration at St Oliver Plunkett National School, in Monkstown, Co Dublin, last Tuesday morning, parents and students alike were treated to an appearance from two special guests in the form of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and iconic Dublin writer, Roddy Doyle.

St Oliver Plunkett is one of only four schools in the country that caters exclusively to children with specific reading difficulties, most often dyslexia. Their unofficial motto, which can be seen around the school, is "Today a reader, Tomorrow a leader", a quote from American journalist, Margaret Fuller.

Tuesday's events were a celebration of the school, its students and the forward strides both have taken over the last two years. Archbishop Martin, who described the school as an "extraordinary little oasis", began the day with a blessing for the school's new extension, before sharing his ribbon-cutting duties with one of the young students.

Following this, the children took their seats in their brand new outdoor classroom, overlooked by the school's wonderful new jungle-themed mural, as school principal, Angela Power, introduced them to author, Roddy Doyle. Mr Doyle engaged the students in a Q&A session in which, with much wit, he patiently answered all of their questions about his work and the importance of the written word in his life.

He kept students and parents entertained throughout while emphasising to the children just how important reading and writing were. "I wanted to be a writer because I always read… it's a great job, the best job in the world for me… I never go anywhere without a book... I always read."

Things looked to take a turn for the worse when one precocious child asked Roddy, quite innocently, what his most boring book was? A smile immediately broke on Doyle's face as he considered the question. "They're all masterpieces… That's like asking who my least favourite child is. I'm sure there's some candidates out there, but none from under my own roof."

Once all of their questions had been answered, he read to the students from his popular children's book, The Giggler Treatment, before signing copies of his books for all the kids. Of his visit to St Oliver Plunkett, Mr Doyle said: "It was a fantastic morning, you could feel the energy and see all the happy faces - it was just great to be here." A long-time supporter of the fight against dyslexia, Doyle is a co-founder and chairman for the group 'Fighting Words', which provides free workshops and tutoring for people of all ages with special needs.

The next stage of the day took a more sombre note as the children and staff conducted a very moving tree- planting ceremony in honour of two members of the school's community who had passed away in the last few years. The children hung symbols of remembrance on the trees as staff and relatives of the deceased did the planting.

Afterwards, our attention was drawn to the brand new windows, which line the walls of the school. The windows on this building were originally installed in 1938, so the school is delighted with the renovation, which was paid for by the archdiocese.

The final event of the day was the raising of their brand new 'Green Flag', awarded for their diligence in protecting the environment. Green School co-coordinator, Dean Eaton, described the staff and students as "fantastic" and congratulated them on all their hard work before the flag was raised to the sound of applause. To finish the day, an ice-cream van arrived at the front gate, much to the delight of every child in sight.

From the moment you walk through the doors at St Oliver Plunkett School, the feeling of dedication and community is palpable, and with an average of one in five people living with dyslexia, it's wonderful to see such a kind, committed group of teachers working so hard to help. They are enormously proud of their school and of their students because, as Principal Power told me: "These are incredibly important children. They think outside the box, they think differently and they are the future."

Sunday Independent

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