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Ireland in Schools

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Supporting SHP Modern Word Study
The Irish question
'If it's so important why haven't we done it before?'
To answer the concerns of students, when confronted with the history of Ireland for the first time in the Modern World Study, part of their GCSE History (SHP), five Heads of History in very different Nottinghamshire schools responded creatively.
They radically re-appraised the way they thought about the course to make it more enjoyable and meaningful for students.

Identifying problems
The first step was an entry and exit questionnaire which tested students’ knowledge and understanding of conflict in Ireland before and after the course and sought their views on the course itself.
Three points of major concern emerged:
  1. an uncertain grasp of basic facts combined with some confusion about the multiplicity of political and paramilitary organisations;
  2. a lack of sympathetic understanding of the nature of conflict in Northern Ireland; and
  3. a sense of overload as students felt they had to address the whole of the history of Ireland and Anglo-Irish relations.

Combatting confusion
The judicious examination of murals, loyalist and republican, throughout the course helped students to understand and remember the main sources of difference in Northern Ireland. A simple grid, asking students to identify murals through use of colour, images/symbols, historical references, personality and language, certainly focussed their minds and prompted much imaginative artwork.

Getting behind the headlines
To get behind the headlines, to develop imaginative insights into the problems of living in a divided society, the teachers used a wider range of sources, including music and, especially the ‘poetry of the troubles’.
One of the most telling poems is Padraic Fiacc’s ‘Enemy Encounter’, an Irishman coming across a British soldier. The chilling last stanza reads:

I say something bland to make him grin,
But his glass eyes look past my side
-whiskers down
the Shore Road Street,
I am an Irishman
and he is afraid
That I have come to kill him.
Eye witness
Even more effective was bringing into schools young people who had lived through conflict in Northern Ireland. The experience of one student teacher made a particular impact. In 1991 the IRA placed a 1,000 lb bomb in a vanoutside the police station in a predominantly Protestant village. Many buildings had been evacuated, but not the house of a thirteen-year-old girl belonging to one of the handful of Catholic families in the village. She and her three sisters were lucky to escape with only cuts and bruises as the blast almost destroyed the house. It was the first time this young woman had spoken about her experience outside her family.

Her account is available as a teaching aid and has been used with success in schools in other parts of the country.
As one Wellingborough teacher remarked,  As a ‘hook’ this short series of lessons worked very well. The insights gained into the emotional and psychological impact of living in Northern Ireland have never been achieved before (by us anyway!) using text books, which do not (cannot?) go there.

Cross-curricular co-operation
Students are enjoying the approach even more now that the English dimension is being extended to include novels of 'the troubles', such as Cal, and that links with Art and Music are being developed through the exploration of political songs and the 'art of the troubles'.
Preparing the ground at Key Stage 3                                                                                   Please click here for resources.
To meet student reproaches about Ireland being thrust upon them and to pave the way for the GCSE coursework, the schools devised an Irish pathway through the Key Stage 3 History curriculum.

The pathway highlighted turning points in the history of Ireland and Anglo-Irish relations by addressing the following key questions in Years 7, 8 and 9 respectively:

How complete was the Norman Conquest of Ireland - and Scotland and Wales?
Was the United Kingdom made or forced, 1500-1800?
How united was the United Kingdom, as illustrated by the Irish Famine and events of 1916 (the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme)?