Kerry school dreaming up artistic ways to celebrate return of students

Kerry school dreaming up artistic ways to celebrate return of students
Blennerville National School principal Robbie O'Connell stands by Mike's mural of Bryan Cooper.
By Liz Dunphy

Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey, Bryan Cooper, gallops along the wall of a Kerry school, ready to welcome students back after the summer holidays.

On the last day of summer term yesterday, Blennerville National School was already dreaming up artistic ways to celebrate its students' eventual return.

Local street artist, Mike O’Donnell, chose the jockey, Bryan Cooper, whose family is from Blennerville, as the first figure to paint across the school’s walls to remind pupils of their rich local history and to always ‘reach for the stars’.

Murals of historic tall ship, Jeanie Johnston, which made her maiden voyage from Blennerville in 1848 carrying 193 passengers desperate to escape the famine, will be added this summer, along with paintings of the students themselves.

Principal, Robbie O’Connell, originally from Carrigaline, Co Cork, said that keeping the school “both child- and community-centred” is his focus, even during the summer holidays: "We wanted to give children an added lift when they do come back. Mike O'Donnell is a huge talent.

He'll paint more murals here over the summer. It will be great for students to come back to a vibrant, fresh school. Children learn more when they are happy. And school is a refuge for some children, it can be their safe place. So we try to build a supportive climate here."

Initiatives such as 'hot chocolate Fridays' to celebrate the 'student of the week' and 'Birthday Certificates' for everyone as they grow a year older were continued into lockdown to boost morale, with Mr O'Connell and his staff posting out sachets of hot chocolate and birthday certificates to students.

"I was conscious to keep the momentum going remotely as much as possible throughout the school closures."

Mr O'Connell also shared a weekly video with students, asking them to perform tasks — such as to write down all the things they are grateful for, or 'showing racism the red card' by dressing in red, taking pictures or video and submitting them to be edited into a video with all their classmates.

Pupils' news and achievements of the week — such as learning to ride a bike or learning new words — were also shared in a weekly video broadcast to keep students connected throughout the pandemic.  

Mr O'Connell said: "Parents told me what a difference those things made. Something small can make such a big difference."