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Home: Freunde Waldorf

Stepping Across Borders

(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 76-79, Note the Copyright!)

Ireland has played a significant role in the cultural development of Europe. Dolmens, round towers and high crosses, the ruins of monasteries and churches bear witness to a rich heritage from bygone millennia. This in spite of the fact that Ireland is a troubled land that has been conquered and reconquered, divided and split. The peoples of Ireland have suffered wars, famines and troubles through the centuries. The differences between the North and the South have become more apparent. The past is alive for both - difficult to forget and forgive, hindering the present and the future to come about. But conscious efforts are made by many individuals to forgive and bring peace.

From the beginning, Waldorf Education in Ireland has been linked with Camphill’s curative education communities (see the report by Rüdiger Grimm). The Holywood Rudolf Steiner School, the first in Ireland, opened its doors in September 1975 in rooms provided by the Glencraig Community with which it maintained contact even after it moved to its own premises in 1976. A new building was put up for the kindergarten in 1979 and little by little several Nissen huts were added to accommodate the growing upper school classes. The first classroom was built in 1993 and in 1997 a second kindergarten was inaugurated. The growth and further development of the school called for enormous engagement by both parents and teachers, for no state subsidies were available. Lottery monies were promised, however, so that it has now been possible to complete the building for the upper school. The Holywood school remained the only one in Ireland until the Cooleenbridge Waldorf School opened in 1986.


Rather unusually, it was the parents of the first 27 children entering the school in November 1986 who founded the Cooleenbridge school in County Clare. They remain active in its administration to this day. The school derived its name from the old nineteenth-century school house where it had its first home. From the beginning it became a centre for social projects with parents taking the initiative in starting a number of enterprises. The school moved into its own premises in 1994 and a newly-built kindergarten was opened in 1999. As with all the other school initiatives in Ireland, the Cooleenbridge Waldorf School receives no support from the state. It has had to fight for survival, which has led to a strong community experience in the school and also many creative initiatives.


The Dublin Rudolf Steiner School opened its doors in 1987 having spent many years in a house in Rathmines, a district close to the centre of town. It was founded by Daniel Newman and Dorothy Haines and had to fight to survive for many years without being able to establish a community feeling in its urban surroundings. Finally the decision was made to move temporarily to the Dunshane Camphill Community, and now there are ambitious plans for a new school building with a day-care centre for children outside the Camphill setting.

Early learning

The contribution made by Waldorf Education to thinking concerning early learning is widely known and appreciated in Ireland. It has influenced the type of early education that is on offer. The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship has accredited the training programme for early education. It is well-attended and hopes in the coming years to be recognized by the Limerick Teacher Training Institute. Over the years the number of Waldorf Kindergartens in Ireland has risen to 14. State subsidies are available for early learning and many of the kindergartens are considering branching out into offering daytime care for infants. The Waldorf Early Childhood Association in Ireland has also received state subsidies, so in future it will be able to offer better support to its member kindergartens.

Future developments

The Waldorf Education movement in Ireland has reached a point in its development which calls for strategic planning. Hitherto the care and education based on Waldorf principles has benefitted those children whose parents chose it because they wanted it. Now, however, especially in the realm of early education, it seems that Waldorf Education ought to be available to all parents who want high quality education for their children without necessarily being expected to understand the principles that lie behind it. It is a fact that the Waldorf method gives children important experiences which are appropriate for their age but which other establishments and indeed many modern families are unable to offer them. By providing answers to the immediate needs of small children it will be possible to build up positive effects for the future.

Curative education

Karl König (1902-1966) wrote a letter to the Republic of Ireland in 1938 in which he offered to start a community with and for children and adults in need of special care. That letter received a negative reply from the Irish Government, and so the Camphill Movement began a year later in Scotland. Sixteen years later, in 1954, the first Camphill Community in Ireland, Glencraig, was established as a result of a strong wish and hard work of parents from Northern Ireland who had their children in Camphill Scotland and had met the work of Karl König and his co-workers.

The political situation

Northern Ireland is governed by British law, although since the Good Friday Agreement it has been given greater autonomy than before. For Waldorf Schools this means that as in England they receive no state support. The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship for Britain and Ireland is in constant consultation with the government on the possibility of obtaining some subsidies, and more recently progress has been made in this respect.

In 1994 the three independent Waldorf Schools in Ireland formed the Irish Waldorf Education Association (ISWEA) in order to collaborate better in the political field and also to organize an annual conference for teachers.

In 1999 the Cooleenbridge Waldorf School took the state to court in a case that reached the highest level in order to gain recognition and support for Waldorf Schools in Ireland. Although they lost the case the school had to be granted recognition anyway and the state had to pay a fine for not having been prepared to negotiate with it. In future the Irish Republic will have to recognize Waldorf Schools if they employ state-trained teachers who speak the Irish language.

Irish is taught in the Irish Republic, and aspects of Irish culture are included in the curriculum of the Waldorf Schools. These Irish and also Celtic elements in the curriculum include the Irish saints and the stories in “The King of Ireland’s Son” as well as Ireland’s specific contribution to the Christianization of Europe. Dance, songs and Irish music are also woven into the curriculum and give the schools a typically Irish character.

Glencraig started as a community with children in a big mansion. From its beginning in 1954 Glencraig grew and developed. Today it has 17 house communities, a large farm, workshops and a school for the children with special needs. Since 1985 an ongoing process with the Educational Boards has been very prominent. After many inspections and changes as a result of these, the school was recognized a few years ago.

Widening the range of therapies

The medical and therapeutic work has grown in recent years. Weekly meetings with case conferences take place and the therapists (eurythmy therapy, chirophonetics, physiotherapy, speech, nursing, music and art therapies) meet every week with the teachers, house parents and workshop leaders to coordinate and deepen their work.

Glencraig is a large community. All in all around 200 souls live there and their ages range from new-born babies to the elderly who are in their 70s and 80s. Barbara Lipsker, one of Camphill’s pioneers, lived here until her death in 2002 and was a wellspring of inspiration despite her great age.

The 3-year Seminar for Curative Education and Social Therapy, preceded by a foundation year, as well as regular staff training, provide, together with the community life, a continuous challenge for change and development.

Foundations in Southern and Northern Ireland

In the early 1970s a need for more places for adults became apparent, and almost simultaneously two more villages were founded, in 1972/73: Mourne Grange in the Mourne Mountains near Kilkeel, and Duffcarrig near Gorey in the South. 1979 saw the founding of Ballytobin, near Kilkenny, the first Camphill Community working with children in the Republic of Ireland. From 1984 a rapid development ensued. In the North there was Clanabogan, near Omagh, a smaller community for adults, and in the South came Dunshane, a training school and training centre for young adults aged between 15 and 23. In 1988, Camphill Kyle and Grangemocker at Templepatrick were founded near Ballytobin, two smaller communities for adults. In 1992 Camphill Jerpoint opened its doors near Thomastown, County Kilkenny. It has a Water Garden and a Coffee Shop in the town itself, and places strong emphasis on working with people with special needs in the Thomastown area. At around the same time preparations were underway for Camphill Ballybay which is now a small community in County Monaghan and forms geographically a link between Camphill establishments in the North and South of Ireland.

More recently the Kilcullen Bridge Community developed near Dunshane out of the need for adult places for older pupils. Today it has 3 houses and a shop at Kilcullen and is well integrated with the local village. So a “community of communities” is gradually developing, like that already in existence around Ballytobin, Kyle, Grangemocker and Jerpoint.

The latest development in the South is a community at Carrick-on-Suir which is partly rural and partly in the town itself. A parent group in Dingle has called on Camphill to start a place for children there, and initial talks have already taken place. Camphill Holywood opened a bakery, coffee shop and sales point for bio-dynamic produce in June 1997.

Families rather than children’s homes

Since the introduction of the Children Order in the North, Camphill places there now face stricter rules and regulations. One of these states that a child should grow up in family, so foster parenting is now preferred above residential care. Partnerships with parents and professionals (such as social workers) is another essential aspect. Although the very first principle states that “the welfare of the child is paramount”, the enormous amount of bureaucracy brought in by the Children Order appears at the moment to militate against rather than support this principle.

New Camphill communities in the South have more freedom, and the authorities there are open and positive. Working in smaller communities is preferred. Advantages of this are easier integration within the wider community and greater flexibility. A disadvantage is that it is difficult to offer more specific therapies.

Camphill communities in Ireland find themselves faced with the following challenges: development of respite care, for which a great need exists; the ageing of both villagers and co-workers in the village communities; the question of whether Camphill can meet the needs of patients who have been discharged into the community after long stays in psychiatric hospitals. The number of individuals with psychiatric problems and severely challenging behaviour who are knocking on our doors is increasing.

Our approach of working and living together in communities with people who have a wider range of abilities and disabilities challenges the “compartmentalizing” tendency within society as a whole. Because of this we are fre quently called upon to initiate conversations with various departments (Education, Health, Social Services, Environment, Labour). This in turn challenges us to remain alert and continuously remind ourselves of our ideals.

A great potential for development in Ireland is brought into play by the links between Camphill, anthroposophical medical work, biodynamic agriculture and the Waldorf Education movement. There is much mutual interest and a great willingness to support one another. Through this we hope to make a contribution to this country so that peace and a fruitful development can arrive as heads, hearts and hands work together.


Pearse O’Shiel
Active in the Waldorf Early Childhood Association.

Maria van den Berg
Representative of the doctors in the Assembly for Curative Education and Social Therapy.

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