UNITED NATIONS IN A WEST CORK SCHOOL

With 34 pupils on the roll books from eight different countries, Gurraneasaig National School in West Cork is surely one of the most international schools for it's size.

Students hail from Sweden, America, Germany, Zimbabwe, Australia, England and Papua New Guinea as well as Ireland.

Built in 1963, Gurraneasaig school was originally a one-teacher school. Fifteen years later Phil Deasy was employed as a teacher and became its school principal. She now works with a second teacher, Oonagh Lane.

"I always found it amazing that the school survived. The area is not that large and there a lot of big farms in the district."

Gurraneasaig NS was almost closed three uears ago until Michael Martin reduced the minimum number of students allowed in small schools. "We had 23 students on the roll books that year," Phil explains.

Situated by House Strand in West Cork, the school is multi-denominational but teaches through the Catholic ethos. According to Phil, parents like to have some religion taught with the option for children not to adopt it.

"They say that it is important for children to know that there is someone out there looking after us. Someone we can turn to when things go wrong or thank when things go right.

"There is more tolerance with pupils," she says. "Children don't leave the classroom when certain activities are going on. Parents are told we teach a Catholic ethos and they accept this. We don't try to indoctrinate the children. There is a very friendly family atmosphere in the school."

Small as it may be, the school has many connections to the larger world through the Internet, CD ROM and of course the pupils' backgrounds themselves.

The computer room is eight-year-old Samantha Sykes' favourite place to be in the school. Funded by the board of management and parents, children use the three PCs and to older computers for education and play. "We have a lot of educational CDs from Doring and Kingsley," says Mrs Deasy. "Oonagh does a lot of work with the seniors in IT."

Oonagh has been teaching in the school now for two years. There is almost a 20 - year age gap between Oonagh and Phil. "I am the mother in the school," says Phil. "I think it's good for everybody that there are two different aged teachers in the school, myself included."

Oonagh also teaches hurling and camogie along witha coach who teaches hurling skills every two to three weeks. Mrs. Deasy recalls how one of the boys in the yard lent seven-year old Michael from Papua New Guinea a hurley because of his fascination with the game. "Hurling is number one for Michael really, he has been mesmerised by the game since he first arrived."

Michael's introduction to Irish culture didn't stop there. Students receive Irish dancing lessons once a week. "Michael did a great Irish jig for his Christmas concert last year," says Phil. "His one-two-three was perfect."

"Parents sometimes don't value small schools enough. A small school makes children independent and surer of things.

"Their name is called more often in the classroom, and we can tell if there is something wrong. Some day a child may come in with no lessons done and we can say it's okay because we might know what was happening at home at that time."