History of St. Columba’s Facility for Deaf Children
In 1968, through the work of the Cork Parent’s Council and the Cork Association of the Deaf, a school for Hearing Impaired/Deaf Children was opened at South Presentation Convent, Cork. The school catered for children in the Cork and Kerry area and accommodation was provided by the Sisters for those children who resided in Cork from Monday to Friday. The method of communication used in the school was the aural-oral method, which had been the primary method used in Ireland since the mid- 1940s. Here, teachers and SNAs alike, worked very hard to help children to speak, lip-read and develop speech and language concepts.
In September 1984, the staff and pupils moved to a lovely new school in Douglas, called Our Lady’s School for the Hearing Impaired. This is the current Junior School building. It was around this time that the staff began to question seriously the validity of teaching profoundly deaf children through the oral method alone. As a result the staff began to look at another philosophy, that of a bilingual method, where equal recognition was afforded to both spoken English and Irish Sign Language (ISL).
In 1997, an Integration Programme between the two schools commenced. There had always been co-operation between the schools. The first integrative step was shared playtimes, where the benefits were apparent to both the deaf and hearing children. The integration was then expanded to P.E., dance, drama and computer studies, with the deaf children being integrated into age-appropriate classes.
The official process of amalgamation began in September 1999, when the children within the Mainstream school began to learn sign language. This process culminated in March 2000 when Our Lady’s School for the Hearing Impaired amalgamated with St. Columba’s GNS, becoming St. Columba’s GNS with Facility for Deaf Children. It was the first amalgamation of its kind in the history of the State and the only school in the country to offer a fully integrated curriculum to deaf children.
While school personnel and management structures have changed over the years, the present Board of Management and staff, both administrative and teaching, are dedicated to providing the best possible education for the pupils in the Deaf Facility both within their own classrooms and in the integrated system within the school and the wider community as a whole.
This historic amalgamation resulted in creating a unique centre where the deaf child’s needs and learning are foremost in the mind of the educators. The school has had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on the lives of the people in Douglas and its surrounds and the lives of deaf people in Cork.