The culmination of a pioneering student engagement with the life and work of Edna O’Brien was brought to life with a dramatic performance at Scariff Community College last Thursday.
As part of the Clare LEADER-backed Art of Place project, transition year students acted out a 12-minute production by their English teacher, Olwin Kelly, and her husband, Noel Harrington, which explored the life and works of Edna O’Brien.
The performance explored the influence of place on creative expression and followed a study by Scariff students on the impact the physical, social and cultural landscape of East Clare had on the writing of Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls.
This was the first time such a study was conducted and it took transition years to the home place of the famous author where the students read her first novel embracing the surroundings where it was based.
The recently staged production was created and produced by English teacher Olwin Kelly and her husband, local poet and writer Noel Harrington, with the support of art teacher, Mary Rouine and head of transition year, Liam Coyle.
Laura Durack, who played a youthful Edna in the school performance said, “this has been an amazing experience for us in transition year and the highlight of my school year”.
“We read The Country Girls at Edna’s home, Drewsboro House and really got to understand that where we grow up has a big influence on who we are. We got to really like Edna and thought she had a lonely life as a writer. So we decided to write her a letter about our experience of studying her first novel and our on-stage performance. We hope she likes it,” she added.
The initiative, pioneered by Scariff Community College in association with Ealaín an Chláir, was acknowledged as a most valuable and worthwhile educational dynamic at Thursday’s event, giving students an opportunity to work with Storyline methodology.
This process is a student/teacher collaboration first introduced as an inter –generational teaching model in Europe and adapted by Peadar King, co-leader of the initiative, to suit this project.
“The model, based on a series of key questions, assisted the students by drilling down into a deeper understanding of the novel and the local influences that helped create it. This is a very different approach to studying a novel and is a first for us in Scariff and we are delighted that the students benefited from the experiential and practical approach involved,” Darina Sheridan, acting deputy principal of the school said.
One of the outcomes of this project is its potential to be incorporated into the new Junior Cycle Programme and for Scariff Community College’s transition year students it can also inform the understanding of cultural context in the comparative text studies section of Leaving Certificate English.
According to acting principal, Brian Crossan, “this gives our students in transition year a broader and more direct experience of cultural context, which seeks to explore the values, attitudes and behaviours of society in which a novel is set”.
Labour TD, Michael McNamara, a past pupil of Scariff Community College, who attended the performance, said it had the potential to dovetail into the Government’s plans for new developments in arts education.
“Following the recent signing of a new charter by Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn and Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, a new framework to assist the co-ordination and integration of arts projects in schools is due to be put in train. Projects like this could benefit,” he said.
The Scariff Community College project and the recent One-in-Five immigrant photographic exhibition in O’Connell Square, Ennis are initiatives devised and co-ordinated by film documentary maker, Peadar King and communications consultant, Anne Jones. They are supported by Ealaín an Chláir, a locally based community group, currently exploring the relationship between artistic expression and the social, cultural and political landscape of County Clare with the support of Clare LEADER programme. Its members include: Liam Ashe (Chair); Seán Conlan, Phil Molony, Richard Collins, Ciana Campbell and Dermot McMahon.