18 April 2023
By Mary Bermingham
Watch the TV programme: Wednesday 19th April @ 9:30pm on TG4
The number of families hosting students at summer courses in Gaeltacht areas has fallen by almost a third in four years leading to concerns for the future of some Irish colleges.
According to new figures obtained by TG4’s current affairs programme Iniúchadh TG4, in the four years since 2018, the number of host families in the Gaeltacht has fallen from 712 to 495 – a decline of 217 or 30 per cent.
The impact and reasons for the exodus of “bean an tís” from Gaeltacht colleges is examined by investigative reporter Kevin Magee in an hour-long documentary to be broadcast on TG4 on Wed 19th of April at 9.30pm.
The increasing age profile of “mná tí”, changing social habits, a move out of the sector into self-catering, and insufficient pay for keeping students are among some of the reasons given.
The fall in host families means thousands of students are being turned away from summer colleges in the Gaeltacht this this year because there is nowhere to house them.
The latest figures on the Gaeltacht sector released by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to Iniúchadh TG4 show the number of mná tí for the years 2017 (655), 2018 (712), 2019 (648), 2022(495). Gaeltacht colleges were closed in 2020 and 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While some new mná tí have been attracted into the system in recent years, their numbers are considerably lower than those opting to leave. The numbers entering the sector are 2017 (26), 2018 (25), 2019 (34) and 2022 (39).
Coláiste Pobail Chléire on Cape Clear Island off Co. Cork has seen the number of host families fall from a peak of seven, twenty years ago, to only one.
The former manager of the Comharchumann Chléire Teoranta, Máirtín Ó Méalóid said it’s proving extremely difficult to attract new mná tí to keep students.
“It’s a crisis really. Our biggest challenge now is how we are going to bring new host families into the system. I don’t have the answer to that question. I can’t tell you how we’re going to do that because, to be honest about it, they’re just not there.”
The college on the island will open this year for the first time since Covid but with a reduced number of students.
“When we came back (after Covid), we were surprised at how many mná tí had stopped taking students for one reason or another. In Connemara, all the Irish colleges went ahead but there was a shortage of host families or Bean an Tí’s. There were many more students looking for spaces in the college. Many students were turned away because there was no accommodation available,” according to Maire Denvir of Coláiste Chamuis. (“Nuair a tháinig muid ar ais (i ndiaidh Covid), chuir sé iontas orainn an méid mná tí a bhí éirithe as ar chúis amháin nó ar chúis eile. I gConamara, chuaigh na cólaistí ar fad ar aghaidh ach bhí ganantas mná tí. Bhí i bhfad níos mó scoláirí ag cuartú spáis. Cuireadh ó dhoras an t-uafás scoláirí mar nach raibh loistín ar fáil”)
Three colleges that Iniúchadh TG4 spoke to had a combined waiting list of almost 2,000 students. (Coláiste Chamuis – 1300, Coláiste Acla – 250 and Coláiste Bhríde Rann na Feirste – 400)
Other figures released by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media show that the number of students and children attending Irish colleges has fallen by 2,614 since 2019 even though some colleges have been offering shorter courses in an attempt to boost student numbers. More detailed figures gathered by the organisation that represents the majority of Irish Colleges, Comhchoiste Náisiúnta na gColáistí, shows that there has been a decline in the number of students in the 12 to 18 age group attending Irish colleges with numbers down from 22,624 to 18,332 – a decline of 4,292 or 19 per cent.
The number of Irish colleges offering residential summer courses has also fallen, according to the figures obtained from the Department of TCAGSM. In 2018 there were 52 colleges registered with the Department, but only 40 re-opened in 2022. 46 colleges are offering courses in 2023. According to the Department four colleges; Coláiste na Rosann, Anagaire and Coláiste Aodh Mhic Bhricne in Teileann, Co. Donegal and Coláiste Bhreanainn, Baile an Bhuineanaigh, Co. Kerry and Coláiste Gleann Maghair, Co. Cork have so far not registered to operate this year.
Iniúchadh TG4 – Mná Tí will broadcast on TG4 on Wednesday April 19th at 9:30pm and will be available worldwide on the TG4 Player.