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Ireland in Schools

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Exploring 1916: Fighting for whom?
Events in 1916 underline the importance of including Ireland in the curriculum in Britain.

A cruel choice
First, the Easter Rising and events on the Western Front highlighted the complex  loyalties and shared values underpinning the United Kingdom, raising the question:

Why did some Irish men and women fight against the British army,
appealing for German aid, during the Easter Rising in Ireland,
while other Irishmen joined the British army to fight against Germany?
Secondly, the richness and quality of responses to this choice demonstrate just how much Ireland makes learning not only enjoyable and challenging but also accessible to all.

A cross-curricular approach to exploring the 'cruel choice'
 through classical art


The Birth of the Republic by Walter Paget 1916, an artist’s impression of the scene inside the General Post Office, Dublin, at the height of the Easter Rising, just before the surrender.

The Attack by the 36th (Ulster) Division, Somme, 1st July 1916 by James Prinsep Beadle, 1917, commemorating the heavy losses suffered by the Division.

through popular art - murals


Republican mural, Whiterock Road, Belfast, 1991
‘Éirí amach na casca 1916-1991' (Easter Rising), marking the 75th anniversary of the, with portraits of signatories of the Proclamation of Independence, and phoenix rising from the flames and sunburst.

Loyalist mural, Albertbridge Road, Belfast, 1988
‘But Never Heart Forget’, commemorating the Ulster Division which suffered severe casualties at the Battle of the Somme, 1916.

through historical novels 

The traumatic experience of 1916 is told through the eyes of two young people from very different backgrounds,

Jimmy Conway, aged 12, and Amelia Pim, aged 15.

In The Guns of Easter, Jimmy's father, James       Conway, aged 30, (Da) joins the British Army and is fighting in World War I. His uncle, on his mother’s side,Mick Healy is 21 and takes part in the Easter Rising.


In No Peace for Amelia, her boyfriend,Frederick Goodbody, joins the British Army, although a Quaker. Her friend (and cook-general to the Pim household) is Mary Ann Maloney, aged 16. Mary Ann’s older brother, Patrick Maloney, seeks Mary Ann's help when he becomes involved in the Easter Rising.

 through poetry 

1. He shall not hear the bittern cry
In the wild sky, where he is lain



'Thomas McDonagh' 
(Executed in 1916; translated a classic Gaelic Irish poem

'The Yellow Bittern' .)

Francis Ledwidge (1891-1917)

2. Now and in time to be
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly,
A terrible beauty is born.

‘Easter 1916’

W.B. Yeats (1865-1839)



3. And now I'm drinking wine in France,

The helpless child of circumstance.
Tomorrow will be loud for war,
How will I be accounted for? ...

A keen-edged sword, a soldier's heart,
Is greater than a poet's art.
And greater than a poet's fame
A little grave that has no name

Francis Ledwidge (1891-1917)








contemporary documents


Ireland is not at war with Germany.
England is at war with Germany.
We are Irish nationalists and the     
only duty we can have is to stand                           
for Ireland’s interest.

I heard a Catholic priest preaching about

how little Catholic Belgium had been

attacked by Germany and was suffering.

I joined the British Army after that.

Arthur Griffith, Sinn Fein leader, 1914

John O’Reilly, a bank clerk in Co. Cavan,aged 18 when the war started.

 through contemporary propaganda


Sinn Fein poster anti-recruiting posterArmy recruiting poster                             
through song  

lyrics & references 

1. Ah, what is all the fuss about,
Says the grand aul’ dame Britannia,
Is it us you’re trying to live without,
Says the grand aul’ dame Britannia.
Oh, don’t believe those Sinn Fein lies,
For every Gael for England dies,
Will enjoy ‘Home Rule’ ’neath the Irish skies,
Says the grand aul’ dame Britannia.

'The Grand Aul’ Dame Britannia'

World War I anti-enlistment song,

written by Sean O’Casey in 1916






2. Let me tell you a story of honour and glory
Of a young Belfast soldier Billy McFadzean by name
For King and for Country Young Billy died bravely
And won the VC on the fields of the Somme.

'Billy McFadzean'


Billy, a twenty-year-old Belfast man, was awarded the VC

posthumously for heroism on the first day of the Battle of the Somme

3. As down the glen one Easter morn
Through a city fair rode I.
There armed lines of marching men,
In squadrons did pass me by.
No pipe did hum, no battle drum,
Did sound out its loud tattoo.
But the angelus bell o’er the Liffey’s swell,
Rang out through the foggy dew.

'The Foggy Dew'

Written in 1919 by a

member of the First Dáil moved by the absence of members

'locked up by the foreigner'





through monuments



Memorial to the executed leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising

Arbour Hill Cemetery, Dublin, 1966

Island of Ireland Peace Tower

Messen/Messines, Belgium, 1998