Secondary history: favourite themes & topics
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In pilot schemes undertaken by Ireland in Schools four topics or themes have particularly captured the imagination and enthusiasm of teachers and students alike, partly because of their intrinsic interest, and partly because of their links with other subject areas,
particularly English, Music and Art:
1. A Norman conquest of Ireland? 3. An United Kingdom?
2. Elizabeth I's Vietnam? 4. Getting behind the headlines in Northern Ireland?
1. A Norman conquest of Ireland?
The Normans arrived in Ireland in 1169, some one hundred years after the Battle of Hastings, to help the dynastic ambitions of Dermot Mac Murrough, King of Leinster. Two years later, almost by accident and without fighting a single battle, Henry II, King of England and Duke of Normandy, became the Lord of Ireland. His successors kept that position for eight hundred years, but, for the first four hundred years or so, their power was strictly limited as to call into question nationalist claims about the Norman subjugation of Ireland.
2. Elizabeth I’s Vietnam?
While most schools concentrate on the seventeenth century, some are becoming intrigued by the turbulent Tudor conquest of Ireland, especially the Irish response as personified by Grace O’Malley, alias Granuaile. More than the ‘pirate queen’ of Irish legend, she stood up for her rights as a Gaelic chieftain on land and sea. Such was her power that in 1593 Elizabeth I agreed to meet Granuaile in London to consider requests for money and permission ‘to invade with sword and fire’ the queen’s enemies.
3. An United Kingdom?
The ambiguities of the United Kingdom were exposed by cataclysmic events. In 1845-49, the Irish potato crop failed in three years out of four, leaving ‘cowering wretches almost naked in the savage weather prowling in turnip fields ... little children, their bodies half-naked, their faces bloated yet wrinkled and of a pale greenish hue ... children who could never, oh it was too plain, grow up to be men and women’. Some one million died of hunger
or disease and another million left Ireland. Who was responsible? How did people cope?
In 1916 the Easter Rising and events on the Western Front highlighted the complex of loyalties and shared values underpinning the United Kingdom. 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?
4. Getting behind the headlines in Northern Ireland?
The thousands of students who each year study conflict in Ireland as part of their History GCSE are now being encouraged to ‘get behind the headlines’. Using the ‘poetry of the troubles’ and eye-witness accounts, students are gaining ‘insights into the emotional and psychological impact of living in Northern Ireland that have never been achieved before (by us anyway!) using textbooks, which do not (cannot?) go there’.
Irish pathway through Key Stage 3 History
For examples of how some schools have used these thenes to develop an Irish pathway through Key Stage 3 History, please click here