Saturday 7 December 2019

'Without a school, I fear we won't be able to remain long-term'

Graham Clifford

Priscilla Lobo Hernandez had barely taken her seat in the car when she started growing inpatient. "Where is the town centre?" she asked her husband Conall. "I thought, okay, if there's no centre then at least there'll be a square somewhere... but I soon found out there wasn't," she explains with a smile in the home of her in-laws Paula and Brendan Buggy.

From Chile, Priscilla (pictured), a secondary school teacher by profession, met Conall in a nightclub in Santiago when he took time out from his studies to travel through South America. The couple fell in love and the rest is history.

"When we met, he told me about this island which he loved, where he grew up and to which he wanted to return but I, obviously, had never heard of it before."

Now with their nine-month-old daughter Isla, the couple live on Sherkin Island having moved from the UK in 2016 where Conall studied to be a physiotherapist. He works in Bantry hospital and commutes every day using his own 13ft open punt. Like other islanders, he has a car parked at Turk Head which he uses to bring him to Bantry.

Conall grew up on the island alongside his brother Neil and the love he, and his parents - who hail from Dublin - have for Sherkin is obvious.

But the lack of a school means the family may well have to leave. After 124-years in existence, the primary school on Sherkin Island closed in 2016.

"Its very sad, really. We love being here, the people, the safety, the bond between the islanders but without a school what are we to do? Of course, we want Isla to have a good education. What choice will we have but to go to the mainland?" asks Priscilla.

Indeed, two other families with young children on Sherkin face an identical problem.

"The reality is we could lose three young families over the next three years," explains Aisling Moran of the Sherkin Island Development Society.

Such a loss would have a massive impact on the island's population. Requests have been made of the Department of Education to facilitate a chaperon who could bring children off the island by ferry and deliver them to and from school each day, but so far the calls have fallen on deaf ears.

Priscilla told Review: "For now, we are focussing on raising our beautiful little girl and enjoying island life as much as we can. But at the back of our minds, we must think what is the best thing to do for her and, sadly, unless something happens that may mean leaving Sherkin Island."

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