A small south Kerry primary school is among three rural schools to make history by becoming the first to transfer from Catholic to multi-denominational patronage.

Scoil an Ghleanna, which has 14 pupils, will reopen on Thursday as a State-run Community National School.

While the Catholic Church has previously transferred a small number of empty school buildings to multi-denominational patronage under lease arrangements, this is the first time that an existing Catholic school will have made a 'live' transfer to multi-denominational status.

Scoil an Ghleanna is the first of three small Catholic rural schools that have decided to switch patronage in time for this coming academic year.

The Iveragh Penninsula Gaeltacht school, which looks out over Sceilg Mhichíl, took the step after lengthy consultation with the local community and the Catholic church, and in the hope of ensuring the school's continued survival.

One third of its pupils are not Catholic.

Previously Catholic-run Lecarrow School in County Roscommon, and Tahilla National School also in Kerry will both also reopen this week as multi-denominational Community National schools.

Both of these schools are tiny, with just eight pupils each. In the case of these schools too, a driving factor is the desire to ensure the schools' survival.

The three schools will now provide a multi-belief and values programme, as opposed to a Catholic one, for children.

Preparation for the Catholic sacraments, such as Communion and Confirmation, will take place outside of school hours.

Principal of Scoil an Ghleanna Sorcha Ni Chatháin said the school will be strengthened by becoming a Community National School run by Kerry Education and Training Board.

Principal of Scoil an Ghleanna Sorcha Ni Chatháin

The 14 children, aged between four and 12, are enrolled at the school for this coming year, but the school needs one additional pupil in order to ensure that it can keep its second teacher.

"We had a third of our pupils who were non-religious, so we had to look at this," she said.

"We needed to look at how we were going to keep pupils, and entice others. We are a beautiful school in the most stunning location, and now we can show - formally, on paper - that we are all inclusive."

By becoming part of local Education and Training Board structures, the school will also receive vital administrative support in areas such as HR, finance, IT and buildings.

Scoil an Ghleanna caters for families who have lived in the area for generations, but also for families without those deep roots in the locality.

Gerardette Uí Chéilleachair is among a small group of parents who spearheaded the process. Her three children are the sixth generation of her family to attend Scoil an Ghleanna.

She told RTÉ News that, as a Catholic parent, she does not feel that her children's faith will be threatened in any way.

"I'm absolutely delighted", she said. "As long as there are Catholic parents who want their children to be raised as Catholics then that will happen. That is not the responsibility of schools or teachers."

Gerardette Uí Chéilleachair, one of the parents who spearheaded the process

Julia Clarke moved to the area 15 years ago and runs a thriving local business, Skellig Pottery. Originally from Liverpool, her two sons attend Scoil an Ghleanna. The family is not religious and her children did not participate in religion classes at the school.

"Especially in a small school it would have been obvious to them that they were different. It might have made them feel excluded", she said. "Now it's perfect. It's validating for them."

Julia Clarke

Parish priest Fr Patsy Lynch was heavily involved in the consultation that took place in the local community. He believes that the move will strengthen Catholicism locally.

"A lot of priests in active ministry in Ireland will tell you that they are not happy with sacramental preparation taking place in the schools," he said.

"They feel it should be taken out because parents are not as involved as they should be. This is what the community wanted and I was happy to facilitate that process."

Fr Patsy Lynch

Education and Training Boards Ireland said the three formerly Catholic schools are among ten primary schools that will open for the first time, or reopen, as Community National Schools for this new academic year.

They include three Steiner schools in Clare and Galway that were already multi-denominational, one former Church of Ireland school in Co Wexford, as well as three new schools in Meath and Dublin.

Community National Schools are multi-denominational schools that are State-run by Local Education and Training Boards. The ETBs already run a substantial number of second level schools in Ireland.

The latest developments bring to 24 the number of Community National Schools countrywide.

General Secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland Nessa White said the sector would now work closely with the schools to ensure that reconfiguration is a success for them.

Scoil an Ghleanna parent Julianne McGillicuddy said it was important for her children, who are both Catholic, to see that no one would ever be excluded because of their religion.

"We live in a multi-cultural society", she said. "It's really the way things should be going."

Lecarrow Community National School in Co Roscommon has also changed patronage