Belfast Telegraph

The Rathlin Nativity, starring every pupil in the school... all eight of them

By Claire Williamson

They may be few in number - but that doesn't stop the schoolchildren of Rathlin Island staging an all-singing, all-dancing Nativity.

The school play is a key event in the academic year, and with just eight pupils there are added responsibilities, such as taking on multiple roles.

Every year friends and family flock to Northern Ireland's only inhabited offshore island to see the children perform.

Currently there is one pupil in primary one, two in primary two, two in primary three, none in primary four, two in primary five, none in primary six and one in primary seven.

But having such a small roll doesn't mean St Mary's opts for a simple production.

This year the youngsters staged The Whoops-a-Daisy Angel, the story of a disorganised but lovable angel who is chosen to show the way to Bethlehem.

Principal Jane McVeigh, who is in her sixth year at the school, said the children rise to the challenge each Christmas.

The school holds its play on a Saturday to make sure friends and family who don't live on the island have the best opportunity to travel across for it.

And last week the 'house full' signs were up.

Ms McVeigh said: "We do a full Christmas play and the children all have several parts to learn.

"We do it in stages. So this year it's The Whoops-a-Daisy Angel.

"The main character is my primary seven girl and she is the angel. She is different characters throughout the play.

"It's a Nativity, so we do the whole lot from Mary and Joseph going to meet the innkeepers, to the shepherds, to the Three Wise Men, to the whole ensemble up on the stage in the stable scene.

"There are 14 songs in our production, with lots of dancing and costume changes.

"The West End wouldn't have a look-in!"

Each of the kids has to double up on roles, learning multiple parts, but they take it in their stride.

Ms McVeigh added: "The children are fantastic. They cope brilliantly and every year it astounds me how well they do.

"They are fantastic and so able to get on with things.

"We have dance classes every week and that has given them a great boost, we have a dance teacher who comes over every week.

"I give her the Christmas play songs and she puts together routines for them and that really adds to it.

"But the kids are brilliant, they are really, really fantastic."

The scripts usually need a bit of rewriting to accommodate the different age groups.

And they tend to localise the plays by adding in some references to the island and its residents.

Aside from the Nativity there is a great morale in the school, with siblings often sharing a classroom.

Ms McVeigh said: "The children are very, very caring towards one another.

"And they are a lovely bunch, a really happy bunch of children."

Never mind the challenges of teaching one year group - what is it like to prepare to teach all seven year groups in one room?

"You have to be really super organised," explained the head teacher.

"You know exactly what you are doing every day. I do really, really detailed planning, and lots of resources."

Ms McVeigh, who is originally from Armagh, now lives on the island.

She said: "I love Rathlin - it was a complete change from where I taught before and it's been very rewarding and challenging at the same time."

Following last week's success, Ms McVeigh said she was "so proud" of the pupils.

She added: "The children were absolutely outstanding."

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