As schools go, it is one of the most unusual and individual you are likely to find anywhere in the world and, last week, more than 100 current and ex-pupils gathered together to celebrate the ongoing longevity of the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh.
First opening in 2001, in a classroom within Ballacottier Primary School, the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh moved to its current home, the old St John’s school in 2003 and has spearheaded the revival in both the interest and the speaking of Manx Gaelic.
Run by the Department of Education in conjunction with Mooinjer Veggey, the charity who supports the school and chair the board of governors, the school is the world’s only Manx Gaelic immersion school.
Over the past 20 years, hundreds of children have received their key stage one and two education purely through the medium of the Manx language, with the vast majority becoming fluent speakers by the time they graduate to high school, cementing a knowledge and an enthusiasm for the language and the culture of the Isle of Man.
The current head of the Bunscoill, Julie Matthews, said that it was great and very gratifying to see the Bunscoill continue to attract and educate children, and to see the success of the school grow despite many voices saying that the school would never survive.
‘I’ve been part of the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh since its inception in 2001 where myself and Cathy Clucas took a leap of faith after visiting schools in Lewis, Glasgow, Anglesea and Belfast to see how immersion education worked,’ said Julie.
‘We have since kept good contacts with our Celtic neighbours and still share experiences and good practice.
‘It was great to see so many were able to make it to our celebrations and that many ex-pupils have now made new contacts with others who were at school at different times but with the additional commonality of the Manx language.
‘It was great to see ex-President of Tynwald Steve Rodan at our event. He has been a fantastic friend to the school.
‘It is with thanks to him, during his time as education minister, that we got started in the first place.
‘Not everyone thought it would be a success but looking at the achievements of the pupils who have passed through our hands, I think I can safely say we have done a good job over the years thanks to the dedication and hard work of the staff and support of Mooinjer Veggey, the Department of Education, Sport and Culture and the parents who believed in us and trusted us with their children.
‘It is fantastic to be part of this revitalisation of the Manx language and we can be very proud to be part of this island community.’
During the party, which involved music, dancing and a tour around the school, along with invited guests who were instrumental in getting the school of the ground, including Mr Rodan, past and present pupils spoke about the unique education they received.
The way the school is organised means that the whole school creates itself as a tight-knit community, where the kids from each school year often intermingle with those younger than themselves, and form close bonds with any number of pupils as well as the teachers.
‘The first thing I thought when I entered the Bunscoill was: “This is the place for me”,’ said Year 5 pupil Finn Franklin, aged 10.
‘The staff respect the children and the children respect the staff. The Bunscoill is friendly, cooperative, a great place to learn and just simply brilliant.’
Ned Hampton, 11, who is moving to high school in September, said: ‘The Bunscoill is a world in itself, there’s no other like it and I am happy to have gone there.’
Cristl Stitt said the kids are aware that the Bunscoill is unique in the world, which makes it all the more enjoyable to go there.
‘The Bunscoill is important because it keeps our Manx language alive,’ said Cristl, who is off to the QEII in September.
‘It is the only Manx school in the world.
‘It has brought lots of children together when normally they would have gone to different schools closer to them and we wouldn’t have known them through this Manx culture.
‘Every lesson is in Manx except English, which is what you’d expect as it is a Manx school.’
Gabriel Addy left the Bunscoill in 2016 and is currently studying for his A levels at the QEII high school.
‘I got to learn a different language as part of my everyday life at school, which was great,’ said Gabriel.
‘But it never felt odd or out of place, because everyone spoke English and Manx to each other, and you just kind-of absorbed the language.
‘I found it easy, but then again you didn’t have to think about it, because you were surrounded by it, which made it a lot easier to learn than learning languages in a classroom.
‘I found it much harder learning French, say, at high school, as you were being told how to do something.
‘At the Bunscoill, you weren’t being forced to pick up Manx. It just happened.
‘It was also really nice that everyone spoke to each other and everyone seemed to get along with each other.
‘It became like a family there, and it went between different ages too. I was good friends with people who were older and younger than me. The years didn’t feel separated, which you just don’t seem to get at other schools.’
With the recently published Manx language strategy stating that it aims to grow the number of Manx speakers over the next 10 years, the results demonstrated by the school over the past 20 years, and the enthusiasm shown at the anniversary celebration suggests a positive future for the life of the school, the language and its young speakers.
To sum up the spirit of the celebration and the school, the last word should go to Ned: ‘The Bunscoill is a world in itself,’ he said.
‘There’s no other like it and I am happy to have gone there.’