Ambassadors have a reputation for hosting glamorous receptions but on this occasion the roles were reversed as Clonmel High School welcomed a distinguished visitor to the town on Monday .
Paying his first ever visit to a school in this country since he accepted his credentials last May from President Higgins the Austrian Ambassador to Ireland Dr.Helmut Freudenschuss arrived in Clonmel enhancing further the very special link the school enjoys with Austria established through the Irish Austrian Society for over two decades.
Clonmel High School, through German teacher Martina O’Reilly and her students , is one of the most successful secondary schools in the country to participate in the prestigious Irish Austrian Society national essay competition.
The competition, now entering its 21st year , forms part of the Irish Austrian Society programme to generate stronger ties between Ireland and Austria raising greater awareness among Irish students of environmental,economic and tourism issues.
Clonmel High School students have an excellent track record in the competition having secured sixteen scholarships to Austria during that time and winning numerous other prizes.
The ambassador's party was welcomed by Principal Karen Steenson. The ambassador was accompanied by his wife Sigrid, Wilhelm Nest ,a commercial counsellor with Advantage Austria and Ulrike Scholler of the Irish Austrian Society. The group represented the political,economic and cultural arms of the Austrian presence in Ireland designed to strengthen the partnership between the two countries.
Ambassador Freudenschuss, who addressed German, business and economics students and was entertained by school musicians and dancers , said he enjoyed visiting the school and was delighted to engage with the students about Austria and its links to Ireland.
Ambassador Freudenschuss said he was very impressed with the standard of German and the level of enthusiasm there was to learn the language in the school and he paid tribute to the school leaders, German teacher Martina O Reilly and the students.
“The annual essay competition provides a wonderful opportunity for Clonmel students to visit Salzburg, immerse themselves in a different culture and use and improve their German language skills.At seventeen I first visited Ireland, to visit a new country at such a young age is a great experience, and I became very fond of Ireland and I choose it as my last posting before I retire. Irish people are very hospitable and coming from a land locked country to witness the different landscape, the sea and the cliffs is wonderful” said the ambassador who was presented with Apple Farm products during his visit..
Karen Steenson, Principal said the board of management, staff, and the students were honoured to welcome Ambassador Freudenschuss to the school and to Clonmel.
She said the school was very proud of its record in the national essay competition and students from the school who returned from their scholarship always did so energised and enthusiastic about their experience and grateful for the opportunity to enhance their German.
She said students in the school were queuing up to study German and that was down to the professionalism and drive of German teacher Martina O' Reilly.
The school principal said partnership in the community was at the centre of the school ethos and the partnership that existed between the school and the Irish Austrian Society was an example of the partnership model in action.
Martina O'Reilly, recognised by the Austrian government in their honours list for her contribution to the promotion of the language, said it was a great honour for the school to welcome the ambassador.
“The competition gives the students an opportunity to go to a German speaking country where they realise how important it is to be able to speak and understand another language.It shows that the use of the language is not just about getting a result in the Leaving Certificate, it goes beyond that,”
High School student Brian Lacey, who won this year's two week scholarship for his essay on the use of artificial snow in the Alps, spoke about his experiences in Salzburg this summer.
He thanked Ambassador Freudenschuss for visiting Clonmel and the Irish Austrian Society for affording Irish students the opportunity to study and use the German language in Austria.