A new college was established in Ballyfermot just two years after the launch of Hot Press. From the launch of the Rock School it has since evolved into Ballyfermot College of Further Education and has greatly expanded its remit – becoming a vital source of extraordinary creative talent, in Ireland’s music, media, film industries , animation and games, among others. . Deputy Director Dr Denis Murray (pictured) fills in the gaps.
Ballyfermot College of Further Education (BCFE) is widely recognized as one of Ireland’s leading providers of higher and further education and training. And for good reason. The college has an unrivaled national reputation for innovation and excellence.
For starters, there’s the range and variety of its courses. BCFE places a very strong emphasis on creativity, with world-class courses in animation, games, visual effects, art, design, digital media, broadcasting, music, television and film. Emphasis is also placed on the care professions, with courses in social care (including nursing) and community education. And for budding entrepreneurs, business and tourism courses provide the perfect foundation.
Graduates of the internship ACCA Diploma in Accounting and businesses can now continue with further ACCA qualifications to become a fully-fledged accountant, while the importance of the college logistics and distribution internship has been dramatically highlighted since the onset of the pandemic, and most recently the shocking invasion of Ukraine.
BCFE is, in short, the kind of unique environment in which students thrive.
BCFE’s story is a fascinating story in itself. When the college was established in 1979 it was simply known as Senior College, Ballyfermot. It offered graduate, secondary education, and pre-employment programs for youth in the community. But it was an ambitious project, and progress was rapid. As early as 1980, the college implemented its first post-Leaving Certificate courses, with what was then called the Rock School among its earliest innovations.
The European Social Fund was vital for the growth and development of the college. Its funding of the vocational preparation and training programme, in Ireland and elsewhere, enabled Ballyfermot to become one of the premier higher education colleges in the state. Given its current name in 1999, Ballyfermot College of Further Education has become the second largest provider of further education in Ireland.
One of the most important aspects of Ballyfermot’s growth has been the ability to identify areas where graduates would be needed and then provide the best training in those disciplines. Broadcasting courses, for example, were launched on the eve of the establishment of legal independent radio in Ireland, providing graduates with a clear line of career development as a new industry was in its infancy.
The same foresight has seen the creation of animation courses and games. Both have proven to be hugely successful, with graduates having a major impact on the hugely successful twin industries in Ireland.
And at the heart of it all, for more than 40 years, has been the open, flexible, learner-centered education that the college specializes in.
In the more than 40 years since, the original school of rock has evolved into a course that covers all the key aspects of a career in contemporary music, including sound production, music production, performance music, music management, songwriting and much more.
In 1990, the college made history with the launch of one of the very first hands-on education programs in Europe specifically designed for musicians and songwriters. The two-year Higher National Diploma course in Contemporary Music Performance has resulted in a host of wonderfully diverse and talented acts bursting onto stages across Ireland. Classes are led by experienced teaching staff with longstanding ties to the local and international music scenes – providing students with the opportunity to interact daily with working professionals. Internationally successful artists like Matt Kelleghan (Moving Hearts), singer-songwriter Francie Conway and Pete Holidai (Radiators From Space) were among the speakers.
The quality of the course is reflected in the caliber – and achievements – of some of its leading graduates.
Among those who learned their skills at Ballyfermot are Hot Press cover stars Damien Dempsey, Mundy and Wallis Bird, as well as more recent stars Junior Brother, Lisa O’Neill and Lucy Blue – the young rising star on the cutting edge , who signed to Columbia Records in the UK last year and released his debut EP. And on a different note, part of the solo flute playing in the Lord of the Rings was presented courtesy of BCFE graduate Alan Doherty, a member of the much-loved traditional band Gráda.
One of Ireland’s most revered entertainers, Damien Dempsey was the subject of the superb – and rightly acclaimed – concert film and social documentary feature, Love Yourself Today, released last year.
Of course, music is just one of the areas where Ballyfermot College of Further Education has inspired major international success for Irish creatives. The animation course, in particular, was hugely influential. In 2010, Irish animator and Ballyfermot man Richard Baneham won the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects for his work on Avatar, the 3D extravaganza directed by James Cameron.
Another BCFE Animation graduate, Nora Twomey has a starring role, as Creative Director and Animation Director, with Cartoon Saloon, the studio she formed with Paul Young and Thom Moore – Cartoon Saloon has been nominated for Academy, Golden Globe, BAFTA and Emmy Awards for films like wolf walkers, The breadwinner and Kels’ secret. Nora, who also directed the multi-award winning shorts From darkness and Cuilin Dualachoversees the development of the company’s production slate.
Animation graduates have also made major contributions to Brown Bag Films, helping to establish Ireland as one of the world’s leading hotbeds of animation excellence. Indeed, while their work is often “behind the scenes” in nature, Ballyfermot-trained animators and VFX artists have made critical contributions to many major films and TV shows like Chicken coop, Shrek, Wallace and Gromit, Ice Age, Tarzan, Fantastic Mr Fox, Gnomeo and Juliet, family guy, spongebob movie, Corpse bride, kung fu panda and much more.
Game designers and digital media experts have built thriving careers after their education and training at BCFE – all thanks to the college’s vision to launch high-level courses in these disciplines at a time when demand is had not yet been proven. In this way, Ballyfermot College of Further Education has had a major influence in building the vital new Irish creative industries of the 21st century.
Deputy Headmaster Dr. Denis Murray has watched some of the world’s most talented creatives walk through its halls and prides himself on the quality of teaching and talent the college has to offer.
“BCFE has for many years been at the forefront of creating new and innovative courses, particularly in the creative cultural industries,” he says. “However, we also have excellent courses in the fields of social work, business and tourism. Recently, the college has set up several internships and enriched the course offer from level 4 to level 8 of the These include internships in accounting, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), creative media for production (visual effects, animation and video production), and logistics and distribution.
“Ballyfermot College has amazing teachers and their focus is amazing, they are really invested in the future of the students. We don’t accept students here for reasons of numbers. Our animation students spend hours studying human anatomy and simple gestures carefully. They must be passionate, driven and want to draw all the time. Our tutors have extensive experience and when we combine the two, we produce exceptionally talented and industry-ready artists.
A CHANGING MARKET
Journalism and broadcasting courses have also proved a vital breeding ground for talent, with Ballyfermot graduates selected for senior roles over the years at RTÉ – Aisling Bastable (programme editor) and Sharon Tobin (newsreader ) are essential to RTÉ Six One News), BBC, Hot Press, Al Jazeera, Irish Daily Mirror, Sunday Business Post, Irish Daily Mail, Goldenplec, joe.ie and The Irish Times.
Some media graduates have also taken on influential roles in Irish politics and public affairs, with Deborah Sweeney rising to special adviser status to Fine Gael Minister Paschal Donohue; Martin Flanagan in charge of social media for Fianna Fáil; and Niamh McCarthy on the front line as communications manager for Trócaire. Longtime editor of Hot Press, Róisín Dwyer now works for the National Concert Hall.
Authoritative voices on international, national and local radio (Spin 1038, FM 104, BBC Radio 1, RTÉ, Classic Hits and more) trained in college. And major companies across the media and entertainment spectrum – including IMRO, Virgin Media, Disney, Marvel, Aardman Animations, Sony and more – have all had BCFE graduates in key roles.
One of Ballyfermot’s enduring successes has been the college’s ability to move with the times and develop new courses to adapt to changing market conditions. Since the pandemic, BCFE has adapted to meet today’s challenges with timely new specializations, including the High National Diploma in Irish Traditional Music Performance and Music Production course.
To complement the college’s traditional music performance program (Ceoltóir), there is a new course in the making, maintenance and repair of traditional musical instruments. And as a result, BCFE is now home to the only uilleann pipe making course in the world; and the only harp-making course in Ireland. So the college continues to redefine itself and expand its horizons as each industry forges its own powerful path to progress.
“Ballyfermot has been very creative in developing new courses,” explains Dr Murray. “We were the first to have animation, the first to have the Rock School and the first to have radio and television programs in the country. They continue, alongside courses like business, tourism, social care and virtual reality. We aim to stay one step ahead, always looking at what the industry needs, creating engaging courses for students.
Ultimately, the range and depth of courses available make Ballyfermot College of Further Education a real magnet for the talent that will propel Ireland’s booming creative industries for decades to come. We are certainly looking forward to it…
• For more information, visit bcfe.ie.