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Ireland in Schools

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Interpretation of Irish history
1.6 Interpretation
1.6 of the new programme of study for history at Key Stage 3, Interpretation, requires students to come to grips with this most stimulating aspects of history by

a. Understanding how historians and others form interpretations
b. Understanding why historians and others have interpreted events, people and situations in different ways through a range of media
c. Evaluating a range of interpretations of the past to assess their validity.
Interpreting Irish history

Debate about the history of Ireland and Anglo-Irish relations has been so vigorous, at time so bitterly controversial, that it provides

• a range of examples of different interpretations
• opportunities understand why historians in particular have interpreted events, people and situations in different ways , and
• a chance to evaluate range of interpretations of the past to assess their validity.

Interpretations have been influenced by factors which affect historians everywhere, such as personal background and predilections, purpose of writing, academic training, availability of evidence and techniques of historical inquiry, the time and circumstances of writing.

However, debate has been particularly pointed in Ireland since it has questioned the Irish-centred and nationalist view of the past which dominated historical writing from the Famine to the 1940s.

Some subjects, such as home rule, proceeded on the normal lines of historical debate, but others, such as the Famine and 1916, became embroiled in 'the revisionist debate'.

Irish examples - historians

1.11. Irish submission to Henry II: national humiliation or commonsense?

2.9. Why was Steven Ellis's Ireland in the age of the Tudors attacked by other historians of Ireland?

3.13. Cromwell in Ireland: an honourable enemy?

4.28. Interpretations of the Famine

4.29. How far, if at all, can British responses to Irish immigrants in Victorian Britain be called racist?

5.21. Patrick Pearse: saint or sinner?

6.10. Why are the so many interpretations of Parnell?

6.9. Interpretations of home rule

8.20. Northern Ireland: interpretations

Contemporary Conflict Resolution by Hugh Miall, Oliver Ramsbotham & Tom Woodhouse, especially p.89

Irish examples - art

5.11. Representing 1916 in Irish art in the 20th century

From uncritical celebration of republicanism to scepticism.

8.12. Art of ‘the Troubles’

8.21. Whose Cú Chulainn?

Republicans and loyalists interpret the hero's significance to suit their present purposes.

Irish examples - film

Michael Collins (1996)

'Framing history. Neil Jordan's Michael Collins' by Luke Gibbons, History Ireland, Spring,

1997, pp 47-51*

Troubles, ceasefires and peace?', Screening Ireland. Film and television representation by

Lance Pettitt, Manchester University Press, 0-71905-270-X, pp 256-8

'Latter-day Mother Irelands: The role of women' in Michael Collins and The Wind that Shakes

the Barley by Pilar Villar-Argáiz, Estudios Irlandeses, Number 2, 2007, pp. 183-204

* The article concludes: 'By reworking the image of the gangster in the light of both recent developments in the genre, and the aura surrounding Collins, Jordan’s film has, in effect, lifted the crude, sinister associations off the stereotype of the ‘Godfather’, thereby depriving revisionist demonology of one of its favourite tropes. It is this, perhaps, more than any other factor, which accounts for the extraordinary animus directed against the film in the British press, and by revisionist critics and historians in Ireland. Like the best historical films, it forces us to reconsider not only the past, but also many of the platitudes which pass for political analysis in the present.'


The best single discussion of changing film and television representations of Ireland is Lance Pettitt's Screening Ireland. Film and television representation, Manchester University Press, 0-71905-270-X.