The following story is a couple of years old now and something we’ve shared with a few people. It was a great encouragement to us at the time it happened and continues to be something we reflect back on with gratitude. Hope you find it encouraging.
In the summer of 2010, our family had the opportunity to spend 5 weeks in Ireland. It was meant to be a time to relax, reconnect, and just hang out together. While that happened, that trip ended up being the catalyst that saw my wife and I quit our jobs, sell most of our stuff, and move from Upstate NY to Dublin, Ireland, 24 months later.
When the idea of relocating to Ireland first came up, it did not go over well with our three daughters. At that point, they were 15, 13, and 11 years old, and moving to a new school, let alone to a new country in the midst of high school and middle school, was not high on their list of things to do.
After two days of my two oldest daughters refusing to speak to me, we came up with an agreement. We would wait 6 months before revisiting the idea. At that point, if everyone was not on board, we would not move. Rather, Elizabeth and I would revisit it after they graduated.
The next six months came and went, and only one of our daughters said she thought it was what we were supposed to go. She still didn’t want to go. The other two, one a freshman in high school and the other a junior, both said “no.”
Based on those conversations, the potential move to Ireland was off the table. Well, that was the plan.
Two months later, with Elizabeth on full-time bed rest due to complications with the pregnancy of daughter number 4, the topic of Ireland came up again. This time a second daughter was on board with the move.
(Our oldest daughter has never been in favour of the decision to move here. So not only did we wait until after she had graduated high school…But the only college she applied to was Trinity College Dublin, so she made the move with us as well.)
There were a number of items we began working on as we considered making the move. We never imagined that one of the biggest challenges we would face over the next 12 months was enrolling two of our daughters in secondary school in Dublin.
In New York state, wherever you happen to live, you are in a public school district. That means your children may attend, for free, the public school in the area where they live. Also, while transportation would be provided generally to and from your local school, in Ireland, it is a very different system.
The good news was that they would be moving at an ideal time. Secondary school in Ireland is basically divided into three segments: Junior Certificate, Transition Year, and Leaving or Senior Certificate. One of our daughters would be starting the first year of the Junior Cert. The other daughter would be entering Transition year. Not only was it great timing since they would not come in halfway through a program that had already begun, but there would also be a number of kids who would also be transitioning in just as they were.
A few other things we learned about schools in Ireland:
There are both fee-paying and non-fee-paying schools. While all schools are government-funded, some still require additional tuition fees.
A majority of the schools are run by churches.
Most schools are single-sex and require uniforms.
Where your kids go to school is not based solely on where they live. There is much more flexibility in where you send your kids to school. While the flexibility is great, it also means that although you may live close to some great schools, you might need to send your kid to a school in another part of the city.
Since children can go anywhere, the top schools obviously end up with more students applying than they can accept. Therefore, most (if not all) of them have a list of priorities upon which they base their decisions.
For example, one school may give top preference to children of a certain religion. Secondary preference may go to students from specific “feeder schools.” Another preference would go to those who had a relative attend as a student. Each school sets their own preferences.
While we knew some of that, what caught us off guard was how difficult it would be to get our daughters enrolled for the following autumn.
In an ideal world, we would have moved to Dublin, taken a year or two to get to know the city, and then decided what part of Dublin was best for our family. Since we were moving to a new country with two of our daughters as teenagers, we all agreed that where ever we landed, we would remain in that general area until they both graduated. This ensured that they would not need to change schools again.
In the summer of 2011, we travelled to Dublin for a week, in part to figure out where in the city we would live. Once we had selected an area of town, we began contacting schools. This is when our education began.
The girls had a school they really wanted to attend, and from everything we heard, it was a great school. The problem was, that the deadline to apply for a place in the school for the fall of 2012 was June 2011 for first-year students.
Not only did we miss the deadline (since we weren’t yet sure we were moving at that point), but for 140 places in First Year, there were over 400 applications.
We still gave it a shot. We wrote to the school, explained our situation, and asked if they’d make an exception for our daughters. We called, emailed, wrote again, called…you get the point. Each time we were told, “No. There is no room for your children.”
We eventually received a kindly worded letter from the school requesting that we please stop contacting them. They did not have any room, and they were not going to have any room. Our children would not be attending that school.
Of course, at the same time, we’d been contacting several other schools from Sutton to Marino to Drumcondra. Just prior to Thanksgiving, we mailed letters to 13 different schools, including all of the kids’ school records, asking them to make room for our daughters.
Finally, after New Year, we started seeing some movement. One of our daughters got into an all-girls school in Sutton, the other into an all-girls school in Raheny. Each girl was on a waiting list at the other’s school, as well as several other waiting lists.
While we saw many positive characteristics in each of the schools they got into, we were still hoping to have them end up in or near Clontarf. Raheny is next door to Clontarf, so that wasn’t too bad. Sutton was a bit of a hike. And while mom was very content to have our teenage daughters end up in all-girls school, they were very much pulling for a co-ed school.
Despite all of this, we’d continued to pray that they would end up in the school in Clontarf.
As May rolled around, and we were only 2 months away from our move to Ireland and 4 months away from the start of the school year, we had two options for each girl. The girls were not excited about it either.
Then one morning, out of the blue, Liz received an email. Remember that school that asked us to please stop bothering them because our kids were never getting in? That day, both daughters were offered a spot in their respective years. Our 15-year-old screamed for 5 minutes straight and then asked what the make-up policy was.
What we have learned since being here is that this is not simply an issue that people moving into Ireland encounter. We’ve heard of many Irish people who have had similar experiences. And more than a few people have asked us how we got our kids into the school we did!
While coming into a new education system after years in the American system has had its challenges, the school they ended up with has eased the transition a bit more than if they’d ended up in an all-girls, uniform-wearing school.
As I mentioned at the start,… an old story, but one that has been an important one for us as we look at all of the transition that has taken place in our lives over the past 3 years.