‘It’s not about grades but using your talents’

SEAMUS Ó Briain has been a stalwart of Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair and the local community for almost forty years.
From teaching Construction Studies and Technical Graphics to serving as Deputy Principal and, most recently, as Principal he has done everything he can to sow the seed for his students.
“I went to school to learn and to teach so I don’t really think what I was doing was work. I enjoyed every minute of it and I have no regrets.”
Born in Glasgow, Seamus came back to Donegal as a young boy. He attended Ardsbeg National School and Pobal Scoil Chloich Cheann Fhaola (PCC) before studying at Thomond College, now the University of Limerick.
From there was the start of his career as an educator, teaching in the Christian Brothers school in Dundalk for a year before arriving in Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair in 1985.
Last month, he announced his retirement with Ardara man Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh taking up the role as the Principal of Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair on Wednesday, March 2.

‘Ready for retirement’

He says he is ready for retirement after 38 years in education.
“My wife (Moya) and I are very excited to start the next phase of our lives. It’s the right time for me. I already do a bit of farming so I’ll be kept busy.
“I enjoy the outdoors and intend to do more farming and turf cutting – the country life that people enjoyed years ago. I turned sixty before Christmas and took the decision (to retire) while I’ve still got good health,” he said.
He says he will remain active in the school community for a few years yet while he will also continue to work as as examiner for the State Exams Commission.
“My youngest will be in the Pobalscoil for a few years yet so I don’t intend moving too far away anytime soon,” he laughed.
Work on a €2.5 million expansion project, which includes an extension to provide a new SEN and additional classrooms, is due to the finished by the summer.
“The school is in a fantastic place and it’s great to have someone with Seoirse’s drive and energy to take it to the next phase,” he said.
“I would also like to thank Nigel Ó Fearraigh, my deputy principal, and everyone else on the staff for their help and support,” he added.
Noel O’Gallchóir was principal when Seamus joined the teaching staff in 1985. He was one of 21 teachers in a 300 student school. Today, there’s 478 students and 41 teachers.
“There would have been a large drop off in numbers after the Junior Cert with some going on to do apprenticeships while others took on jobs in the local factories. It reflected the world and west Donegal at that time, I suppose,” he recalled.
“Today, almost 100 per cent of our students go on to third level which is a fantastic thing but I’m also delighted to see that the CAO is taking in a new system for apprenticeships. It’s important to have that choice.”
Mr Ó Briain said that he would encourage every young student to sit their Leaving Cert exams.
“It’s not all about getting top grades it’s about using the talents that you have been given – always do your best. The Leaving Cert never goes out of date.
“The most important characteristic that you’ll ever carry in life, though, is respect and that’s embedded in the school. Respect for everyone that surrounds you at school – teachers and fellow students – and at home. If you follow that through you will achieve a lot in life and everyone around you is going to have a good life too. It’s something that benefits society as a whole,” he said.
The past two years have been difficult with the pandemic leading to blended learning, Zoom classes and predicted grades. It has led to some people calling for changes to the traditional Leaving cert model.
“There’s always room for improvements and the Leaving is no different. It could do with a few tweaks but, overall, we have one of the best education systems in the world. Where else do you get the chance to review your exams and, if we’re not happy, appeal them? It’s a fair system.
“A lot of subjects already carry a continuous assessment component, but maybe that’s one the tweaks I’m talking about,” he added.
In an ideal world, students should have the opportunity to secure jobs in the locality after leaving school and Mr Ó Briain believes that Gteic, the local innovation and digital hub, is a step in the right direction.
“There are more companies taking on people with high end technical skills and people are starting to move back home. Many of these indigenous companies are expanding their operations in Donegal which can only be a good thing,” he said.
Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair, which offers 19 Leaving Cert subjects, teaches through the medium of Irish.
“We’re proud to be an all-Irish school. Every class is an Irish class and that is reflected in the Leaving Cert results with a huge percentage of students securing H1s in Higher Level Irish. It also allows the students to pick up additional points and we score well above the national average every year in the Leaving Cert,” he said.
“The spoken Irish language remains a challenge. It’s not as strong as it once was but, ultimately, it’s down to everybody to put their shoulder to the wheel to make sure that it is nourished and fostered in the home,” he added.
Last week, a young student won a medal at the Ulster Schools Swimming Championships – a first for the school – while they compete well in the various GAA and soccer competitions as well as on the drama and debating circuit.
“It’s a testament to the teaching staff in the school. They work so hard and give up additional time after school to come in and do additional work with students. There’s a great atmosphere between students and teachers,” he said.
“Teaching staff, past and present, should be proud of their achievements in helping thousands of young people in the area on their educational journey,” he added.
Seamus’s wife Moya works in the Naíonra in Gortahork. Youngest son Darragh (15) is a student in the school; Maria is a final year teaching students in St Pat’s; Kevin is a civil engineer in Belfast while Jamie is self-employed.

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