“Community youth work chose me, I didn’t choose it.”
Wise words from a young man.
Conchúr Ó Muadaigh is studying ‘Youth and Community’ at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown.
And he is loving it.
“Choosing to do this course was a natural progression for me as I have worked as a youth leader for 2 years now and I just love this type of work.”
If only Eoin Mc Kiernan were alive to hear those words and to see how the legacy which he and his wife Jeanette O’Callaghan McKiernan left to Irish schools in the North has given a hand up in life to so many young Irish speakers like Conchúr.
A past pupil of Coláiste Feirste Conchúr was the worthy recipient of this year’s Jeanette O’Callaghan McKiernan bursary and he was thrilled to get it.
‘Before I started University I was stricken with money worries – with fees, books , travel costs and so much more. The bills were really starting to mount. With the £1,000 I received from the Bursary I was able to buy text books, (they are not cheap by the way at £50 a pop!)
I needed a laptop which I hadn’t been able to afford before this.
And after all my expenditure I even had a little extra left over to help me buy a car to go to and from Uni.
The Jeanette O’Callaghan McKiernan Bursary just changed everything for me.’
Conchúr has made an outstanding contribution to the community for over two years now, working as a leader in one of West Belfast’s biggest youth centres.
A post which is challenging, but rewarding.
“Some people probably think that I just spend my time messing about with the kids at the centre.
Community and youth work is so much more than that. I take my role at the centre very seriously and spend a lot of time trying to establish relationships with the kids, listening to them, helping or coaching them whenever they need it.
I think the biggest advantage youth workers have is that we have the time to spend with kids.
When you’re a teacher you have deadlines to make, homework to hand out and corrections to do.
If a pupil is misbehaving in a classroom a detention slip is handed to that pupil. Whereas youth workers can take the time to find the underlying reasons for that child’s disruptive behaviour, we have the time to listen.”
Although Conchúr has real passion for community and youth work he is also aware of the challenges that go hand in hand with the job.
He has had to deal with a whole range of anti-social issues from rebellious teens and teenage pregnancies to alcohol and drug abuse.
It helps a lot that he has an easy-going nature and isn’t fazed by anything the kids throw his way.
This year he has had a chance to combine two of his passions in life, the Irish language and youth work.
He has chosen to work in one of the first Irish speaking after-school youth centres in Belfast.
“I’m overjoyed to be a part of this new project.
As a past pupil of Coláiste Feirste I know that most kids don’t have the opportunity to speak Irish outside of the school gates.
Coláiste Feirste has over 500 pupils and most of these kids come from English speaking households.
This new youth centre fills the void, it takes the language outside of the classroom and makes Irish a living and social language.
What I’d have given to have had a centre like this when we were young! So far the kids just love it.”
Conchúr was awarded the wife Jeanette O’Callaghan McKiernan Bursary at the 10th annual Aisling Awards in September 2009.
The awards ceremony was held in St Mary’s University Belfast and President Mary McAleese presented the awards to each winner.
“I was so grateful to have been chosen to receive the bursary’ says Conchúr. ‘I never thought in a million years that I would have been chosen as there were s so many other worthy candidates.
It meant so much to me and it has really been a help.
I can’t thank Pilib Ó Ruanaí and the McKiernan family enough for giving me this award.
“Go raibh míle maith agaibh a Iontaobhas na Gaelscolaíochta agus a chlann McKiernan!”