Meath Peace Group Public Talks
No. 40 – “Teaching our Shared History”
Monday,12th February 2001
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Dr. Michael Farry (Historian, Teacher, ICT Advisor at Education Centre, Navan)
John Lowry (Workers Party)
Dr. Kenneth Milne (Former Head of Church of Ireland College of Education; Chairman, Irish Society for Archives)
Ruairi Quinn, T.D. (Leader of the Labour Party)
David Robertson (Teacher of History, Wilson’s Hospital School
Former Head of History, Portora Royal School, Enniskillen)
Introduction – David Robertson
Questions and comments (summary only)
Appendix: Draft Leaving Certificate History Syllabus John Dredge, Education Officer, N.C.C.A.
Biographical notes on speakers
©Meath Peace Group 2001
“TEACHING OUR SHARED HISTORY”
David Robertson (Teacher of History at Wilson’s Hospital School):
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and thank you very much indeed for inviting me to chair this meeting [introduces speakers – see biographical notes at end of report]
The subject of tonight’s talk is “Teaching our Shared History”, and with Ruairi Quinn’s permission I will quote from Bertie Ahern as I start. Launching the Dunbrodie – thereplica Famine ship in New Ross yesterday – he said: “As a country with a sometimes bitter experience of emigration it seems very important that we remember the hardships and prejudices we faced in the past while we promote equality and tolerance and reject racism and prejudice wherever we find it”.
“The subject of tonight’s talk is very much on that theme. Teaching is a noble profession – those who engage in it have a privileged life, to cultivate, to nurture young minds, to bring them on, is indeed a privilege, and hopefully at times a joy. History is a part of Ireland, and you’re listening to one who believes that it should indeed be a part of our curriculum. It has been said that a penalty of forgetting our past is being condemned to repeat it. Ladies and gentlemen, what I hope our speakers will address tonight is the question as to whether in our schools, North and South, we are doing justice to our shared history, that we are teaching our shared history, and if we are leading our children together in partnership and integration into the future…
Our first speaker tonight is Dr. Michael Farry.
1. Dr. Michael Farry (historian, primary teacher, ICT Advisor at the Education Centre, Navan). “First of all, I’d like to begin by thanking the Meath Peace Group for the invitation to speak here tonight.
“My interest in the teaching of history in Irish primary schools comes from my being a primary teacher and a historian. I intend firstly to offer a few general thoughts on history and teaching, then I will briefly look at the way history has been taught in Irish primary schools since the foundation of the state and finally deal with some of the issues which arise from that overview.
Problem of history: “What is history? The simple answer is that it is the study of the past. There the simplicity ends. History is based on evidence from the past and the interpretation of that evidence. The lack of evidence, sometimes even the vast amount of evidence, the variety of the sources, the difficulty in comprehending the evidence and the difficulty in assimilating the evidence all lead to what we could call the problem of history. The interpretation then is often of necessity based on partial evidence. History written in the past is often superseded by more modern examinations not necessarily because of any fault or bias on the part of the historian but purely because more sources have become available.
Science of history: “It is true that a historian’s preconceptions can and often do colour his/her historical writings. Many indeed would doubt that there can be such a thing as a politically neutral history of any country. Can there be a kind of scientific, objective, value-free examination of the past of any country not to mind Ireland? Paul Bew, the Northern historian says: “I am tempted by the idea that there is such a thing as the science of history. A scientific history book does not settle a question for all time but opens up debates and initiates new discussions. That is actually the way science evolves”. What he is saying is that history does not provide us with definitive answers, rather it provides us with a mechanism with which we can continually interrogate and reinterpret the past.
Revisionism: “In recent times there has been a general re-examination of the history of the relationship between Britain and Ireland – our shared history – especially in the early part of the twentieth century. This is called revisionism by some who dislike the questioning of well-established and comfortable beliefs and myths – this is in the main no more that the continual examination of the past in the light of the availability of new evidence. The work of writers such as David Fitzpatrick, Peter Hart, Eunan O’Halpin, Tom Garvin has given us new insights into the history of those times. My own work on the civil war, I hope, has shed some new light on that episode and challenged some long held beliefs.
History as myth – Civil War period. “A Dublin historian has stated: “History cannot be ignored and so we choose either to respect it as a source of explanation or exploit it as a source of ammunition”. Exploiting history as a source of ammunition is not confined to Ireland. It has always been common among political and military leaders and is usually concerned with justifying current actions. Myths are created, usually based on half-truths, half-remembered truths or fully remembered untruths. These myths are then used to further current political aims.
“During my own research for my book on the Civil War in Sligo [The Aftermath of Revolution: Sligo 1921-23] I was struck by how quickly such myths can be created. During the Truce period the IRA in Sligo sought to gain the upper hand in the county over what they termed “mere politicians” even though those politicians were Sinn Feiners and were on the same side. The IRA propaganda asserted that they had defeated the might of the British during the War of Independence. It is probable that the “politicians” in the county and indeed in the country as a whole had done more than the IRA military actions to undermine the British control of the country, but these “politicians” were sidelined as the newly emerged IRA took control. Then when the Treaty was signed the anti-Treaty people could take refuge in the myth that the British had been defeated, the Republic had been established and that the Treaty therefore was to be opposed.
Interestingly the IRA were not the only myth makers. At a meeting in favour of the Treaty the Protestants of Sligo heard one of their own leading industrialists and politicians praise the way they had been treated during the War of Independence in Co. Sligo and say that no Protestant had been killed during that war in Co. Sligo. This was not true. A seventy-year-old Protestant process server had been murdered in North Sligo. The Protestants of course were mindful of their precarious position in the new Ireland and it was in their interests not to remember unpleasant and uncomfortable truths.
Teaching of history in primary schools: “Given that history deals with complex situations and real people with all that entails, you can imagine the difficulty at Primary level in school when one is dealing with children of twelve years of age or under. They watch programmes with cardboard characters, black and white, good and bad can easily be identified. Children are also used to quick-fire computer games where good and evil are clearly delineated. History deals with real people, real situations. It takes a lot of understanding to empathise with historical characters rather than decide who is bad and who is good and start rooting for the “good” like your favourite soccer team.
Post Independence Primary History. “In the decades after the establishing of the Irish Free State the education system was seen as an instrument for the achievement of a Gaelic society. The First National Programme for Primary Schools was adopted by the Government in April 1922 and issued to primary schools. The role of history was to foster a sense of national identity, pride and self-respect. This was to be done by demonstrating that the Irish race had fulfilled a great mission in the advancement of civilisation. The state had been founded in bloodshed and civil strife and many, within the state and without, did not recognise its legitimacy. History was to be used to legitimising the state.
“In fifth and sixth classes there was to be an outline chronological treatment of Irish history from the earliest times to the Treaty of 1921. In 1926 it was recommended that “the period after the Act of Union was to be seen as the story of the Irish people struggling on several fronts – political, religious, linguistic and economic – and eventually coming into its heritage with the establishment of native government”.
“This view of Irish history was biased against seeing the value or possibility of peaceful change through political action. It emphasised the centuries long struggle against England and described a succession of uprisings against British rule even if some of these were small and unimportant. British rule was always seen as anti-Irish. This supposed attitude of the English towards Ireland was used as an excuse for the backward state of the country. There was little social history and no emphasis on local history.
“The style of the textbooks which were produced to implement this curriculum was factual, presenting history as a series of condensed truths. Events had their causes, course and outcomes. One thing led to another in a logical progression which imposed a rational framework on what was in reality often a glorious amalgam of chaos.
“As an aside I should say that it is very easy for us, at the beginning of the twenty first century to feel smugly superior and criticise these attempts at myth-making. It is easy for an historian to understand how the new state, insecure and precarious with internal and external enemies felt a need to invent its own mythology. What are our current myths? When future generations of historians look back at us what will they see?
1971 Primary Curriculum: “In 1971 a new primary curriculum was introduced and this represented a significant landmark in Irish education advocating as it did a child-centred philosophy of education.
“The History Aims and Approaches in the Teachers’ Handbook of 1971 signalled a number of key shifts in Department of Education’s thinking on history teaching in primary schools:
It noted that those in senior classes “are not sufficiently mature to benefit fully from an extensive History course treated in a strict chronological manner.”
“The child should benefit as much from the processes of exploration and discovery as from the actual information derived through these processes.
It stressed local history and social history.
“Care should also be taken that in the presentation of facts there is no distortion or suppression of any truth which might seem to hurt national pride” and “It should represent fairly the contribution of all creeds and classes to the evolution of modern Ireland.”
“These aims, worthy as they were, were never fully realised, partly because of a failure to provide any realistic in-service for teachers in the implementation of the new curriculum and partly because the class textbooks remained the main source of history teaching.
“The textbooks which were produced as a result of the new curriculum showed some improvements on previous series: more illustrations, more pupils’ activities, a greater emphasis on social history, a toning down of the treatment of some of the more confrontational episodes in Irish history, a greater emphasis on the non-violent Irish political tradition – Parnell & O’Connell for instance got greater prominence and there was also some emphasis on the contributions of outside influences on Irish history like the Vikings and the Normans. Books for middle classes showed a shift towards more non-Irish history and some social history but in the books for senior classes the emphasis was still on post 1800 politics and battles.
1980 Revised Guidelines: “In 1980 the Department issued revised guidelines to History textbook publishers recognising that this was one way of having the aims and objectives of the curriculum furthered. These guidelines stressed the use of the thematic rather than the chronological approach. They also stressed, as the Curriculum had not, the use of source material and the use of the methodology of the historian. The text books produced in response to the new guidelines were different. They contained much more source material and were of a broader scope. They stressed different and conflicting points of views, they included local, national and international history and they were freed from providing a cause and effect study of Irish history. It is very noticeable in the textbooks produced in the early 1980s that these changes did take place.
“But these books were not uniformly welcomed by teachers. Some publishers later, particularly in the early nineties, produced history workbooks which contained factual narratives on topics followed by a series of questions involving recall of factual information. These were produced, the publishers claimed, in response to a demand from teachers. Typically these would contain, especially for fifth and sixth classes, a chronological treatment of the history of Ireland from the Act of Union until the Treaty, or sometimes until the declaration of the Republic.
The place of History in the New Primary Curriculum.
“There is at present a new primary curriculum being introduced.The history document states that “An important aim of this programme is that children will acquire a balanced understanding of family, local, national and international history”. It goes on to say that: “At times history has concentrated on political developments and the lives of “famous people”, often “famous men”. Some elements of political history have a place in the historical education of older primary pupils, but this curriculum places an emphasis on the study of the “everyday lives” of what may be termed “ordinary people”. “The curriculum provides for the development of a growing range of historical skills and concepts as children study the lives of people in the past.”
Importance of evidence: “The new curriculum stresses the importance of evidence: “By realising that the evidence of the past may be interpreted in a number of ways, children will come to appreciate that historical judgements are always provisional – a bad choice of words, I would suggest – and may have to change in the light of new evidence”.
“The sixth class curriculum is laid out now in seven strands:
Early People and Ancient Societies
Life, Society, Work and Culture in the Past
Eras of change and Conflict
Politics, Conflict and Society
Continuity and change over time.
One or two of the suggested strand units to be taken each year.
Skills and concepts to be developed in 5th and 6th classes:
Time and chronology.
Change and continuity.
Cause and effect.
Synthesis and communication.
“A strict adherence to a chronological treatment of strand units should be avoided”. The approach of the new curriculum is to be welcomed. However there are some potential pitfalls.
Continuing education for teachers: “This curriculum is to be implemented by teachers who are not trained historians and whose knowledge and experience of history may be limited. They will also have to implement all the other subjects of the curriculum. Relevant and continuing in-service education is vital for these teachers.
Proper materials must be provided for the teaching of history. An exercise in a textbook which reads: Do a study of a local workhouse, or Do a project on living conditions during famine times in Ireland may sound very exciting but without access to suitable material it will prove impossible to undertake.
Local studies: “Thankfully more and more local studies have been published and these can be a valuable resource for the teacher. Just recently I note that local histories dealing with Kiltale and Kilcloone, Co. Meath have been published. Local historical journals are important in this respect also and I note that the current issue of Ríocht na Mídhe [Journal of the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society] is being launched tomorrow evening.
Internet: “With the use of the Internet it should be possible to make available many more collections of primary documents which can be easily accessed by teachers and pupils. Use of the Internet also means that historical research undertaken by pupils can be available on school websites, and can be available to others. This can provide a different point of view on an historical event or movement.
Different points of view: “The presentation of different points of view is important and should be used to give a balanced view of events. This also helps to open the pupils’ minds to the possibility of disagreement about historical events. Such disagreement is not new and is not necessarily destructive. We are not trying to arrive at a commonly agreed sanitised version of our shared history. Rather we are trying to open the debate up to seeing points of view and re-examining commonly held views. We are trying to challenge bias and received points of view about Irish history.
Warnings: “However a warning here. Presenting points of view must not be allowed to become mere caricature. The reality is that there are a whole range of opinions, corresponding to the range of participants, on each historical event. Take the War of Independence for example. To allude to an “Irish point of view” and an “English or British point of view” would be a serious distortion of the reality. There were a whole range of views -those of the Northern Unionists and Southern Unionists for instance as well as British politicians of different parties.
“Another warning: any attempt to use history as a tool to forward narrow political or social goals however worthy must be frowned upon because it is in itself not a worthy aim. What teachers and historians seek is the truth not cosy half-truths that appeal to our present needs. Teachers will look with alarm on another attempt to create the ideal state or society by education or rather by schooling. We have had campaigns such as anti-smoking, anti-drugs, anti-litter, anti-fatty eating, and anti-laziness, thrown at primary schools with arguably little result.
Primary education: North-South and East-West contacts. “It should also be pointed out that experiencing our common present is important in dealing with our common past. As a result of membership of the European Union and programmes such as the Socrates programme contacts between member countries have increased enormously. Our pupils (and teachers) in Trim (where I taught until recently) have met teachers from Denmark, Norway, France, Portugal, Germany, Nepal, Britain and have had exchanges with pupils from Portugal, England and Denmark. As part of a Socrates programme one of our classes together with a class from an English school developed a peace project. Each class separately and together discussed the England/Ireland problem and wrote poems as a result of the process. Impressive peace ceremonies were held in each school. The ceremony in Trim was attended by the Taoiseach of the time, Mr. Bruton and the British Ambassador. A book of peace poems written by the pupils was published. There are also North-South contacts working in a similar way. Some schools in north Meath are involved in the Warrington project and have developed contacts with schools in Warrington and in Northern Ireland.
Unconscious ignorance: “In the end of course what we are trying to achieve in history teaching is not the amassing and retention of a vast amount of historical information. We are all ignorant to a greater or lesser degree as regards history. Do you want me to ask you the questions at the end of this sixth class history book? There are however two kinds of ignorance as regards history. If we are consciously ignorant we realise the extent of our lack of knowledge and we are prepared to learn. The dangerous ignorance is the unconscious ignorance where people think they know the ultimate truths about history. It is I believe this unconscious ignorance which has done so much damage in these countries and it is this unconscious ignorance which education must seek to change into conscious ignorance. Thank you.”
Chair (David Robertson): “Thank you very much indeed, Dr. Farry, for that trenchant introduction and analysis of teaching in the primary curriculum…. Our second speaker tonight is John Lowry. When I see the words “former teacher” introducing someone, I am not sure whether I am envious of this status, or this is a tribute to the tribulations which he underwent years ago?
2). John Lowry (former teacher; member of the Workers Party, Belfast): “Thank you. It’s been quite a few years since I taught in a school, although as the chairperson alluded to, I don’t think that once you’ve been a teacher that it ever leaves you – you always think in a certain way, I suppose.
Political impact of teaching of history: “But my comments tonight are not so much related to the academic aspects of the teaching of history but more to do with the political impact that the teaching of history does have within our schools and more generally within society Because, as Dr. Farry alluded to, …the problem of history is one which surfaces all the time at political meetings, and meetings of groups like this, people who are concerned about peace and reconciliation, and particularly at this time, since the time of the Good Friday Agreement when we are looking to build a new future, we wonder is it possible to build that future at all, or do the myths of the past continuously come back to haunt us and impede and hold back the process of reconciliation and the establishment of a peaceful future?
Perpetuation of myths: “There can be little doubt that for many people history is not so much a study of the past, an attempt to analyse and understand the past, an attempt to look at the past so that we don’t make the mistakes of the past, but all too often, particularly in Northern Ireland, but also throughout the whole country – perhaps not so strongly now in this part of the country, but certainly strongly in Northern Ireland – the past is all too often used to justify the present. And the entrenched – in my view – tribal and sectarian political positions which were adopted both on the extreme nationalist side and on the extreme unionist side in Northern Ireland, all too often those positions are given a veneer of legitimacy and validity by referring to the past. I think Dr. Farry mentioned that in place of the study of history far too often we have the perpetuation of myths. And I think it is that which does great damage to the search for reconciliation at the present.
“Dr. Farry was also absolutely correct when he said that from the foundation of this State the teaching of history was directed in a particular way – in order to justify and vindicate the dominant Gaelic nationalist ethos of that time. And it wasn’t just to give justification to that particular political perspective, but also very damagingly it excluded any other viewpoint or any other contribution which people have made, or groups of people within our society had made at that particular historical time. Therefore it was a very exclusive process which again continues to perpetuate the myths, or at the very least to exclude other people.
Can we teach our shared history? “I think certainly it would be almost impossible to have an agreed version of history, even to look from the most benign perspective, even coming from a perspective where one is not seeking in a damaging way to create a history to justify some extreme political position of the present. I think it is perfectly legitimate and true that very many historians of very high academic standing do not agree about particular events – and that shows the complexity of history at the same time.
Inclusiveness: “Therefore when we ask the question about a shared history, I think we have to appreciate that there is no one single version of history which is acceptable to us all. I don’t think we should fear that. I think the real problem we must overcome is to ensure that other viewpoints – other possible interpretations of history – are not excluded. That is probably the challenge for the school curriculum and that is the challenge facing government as it implements its policy in relation to the school curriculum – to ensure that no other viewpoint – no other possible interpretation – is excluded, that we don’t have an exclusive and very one-dimensional approach to history
“So therefore I think that we have to end this mythology, we have to end the history of the victor and we have to ensure that the history curriculum is inclusive. I think that that is very important at this point in time as we go forward in the search for reconciliation and the building of a new future.
Change of direction needed: “Dr Farry mentioned various initiatives towards the end of his contribution, such as the Warrington Project, the project at Trim, and so on. If we are to build on those sorts of developments, that requires a massive and mammoth change of direction from us all. And I just wonder, particularly over the last year or so, the difficulties which we have for example in relation to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the almost political paralysis we are experiencing at the moment in Northern Ireland are not unrelated to these things we are discussing. Because, at the time of the Good Friday Agreement and certainly during our deliberations in Dublin Castle at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, we did look in many ways at, for example, the obstacles to peace and reconciliation in the Republic, probably some of the things that are alluded to in this report Peacebuilding in the Republic.[Irish Peace and Reconciliation Platform, 2001]. I think there was a very honest and open appraisal of our past and the mistakes which nationalist Ireland had made towards the unionist community, and the mistakes which were made between North and South, and an acceptance that partition, for example, couldn’t be reduced to a very simplistic notion of British evil intent towards the country – that there were real social, political and economic bases to all of these things.
“And central to all that was an understanding that there was more to Irishness than simply an “Ireland united Gaelic and free”. I think that was what Dr. Farry alluded to as well in his opening comments – that there was a very one-dimensional approach to our understanding of our past and the perpetuation of that over many years – that a new direction had to be undertaken. Therefore things like the Warrington Project and the Trim project were good but unfortunately they remain the exceptions and they are not the accepted norm.
New understanding and openness: “So when I think about teaching our shared history, it demands a leap of faith, it demands an acceptance of a new understanding of what we mean by Irishness, of what we mean by our own identity, and how we understand the course of Irish history. And unless we have that sort of openness, unless we have that sort of acceptance that there are other viewpoints, I don’t think we are ever going to progress on the teaching of our shared history. From that point of view the prospects of achieving any sort of success in this area must be very dim indeed. Because, as Dr. Farry said, we need to move away from the “unconscious ignorance”, and that is really the biggest obstacle we have towards the question of our shared history of teaching.
“At the very least what we must strive for is an inclusive curriculum, one that includes other viewpoints and interpretations. But how can we ever hope to achieve that without the leap of faith I am talking about, when, from my own experiences, as someone who trained in a Catholic teacher training college in Belfast, never mind the prospects for a shared teaching in the schools, we had little or no contact with the State Protestant teacher training college at Stranmillis. In fact there was an almost hostility, if the truth were told, between the two institutions. And any attempts to create any sort of integration, any co-operation even on a limited basis, even on an academic basis, was certainly not encouraged. And opportunities which existed there for co-operation on a common history curriculum were certainly discouraged. That is an indication of the serious task which confronts us.
Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU): “There have been some small but significant advances within Northern Ireland on this front, I have to say. The Department of Education in Northern Ireland did introduce a scheme known as “Education for Mutual Understanding” where schools across the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland were encouraged to develop relationships on a school to school basis. Whereas that has had some limited success – it has very much focussed more on personal relationships between the children and between the schools, rather than any attempt to come to a common understanding of the past, or a common approach to the teaching of history, or even an agreement that certain topics could be co-operated on on a collaborative basis. Because the curriculum in the State schools and the curriculum in the maintained Catholic schools in the North are very exclusive indeed.
No acceptable agreed version of history: “The difficulty which confronts us is that what has passed for history in recent years has merely been the perpetuation of myths – has all too often been used as a means to justify the present. I think we also have to accept that there is no acceptable agreed version of history. It can be tempting, at gatherings like this, and it has happened at political meetings that I have attended, that we look and say, right, “the problem is history – if we could crack this nut we would have it all solved, and we would be well on our way to a better future”.
“We can perhaps be well on our way to a better future, but I don’t think we should build up our hopes so high to thinking that it is just a problem of the versions of history. We must accept that there is no agreed version of history – that differing interpretations of history are very valid. I think the objective for us must be to ensure that no interpretation or viewpoint is excluded from the curriculum, which has happened and which has led to the very damaging effects which we are now experiencing and which present themselves now as difficulties to reconciliation.
Building on the positive: “I think if we look for the positive – the positive is that we do live in a world that is growing increasingly smaller, we do have more experience now, more contact through the European Union, there is a growing awareness that our sense of Irishness and identity is broader than the very narrow understandings that we have had in the past. It is in that direction we must look – we must look to build upon that. And I think the manner in which we can have a shared teaching of our history is only when we make the political leap of faith ourselves – begin with ourselves and recognise that our understandings of the past have been erroneous, that they have been used to perpetuate myths, and once we accept that I think we may be well on our way to turning history around from being a thing which has kept us all prisoners of the past to something which can open up better understanding and relationships between the different sections of our communities. Thank you”
Chair (David Robertson): “Thank you very much indeed, John Lowry. Our opening two speakers I think are agreed on much of what should be done in the teaching of history – that it should be de-mythologised, that the past must not be used to justify the present. I’m sure we would all agree with that. But I would like to suggest from the Chair to our two remaining speakers that there might be a credibility gap between aspiration and implementation. For example, if I were to plonk down on the table a Junior Certificate history book widely used throughout the Irish Republic today, there are yawning gaps in it, appalling yawning gaps. For example we have a huge series of chapters in it on the part of Irish history which goes from 1890 to 1923, but left out in the middle completely, except for three lines – three lines are devoted to the 200, 000 soldiers from Ireland who went to fight in the Great War, of whom 35,000 lost their lives. They get three lines. There are yawning gaps. There is a great gap between what we hope we are teaching and what we are teaching. May I suggest secondly to our remaining speakers – are we training our teachers properly? Even if we had a magnificent text book would the teachers actually be teaching it in the way in which the first two speakers have asked them to do so?
“I am a pragmatist – I looked at the last year’s Leaving Certificate History papers both at Ordinary level and at Honours level: it would be perfectly possible for a candidate to gain a grade A1 in that paper without having to make a single reference whatever to any minority tradition within the Republic of Ireland or even to the existence of unionism anywhere in Ireland at any time. in Irish history.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I call upon Dr. Kenneth Milne to address you
3). Dr. Kenneth Milne (former head of Church of Ireland College of Education, and Chairman of the Irish Society for Archives)
“Mr. Chairman, anyone who has been involved however marginally with attempting to promote reconciliation on this island is only too well aware of the difficulties it presents. You can’t just say to people “be reconciled” – there’s much more to it than that. And similarly, if you look at the teaching of history in schools, at whatever level, and seek to promote “empathy” – a word now employed in connection with new approaches to teaching history – well, empathy isn’t something that grows on trees. Developing it is easier said than done.
History teaching North and South: “Whatever the difficulties of implementing new approaches to the teaching of history, there is a welcomechange in the environment in which the schools are working. As we’ve heard, in the early years of this State, history was taught at primary level in order to convince children of the value of the Gaelic tradition. The teaching of history was a handmaid to the teaching of the Irish language and other attempts to make Ireland not only free but Gaelic, through the schools. …. Whereas in Northern Ireland, in the early years of that State, history was expected to pinpoint the contribution made by Northern Ireland to the development of the British Empire.
“There was a difference, however, between how things operated north and south. In the maintained, largely Catholic, system in the North, history continued to be taught as it had traditionally been with Ireland at the centre, whereas in the State schools it was in fact the imperial tradition that got attention. In the South, while there were not two systems as in the North, the State, while making few concessions to the minority where the language itself was concerned, was sensitive to the fact that Protestant schools might wish to have their own textbooks (approved by the Department), and the General Synod of the Church of Ireland stepped into the breach by commissioning a two-volume History of Ireland by a Miss Casserley, a Dublin secondary teacher of impeccable Church of Ireland credentials while also very Irish in her sympathies. …. So it was that Church of Ireland children in the South became acquainted, at least in outline, with the history of their country. Large numbers of people of the Unionist tradition in Northern Ireland have been taught very little Irish history. This, it seems to me, puts them at a distinct disadvantage and can also mean that when faced with tendentious interpretations of the Irish past, they are ill-equipped to confront them.History used to promote patriotism: “So in both parts of the island, history was used to promote patriotism. And this was not a unique Irish weakness at all. At the time you had a Boys’ Own Paper attitude to British history in England and you had continental countries where the moral purpose of history-teaching was interpreted as the inculcation of a certain kind of nationalistic patriotism. Indeed history was seen as little more than propaganda in the totalitarian states then emerging in Europe.
New environment: “Today we work in a different environment. In the North you have Education for Mutual Understanding – though there are elements in the community there who are less than enthusiastic about that part of the curriculum. In the Republic you have an emphasis on the part that an understanding of history can play in cultivating “empathy”. This was made clear by the Government in the White Paper which preceded the Education Act of 1998, and can be seen in the proposals for new first and second level history courses.
Revisionism: “Of course, with talk of new approaches, comes the spectre of “revisionism” that alarms some people, who fear that the historical baby is being thrown out with the bathwater. Indeed the very word “revisionist” is frequently used in a pejorative sense. And perhaps some revisionists have trailed their coats. But it has to be faced that there are newly discovered facts, there are new interpretations, and there are new insights, all of which must be brought to bear on the teaching of history, if, like other subjects, it is to be a developing one. We do, however, have to guard against one particular danger. We have to take care not to use what we would like to regard as our more enlightened attitudes in the same political sense that we criticise past generations for adopting.
Prejudice: “Those who question the moral purpose of teaching history, as in fact now we do, wonder can you possibly be objective? And I don’t think you can. I was taught by one of the greatest revisionists and Irish historians, T.W. Moody, who himself was a disciple of a great Belfast historian, Todd. In fact the new history in Ireland came from Belfast, came from Queen’s. And people like Moody would say to us: “there will be bias, and there will be colour, what you don’t want is prejudice” and prejudice is where you distort things. But bias is a legitimate thing, it may sound very unfashionable to say so but in fact it is.
Empathy: “Which brings me back to that word “empathy”. Attempting to enable pupils to see situations from other points of view, not just their own. In this, we are very often trying to reconcile folk memories, which all of us have. And if anyone in the 26 counties thinks that we don’t have folk memories that at times are tinged with sectarianism then they haven’t been actually listening and watching the society they live in. So therefore there is in fact a complicated task ahead of us in that we are trying to shift our perception and this is very different from the world I grew up in. Like most Dublin youngsters I went to the local fleapit on Saturday afternoons, to see the serial that was on, and we cheered for the cowboys and we booed for the Indians, but I was taught at school that the people who took your land were the baddies, and those who lost their land were the goodies, but we never seemed to see it that way. Nor I think in the teaching of European history have Irish schools shown any particular empathy with the Incas and people like that.
Developing the skills of the historian: “So we have a long way to go … but I really do believe that youngsters today are inclined to be more critical than my generation was, and this is something history can help to develop. It’s not a question I think, altogether, of letting them see two points of view – that will emerge.
You are trying to help children to develop the skills of the historian .. to show them what the evidence is for something and then to help them to draw conclusions from it. Those are the skills. In other words, what we’re trying to do is make them critical, and that is the important thing. Critical young minds: “You often hear it said that the ancienregime in Northern Ireland was destroyed because the minority were educated, and there’s a lot of truth in that – People’s Democracy and all that kind of movement. People don’t seem also to understand that the ancien regime here is being undermined by education. A lot of the criticism in society that we have today is because young people are being educated to a very high level… this is one of the wonderful things about our education as it is developing: that there are very critical young minds who wouldn’t stand for the kind of things that we had to stand for when we were growing up: the idea that you couldn’t have jazz on Radio Eireann – just try something like that! And I can think of things more sensitive than that…..
Empathy: understanding the past: “… The Siege of Derry evokes a response in some circles, whereas the Siege of Limerick does not. And vice versa. If only we can get both perspectives to see what was at stake in each case. Not so easy to archive, where the communities of our own day may still see themselves as at risk in a continuum of the dangers and pressures under which their ancestors of past centuries lived. Which is why we just can’t draw a line under the past and forget it. It is critical to our self-understanding today.”
There has been a great deal of talk in recent years about apologising for the past – I honestly don’t see the point of it. .. But what is important is to understand the past, to understand why people see you the way they see you.
Teaching: Sometimes I wonder whether, in one respect at least, we are falling into the same mistake that we attribute to our forebears: expecting the school to remedy all the ills of society. Teaching history along the lines that is recommended today calls for skills. The text-books may be fine, but how do you teach the kind of skills that are talked about so much nowadays? Which is why teachers need so much support of one kind or another in doing all this. I think there is a recognition of this in official circles, and at primary level the introduction of the new school curriculum is receiving a great deal of thought and practical help, much more than ever happened in the past.
Coming to terms with our history: “The Church of Ireland, to which I belong, has had to do a great deal of heart searching – not before time – in recent years, brought to a head by the Drumcree situation, where at the moment there is in fact a group working to examine to what extent the church accommodates sectarianism. Some hard things have already been said and have to be said. I grew up believing – not really believing, but being told – that my own church had indeed a raw deal in history, whereas down the road, in the Christian Brothers school, people were being told rather differently. The problem is that other people perceive us, and we perceive others in different ways – why is that so? Because that is what determines their attitude towards us. I think just as in recent decades my own church has had to have a good hard look at itself, I think it has come to terms with its history, in a way it never did before … I think it might be just as useful if Irish nationalism did the same exercise of looking into its heart, because the whole point of the Belfast Agreement is to do away with exclusivity. Thank you.”
Chair (David Robertson): “Thank you very much indeed, Dr. Milne. I hope you will forgive me, ladies and gentlemen, if I treat you to a minor anecdote before calling upon our last speaker. As Dr Milne has said, one of the tasks of the teacher is to make certain that both points of view are presented so that the pupil can make up his or her own mind on the issue, based upon the evidence rather than through indoctrination. “Having taught on both sides of the border, about 15 years on each side, I find myself North of the border obliged quite trenchantly to a nationalist viewpoint, to get it across, and vice versa. So when I was in the North, teaching in Enniskillen, I founded a society which included all the schools in Enniskillen, and we met four times a year, and like this we invited guest speakers. That was from 1968-1983 – I’m glad to say it continued after I left. And we had any number of speakers. But I started off quite deliberately by inviting to Enniskillen speakers from south of the border. This led a member of the Board of Governors to complain at a meeting that I was trying to seduce the pupils of Portora into the perils of republicanism! The speaker in question whom I had invited was Dr. Conor Cruise O’Brien!
“Three years ago, when I was trying to teach the period of Irish history known as the Home Rule crisis, I was trying to explain a unionist perspective and I was getting absolutely nowhere. So I launched into a Carson-type oratory, and I beat the air with my fists, and I thumped the table as hard as I could. And all the time I was being watched by a boy in the front row, very closely. His eyes began to narrow, he fixed me with a steely gaze, then he half-rose out of his seat, looking me straight – eyeball to eyeball – and he said “Mr Robertson, are you a unionist?” I felt at that time, ladies and gentlemen, that the wheel had come full circle! When all is over and forgotten, the people of course who can be blamed for our predicament are the politicians. Who better then to answer for the politicians but Ruairi Quinn, leader of the Labour Party…who, I’m sure you will have noticed, was described recently in a quite objective article by his present deputy as the man “best suited to become Taoiseach”
4). Ruairi Quinn. T.D. (Leader of the Labour Party): “Thank you very much, and thanks for the invitation to be with you. We have had three excellent speakers and I hope I can maintain the standard. I want to speak briefly to allow some time for debate and discussion, so please treat my comments not as being simplistic if they are delivered fairly quickly or in a shortened version…
Prejudices: “First let us declare our own prejudices. I believe as a politician from the left, that history should be taught, and that education should be delivered in a particular way – not just to reveal facts as such but also to instil values. I don’t believe that education should be necessarily neutral in that particular sense. So I’m coming with a healthy set of prejudices, hopefully not bigotry, but certainly prejudices.
Unlearning some of our prejudices: “I’ve had to unlearn some of the prejudices that I received. For example – as I said to the Friendly Sons of St Patrick in Washington some years ago at a great big gala dinner – that St Patrick wasn’t an Irishman, that in fact he didn’t even come here voluntarily. He came as a slave, captured by Celtic raiders who abused him for quite some time before he escaped, and that it was only through his own vocation that he came back as a missionary. This was absolute heresy! As far as the Americans were concerned, St Patrick was the quintessential Irishman, and yet they knew the truth of my story once it was told.
Growing up in a house where my father had to leave Northern Ireland in 1939, having got 24 hours notice to get out otherwise he would have been interned (having fought previously in the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War), I grew up being told that my father’s brother, my uncle John, a hero in our house, was killed by the British. Until slowly, talking to different members of the family, coming of age in the precocious age that you are around 12 or 13, when you’re beginning to tread on the edge of adulthood, hearing my father answer my younger brother’s question, “how did Uncle John die?” My father said the same thing – “he was killed by the British”. I said “daddy that’s not really true” – he was actually shot in the Civil War by an Irish person on the Free State side, and he died of neglect in a hospital from wounds, and my father looked at me with annoyance and said “well it’s the same thing, they started it”.
Colonial tradition: “Another myth that we have to re-examine, and I’m very delighted that somebody referred to it earlier on, this myth that we have in the context of politics, in the context of neutrality, and in the context of our relationship with the Third World – that as a neutral state we have no colonial past. The Irish were willing and enthusiastic builders of the empire, both North and South. Indeed one could very well argue, from a western perspective, that this very building [St. Columban’s College] is a component of the ideological colonial tradition of western Europe in the sense of maintaining a form of missionary activity. We have had missionary orders who in some cases were part and parcel of the colonial administration, and in other cases, we have had certainly on the lay side many many people who didn’t just fight in the British Army per se, but who actively participated in the administration in India and in Africa. The idea that we have no colonial past is simply not true and I think it has to be put in the context of how it happened. The fact that we changed with independence in 1922 are things that need to be recognised.
Concerns about teaching of history: “There are two aspects of the teaching of history that concern me. We’ve had a lot tonight about the teaching of the history of the nation, the national history, and various versions of national history and political development and struggle. While Dr. Farry’s excellent paper talked about the requirements in modern curricula to broaden out the subject matter of teaching history to socio-economic components, I have the impression that the dominant history still is one of the national struggle, and the political struggle. There is no teaching of the history of the Irish working class in our society – it doesn’t exist in any real sense. There is no sense that 1913 was as important if not more important than 1916, from the point of view of where we are today. The absolute reluctance that people have about passing a picket, in the year 2001, to this very day… the strength of conviction that informs that cultural phenomenon goes right back to the strike of 1913 – one of the first seminal all-out strikes in terms of solidarity with other workers.
“There is nowhere in my experience, and this is a prejudice coming from the leader of the Labour Party, there is no attempted Marxist socio-economic analysis as to why Ireland was the way it was… There has always been substantial wealth in this country. The myth was perpetrated certainly on my generation going to school, that we had no natural resources, and that we had no real wealth in the country – we’ve far more wealth now than we had before, but the idea that we had no wealth and that we were a sort of classless society was a total myth.
Official ruralism: “You can go to virtually any county in this country and you will find a rural history museum, you’ll find places showing how rural Ireland was. We have in our National Museum devoted a considerable amount of resources to the folk tradition of Ireland. That is what I have described elsewhere as the official ruralism that dominated the culture of Ireland after 1922 – W.B. Yeats, the Nobel Prizewinner, who in his celebrated poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, inspired from looking in a window in the middle of London, wrote a poem which was a great hymn to ruralism and to the rural idea. On the other hand you had James Joyce who wrote Ulysses – an ode to cosmopolitan urban living, capturing one day in 1904, the 16th June, in a relatively tiny city – less than 350,000 at the time – the full richness of cosmopolitan urban life was contained in the book of Ulysses. Yet the official ruralism that dominated the 1920s, and led to such things as trying to keep all the family farms on the land, and all of that, excluded with it the history of working-class exploitation and the working-class struggle in this country. I don’t think you can properly understand our history today unless that is put right.
“One of the things I hope to see in the Collins Barracks Museum is a proper exposition of the history of urban Ireland.and the history of working-class struggle, because it simply cannot be found anywhere. In many other countries in Europe you can find histories of the working-class and their particular struggle. It is no less or no more valid than any of the other struggles in our collective history but it simply hasn’t been told, because for too many generations it was denied.
East-West: “I want to turn briefly to another point that I wish to make – that is dealing with the Celtic/Rangers phenomenon which I suppose is topical given the events that have taken place over the last weekend. There is in the context of the Good Friday Agreement not just a necessity on a North/South basis to understand each other’s histories, but on an east-west basis as well.
“One of the most interesting revisionist pieces of history that I have read recently is Norman Davis’ book A History of the Isles. For those of you who may not be familiar with it, it basically takes the conventional traditional history that we have of Britain and Ireland – and it is written as much for a British audience as for an Irish audience – and reconstitutes and relocates a lot of facts and puts them and presents them in a slightly different way. Certainly if you were a Euro-sceptic Conservative supporter of William Hague, you would be horrified to learn that the vernacular language – the mother tongue – of King James was in fact French, and that when he became the first King James of England (having already been King of Scotland) he proposed in 1607 a Union of Scotland and England, and he actually went so far as to design the flag. And it was called the Union Jack, because he signed his name Jacques. He never spoke English with any degree of fluency, and his successors spoke German. So when Hugh Gaitskell and William Hague and John Major talked about defending a 1,000 years of British history, they’re speaking absolute bunkum. It only existed for about 200 years!
“Now just as the British part of these islands has to understand that history in the context of the facts as they are, I believe that there is a great opportunity and a great necessity for the five administrations on these islands, North and South, and the three administrations in Britain – Scotland, Wales and Westminster – to start to create a range of history books, and history texts, and history teaching aids that will remove the experience we have had whereby my history is a series of victories, and the victories are, if you turn them around, a history of your defeats, and vice versa. And that history has to be taught not in a narrow nationalistic sense, but also I believe from a socio-economic point of view. In some of the more extreme comments made during the 150th anniversary of the Famine, there was a perception – and this is certainly running right through the pages of Tim Pat Coogan’s book Wherever Green was Worn – that in some way or other the Famine was an act of conscious genocide perpetrated by the English on the Irish. It simply was not, and we know that from our own knowledge. But what happened in the Famine, for narrow liberal economic reasons, the clearances in Scotland was a similar socio-economic experience which has to be understood, but some of the extreme nationalist thinking in Scotland presents the clearances in Scotland.as some kind of nationalist act by the English against the Scots.
“So there is a need to understand one another’s national histories in a complementary way so that we don’t perpetrate the Celtic/Rangers animosity which is undoubtedly there, because our histories are interwoven so inextricably with that of Scotland, England and Wales. I think we need to look at it on a more widespread and collective basis, including the socio-economic factors as well as the nationalistic factors.
Resources for teachers: “The last point I want to make is this. All of those things, that I have said, however desirable they may be – and we could argue about the content and the form – none of them will be realised unless we actually devote considerable resources to helping the teachers to move in this direction. One point Dr Farry made, and I would fully agree with him, is that we are overloading our primary education system and our classroom to try and do an awful lot of things, at a time when we are not giving the sort of resources that the education system needs. So simply proclaiming a new curriculum or calling into being a whole raft of new textbooks, which I would welcome, is of little value unless we actually devote the resources to the teachers themselves. We are not going to achieve the objective we would like to achieve no matter how very desirable it may appear. Thank you very much.”
Chair (David Robertson): “Thank you very much indeed…. Ruairi Quinn spoke particularly about the period of 1913, how inadequately that was treated in our textbooks, and other speakers have mentioned what they feel should be done about the methodology of the teaching of history, and there is clearly much common ground among the four speakers, but I wonder if anyone of us on the platform has perhaps omitted to notice one thing – the baby is rapidly going out with the bath water.
“Our speakers have referred to overloading of the curriculum – indeed it is, schools are now expected to teach everything, absolutely everything. One consequence is that history is not compulsory at junior certificate level, and at Leaving Certificate level it is now a minor subject. Something like 12% of Leaving Certificate students take history. In the North it is compulsory at GCSE level but it is not compulsory beyond that. And as I have indicated to you, in both jurisdictions it would be quite possible for the teacher to go through the two or three-year course without having to make a single reference to minority traditions.
I now propose to open up the matter to questions from the floor.
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (Summaries only)
Q.1. John Keaveney [Kilbride teacher]: Whether history teaching was responsible for attitudes during the civil rights movement and the violence afterwards: “When the civil rights movement changed into the violence of the 1970s did our history teaching not almost prepare for that? I think it was inevitable given the history teaching taught in the forties, fifties and sixties. It was very hard for a young male republican educated Irishman not to get involved in violence… Would the panel think of teaching peace studies as a means of unifying history – a method of getting away from a one-sided history?
Q. 2. [Navan teacher]: Re declining importance of history in schools: “The problem in schools is that the amount of time being dedicated to the teaching of history is too short. Up to Junior Cert, there are only three classes per week, each one lasting for 35-40 minutes, and the course is extremely long, the books are very inaccurate. How do we reconcile the importance of the whole topic of teaching history, understanding our past and preparing for our future, and trying to bring about reconciliation, in relation to this downplay of the subject by the education system?
Q.3 Re teaching of Irish language: “What is the panel’s view of the fact that the Irish state spends £350 million a year on teaching the Irish language, essentially to placate a certain branch of the southern Irish establishment?”
Re Leaving Cert examination: “if you take Irish history for the Leaving Certificate, you are expected to write 5 essays in a two-hour period. How can you expect to teach anybody anything at all if they are expected to reproduce it all in a two-hour exam?”
Chair – David Robertson: “Just a point of information here, I’m sure you are all aware that the present Leaving Certificate history course is in its death throes and will be examined for the last time in 2002. We are awaiting with bated breath the new syllabus which will involve documents to study and research [Editor’s note: see draft syllabus reproduced in Appendix of this report].
Q. 4. Role of cultural institutions: “Just a question in relation to an exhibition running at the Ulster Museum, looking at identity…. Are the panel aware of this exhibition? And what role do our cultural institutions have in the teaching of our shared history?”
Replies to questions 1-4:
Dr. Michael Farry: Re: Q. 1 – “When you look at the way the history of the War of Independence in Ireland is treated, in that you have the 1918 election, you have the beginnings of, if you like, peaceful resistance, and then on the very day that the Dail meets you have Dan Breen and his men killing a couple of policemen for some sticks of gelignite in Co. Tipperary, and from that the received wisdom is that the violence spread, and that it was the violence that eventually forced the British to the table. Now I would contend with that. If you examine what actually happened during the War of Independence – for example, the activities of the Dail Local Government Department which took over almost completely from the British Local Government Department, and caused enormous difficulties for the British in collecting taxes, rates and all that kind of thing, that probably impacted a lot more than the killing of those policemen. But the received wisdom was that a peaceful resistance to Britain changed into a violent resistance which was successful in bringing them to the table and getting, as people would say, the limited amount of self-government, and so on. So I think that many people would say the very same happened in the North of Ireland, in that a peaceful civil rights movement inevitably, they would say, turned into violence. Now to say that history teaching made this inevitable is probably going a little bit too far, but certainly could be justified on those grounds … what people had learned about the War of Independence. The whole way history was taught, especially in primary schools, was that the resistance to Britain was violent over all those seven centuries of violent reaction against Britain, and in the end it was successful.
Re peace studies – “The questioner mentioned “one-sided history”. That isn’t history – the teaching of history as against one-sided history can only do good.
Re the Irish language: “I think inevitably that money is going to be reduced. Without doubt it has failed. Without doubt teachers have felt and have felt for quite a long time that unrealistic expectations have been put on them from the foundation of the State, and from the beginning of this policy of restoring the Irish language originally, and then the policy of bilingualism, that too much reliance reliance was placed on schools. We in primary schools in particular have seen so many different programmes brought in, we’ve been brought to in-service days, we’ve been told “this is the way we’re going to teach Irish, this is the way we’re going to be successful”. And of course it isn’t successful, and it doesn’t matter what method you use, the method is not the point. At the moment it is impossible. Having said that, if you look at surveys – and you know how important surveys are in politics, as a certain Meath man found out quite recently – you see that quite a number of Irish people are still vaguely in favour of the restoration of the Irish language, and the teaching of Irish. It doesn’t impinge on them, it does on teachers and on pupils but not on them.”
Dr. Kenneth Milne: Re history teaching and events in N. Ireland – “There was a recognition in this State that the way in which 1916 was marked in 1966 was perhaps conducive to a certain amount of “glorification” of violence. People would take from that point in time the growing questioning among educationalists as to how we taught Irish history. I have to say at the same time that Northern Ireland at that time was a society very ripe for reform. When unionists – and I know many of them – at the time would say “What is wrong with our society? There’s no need for reform”. And then there came a whole string of reforms, and a whole string of reports, the Cameron Report, this, that and the other. So that I think it was almost inevitable that things would break out into something more than passive resistance. But to blame the violent people for the violence is of itself not the complete picture.
Decline in teaching of history: “I lament as much as anybody the decline in the teaching of history especially at a time when the quality of what is available is so high, and I hope the new Leaving Certificate course will prove that to be the case. But what can you do?
Irish language: “It’s yourselves, it’s public opinion – it is a democracy. I was head of a College of Education. I know better than most people here the part that Irish plays in the State, the part it doesn’t play in the State. But you have the strange situation that In England and Wales the only compulsory subject in the school curriculum really until they brought in this national curriculum, was religion, and the only compulsory subject here is Irish, and those two subjects haven’t particularly benefited from State support! Parents are partners now in education, and public opinion is nervous… It’s astonishing, but public opinion in England would still say “we rather like religion in the schools” so long as nobody asks them to go to church! And here we say “it’s nice to have Irish so long as you don’t expect us to speak it!” There’s a similarity there.
Cultural institutions: “I think they have made great strides. I think, for example, the City Museum in Waterford is a most marvellously balanced account of medieval and early modern Ireland… Monaghan, which is a tremendous local museum, had a very elaborate exhibition on the Orange Order a couple of years ago. So there is a lot happening. And it’s interesting that cultural institutions tend to be in the hands of younger people. Major political decisions very often are made by older people who haven’t had the benefit of modern approaches to the teaching of history!”
Ruairi Quinn. T.D. Re drift into violence: “I don’t think that the drift into violence was inevitable from the civil rights – I think it was provoked. There is clear evidence of repressive actions taken by the R.U.C. – you’ve seen the famous Derry riots….the attacks on the People’s Democracy march… But the response to violence and its justification, I certainly wouldn’t have gone along with. I hold to Seamus Mallon’s view that the Good Friday Agreement is really Sunningdale for slow learners. The position that people have arrived at after that long period is not a million miles away from Sunningdale. It’s a much more sophisticated and integrated agreement but the components are there, it’s about power-sharing and reconciliation… I don’t think that you can say that the teaching of our history as such inevitably gave way to the violence that we saw.
Decline in importance of teaching of history: “I am concerned about the time in school for teaching of history. I personally see a great interface between peace studies, civic society, preparing people to be citizens, and the teaching of history, in the context of the European Union and in the context of these islands…. But I think we neglect at our peril civic formation in our society if we are simply producing graduates for the labour market at the behest of the IDA, or the IT firms who love our education system because it produces people they can employ very readily. The teaching of history is central to our education system.
Irish language: “The Irish language is a serious problem. I think there is a certain “emperor has no clothes” issue about this. If you have read the book by Declan Kiberd called Inventing Ireland – and he writes from the perspective of the Gaeilgeoir – he effectively asserts that the Irish didn’t lose their language, or it wasn’t taken from them by the British, as in the old myth. His assertion is that the Irish consciously gave up speaking Irish. And aren’t we very lucky that we did? We would be like the Finns, or the Estonians, or the Hungarians today, if we were speaking Gaelic, in terms of our relative position economically. In Brian Friel’s play Translations there is that scene where the young girl needs to learn English to go across to America, because Irish would be no use to her there.
English-speaking as economic asset: “One of the main factors for our economic position today, and you’ll never see it cited in any government history or government explanation … but one of the main reasons why we have so much American investment here is because we speak English. It is a major economic asset, and it is not properly recognised.
Time spent teaching Irish in schools: “I think the time factor spent on speaking Irish, particularly in primary schools, is going to have to be reviewed. It requires courage politically to query it, or maybe to replace the teaching of Irish with an Irish cultural component – including things that young people are really interested in. But certainly the cost of it and the opportunity cost that it represents – we are the only country in Europe that doesn’t require the teaching of a foreign language in primary schools. The Spanish Ambassador has told me that he has been trying to engage the Irish Dept. of Education in the teaching of Spanish in primary schools. They have a massive programme in terms of support, finance and so on. Some 30 million people in the United States have Spanish as their primary language. It’s significant that George Bush speaks Spanish, coming from Texas. After Chinese, Spanish is a much more widely spoken language than French for example…
Re cultural institutions: “I think they can do far more to present history, and to present our identity ….. There has been a wonderful increase due to the Structural Funds that we receive from the European Commission, with local interpretative centres, and historical and cultural places that exist – a network of such facilities that simply would have been inconceivable twenty or twenty five years ago…
John Lowry: Re: question 1 – drift into violence: “I found the question about the civil rights movement and the inevitability of violence a very interesting one, and a very pertinent one, to the sort of discussions we are having here tonight. Because that is perhaps one of the most misunderstood periods of our most recent Irish history. The reality is that the civil rights movement was not a republican movement, it was not a nationalist movement for the re-unification of the country, it was actually composed of liberal unionists, the tiny Communist Party that existed in Northern Ireland, it was generally a reformist campaign for very limited democratisation of the Northern Ireland state. It actually achieved a great deal – and I would agree with Ruairi. When you look at the achievements of the civil rights movement they are enormous, compared to what we have today. The B Specials were disbanded, the R.U.C. were disarmed, there was a total reorganisation of local government which had been the primary source of discrimination particularly in the allocation of housing. We had the formation of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive .. which has done tremendous work over the past twenty five years, improving housing standards in Northern Ireland. We had the introduction of one-man one-vote, we had the introduction of proportional representation for elections. We had enormous achievements. What set all of that back was the campaign of violence by paramilitaries. And it wasn’t directed at Britain, it wasn’t directed against the British Army, because there were very few British troops even there. In many respects it wasn’t even directed against the R.U.C. If you take Bloody Friday, in 1972, when nine car bombs went off killing numerous people throughout the city of Belfast – they were in bus stations, they were in public houses, they were all over the place. So it’s one of the most misunderstood periods of Irish history.
“There is a small relevance to this here for the current situation, in terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Danny Morrison himself, for example, is on public record as admitting that the Provisional movement is actually a phenomenon of 1969 – the vast majority of them were never in the republican movement. I think this is one of the reasons why Gerry Adams at the moment has been successful in carrying much of the Sinn Fein movement with him, in Northern Ireland, around his ideological U-turns on things like abstentionism for example, taking part in the Stormont Assembly. Because what motivates most Sinn Fein people in Northern Ireland is not a lofty sense of 1798 republicanism but a naked sectarianism, an anti-Protestantism, an anti-Unionism, and I think that this is the reason why that has happened. I don’t think the teaching of history made that inevitable at all.
Re peace studies: “I think we could benefit from peace studies, from civic studies, as a means of improving our situation. Ruairi is quite correct in that.
Reduction in time available for history teaching: “That is connected with the very worrying reduction in the time available for the teaching of history. Because no matter how critical we might be about the teaching of history, I think that history is something we should value and encourage in our schools. It is about ultimately producing good citizens, and raising the level of citizenship within our society, North and South. Probably one of the reasons why subjects like history are being relegated within the school timetable is this crude economic view that we simply produce robots to take part in the manufacturing or the IT technology.. That is a very narrow blinkered view of our society. It is one that leads to a crude individualism, a level of greed and disrespect for others in society which we can relate to many of the social problems which we have. There was a major study recently which revealed that among all the young people going through university.. that survey found that for many of those young people their simple concerns were getting the exams done and getting out and getting jobs. Very few of them ever read books, or had any concern about what was going on in society. And I think that is directly related to the worrying trends and the reduction of time given to history teaching. History has to be encouraged as does the study of civic studies and others.
Irish language: “If the present system is failing, then another system ought to be looked at. I think the Irish language is still a worthy cause to hang on to. I wouldn’t have a fetish about it. I’m not saying that we try to turn the whole country into an Irish language speaking country in a set period of time. But I think that educationally it would be wrong to abandon the Irish language wholesale, and if the present methods are not being successful in at least maintaining the level of the language that we have, than we should really look at other methods.
Cultural institutions: “I haven’t been to the exhibition at the Ulster Museum. It is the latest in a whole series of exhibitions which have been going on at the Ulster Museum in particular which have not received the sort of attention they deserve. If we had more such activity from places like that it would do a lot to improve the sort of things we have been talking about here tonight.”
Chair (David Robertson): “May I just add one comment – I’m looking forward to seeing the exhibition in the Ulster Museum at half-term… but perhaps there should be more interchange of exhibitions. The one at the Ulster Museum ideally should come down to the museum at Collins Barracks, and I don’t know how many people here have been to the Somme Heritage Museum between Newtownards and Bangor which is a wonderful tribute to Irishmen from the four provinces of Ireland who served in the Great War. These are gems in our history and they should be shared…
Q. 5 [Duleek resident]. Re name of State: “There are two Irelands – the geographic Ireland, which in the context of these islands is called “Great Britain and Ireland” … and the political Ireland, which is known as the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” and “Ireland” There is an entity known as “Ireland” which has an international boundary with N. Ireland, an international boundary with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That is a fact that most people seem to miss… Mr. Chairman you made a slight mistake yourself – you referred to Ireland as the “Irish Republic” – that is repugnant to the people of this country. This is not the Irish Republic, this is Ireland … I find it very unfortunate that people from London …always refer to it as the “Irish Republic”, and people from N. Ireland refer to it as “Eire”, which is simply the Gaelic word for the whole island. On the other side you have Gerry Adams referring to N. Ireland as the “Six Counties”, and RTE referring to N. Ireland as “the North”…. When someone refers to my country as other than its proper name I assume they are speaking from ignorance, and I’m not offended. But when someone refers to it by these terms deliberately to be offensive, then I am offended. And I expect our friends in N. Ireland, when they hear Northern Ireland referred to as the “Six Counties” or as “The North” presumably have the same attitude. …
Q. 6. Re working-class history: “As someone who is not a nationalist and someone who is not a unionist, but a socialist, I would just like to ask: the people who draw up our history, do they purposely omit the working class struggle, particularly in Ireland?
Q. 7. [Drogheda primary school teacher] “I found much of what I heard tonight to be very aspirational – developing empathy, understanding and respecting different traditions, working towards inclusivity, looking to teach pupils the skills of the historian, developing skills to interpret evidence, the emphasis on process, ensuring that history is not used to justify the present. I just wonder if there are any suggestions by way of a practical sense as to how teachers can be taught, for example, changing the way they teach history … or that monies would be put into teaching teachers to teach history in the new way… Also my ability to empathise was tested when I heard the earlier speaker refer to the Irish language in such pejorative terms. There was a Romanian priest in our house last week who spoke 10 languages. I felt the mere 3 languages in our household were a reflection on our education system. …
Q. 8. [Navan resident] Re Irish identity : Irish identity has been seen in terms of victimisation – how does the panel think we should redefine our Irishness in terms of the new Irish within our country at the moment? I’m looking at the many nationalities who have decided to come into this country .. our immigrants, and in particular one section of the community that has never heard of their history, which has resulted in much prejudice and contempt – the travelling community. As someone who works with travellers, there is a lot of ignorance being thrown around, a lot of arrogance, that feeds into the whole prejudice of society…..
Replies to questions 5-8:
John Lowry: Re describing the State: “In relation to the first question, in terms of how people describe the country and parts of the country, it’s very hard to separate that out from the political question because in many respects the choice of language, the description which people apply when they’re speaking about the country, very often reflects a particular political position. And therefore, for example, very many nationalists refuse to use the term “Northern Ireland”, because, quite frankly, they don’t recognise the legitimacy of Northern Ireland..
Questioner – “What about the Belfast Agreement?”
John Lowry: “This is one of the challenges.. ..some people are only now realising the implications of the Belfast Agreement. I think Ruairi was right when he said it was a more sophisticated agreement than Sunningdale. But, yes, the principle of consent implicitly within the Belfast Agreement means there is an acceptance of two states within the island of Ireland. We may have agreed a mechanism whereby that situation may change, but the reality is that the Belfast Agreement has recognised the legitimacy of the two states on the island of Ireland. The use of the term “the North of Ireland” is an even more erroneous one…. at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, Neil Blaney took great exceptions to the use of the word “the North of Ireland” because he said “I know you are not talking about me in Donegal!” … The “six Counties” is another terms loaded with political baggage, so it’s very hard to separate out.
Re history of working-class: “… yes, as Ruairi has said, the established historians, the dominant ethos has omitted the role of the working-class, but indeed also the role of working-class organisations and working-class people even in the struggle for independence, has been written out. I’ve seen at very many meetings … strong nationalists, who would describe themselves as republicans, singing the praises of James Connolly, and if someone told them afterwards that he was a Marxist, they almost had a heart attack…
Re discussion being too aspirational: “that’s a fair criticism, but we have to recognise what the problem is, before we can change it. But I think, in fairness, Dr Farry and others did also make the point that no matter how good our textbooks were … a lot depends on the teachers themselves, and that’s not a reflection on teachers….
“What we do require is a revolution in the universities and the teacher training colleges, and a recognition there at the outset that the thinking behind this whole new approach to the teaching of history is firmly rooted within the teacher training colleges and the universities themselves and with that a degree of in-service training for teachers.
Re changing sense of Irish identity: “this was something implicit in the thinking behind the Belfast Agreement as well, and certainly it came out at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. There is a recognition now that Irishness is not the old nationalist “Ireland united Gaelic and free” – that there are hugely different aspects of our Irishness, for all sorts of reasons.
“I think the working through of that has not yet happened, but there is a slow but growing recognition that implications of that both socially and politically are enormous. Like the omission of the working-class, the treatment of the Travelling Community is also an example of how we can turn the other eye. We like to have this romantic notion of Irish people to be very wholesome and without prejudice, but in fact … the growth of racism within the country as well is an alarming development and should alert us to the fact that we do carry a lot of baggage ourselves and that within ourselves as a nation there is a lot of prejudice, a lot of racism, a lot of bias, that we are not one homogenous happy family….
Ruairi Quinn: Re descriptions of the State: “Since the Good Friday Agreement, and even before that, the political reality has changed. I certainly describe myself as someone coming from the Republic of Ireland – I use the phrase “Republic of Ireland”. I also use “Northern Ireland”.. I’m conscious that words like the “Free State” and “the Six Counties” are intended to be pejorative. There is a problem also for the British… there is frequently a lack of clarity. A lot of people confuse Englishness with Britishness. I certainly think that following the Good Friday Agreement and the ending of the national question – the national question has been resolved as far as I’m concerned, in the sense that the Good Friday Agreement accepts the position as it is, but, no more than any other generation, we can’t lock the future and prevent change and evolution, but we have set down the basis as to what way that change can take place, and it will take place on a non-violent and democratic basis. So I consciously describe myself as someone coming from the Republic of Ireland
Questioner: “Would you recognise that the word “Ireland” is the word recognised by the EU and the UN?
Ruairi Quinn: “I accept that that is the case, and I accept in the context of telling people where I am from, I am rather proud of the fact that it is a Republic, and I like the word “republic”. It also clarifies what part of Ireland you come from…..
Re working class struggle: “any of you who saw the “Seven Ages” programme on RTE – it was an excellent programme … but the entire labour movement was written out of it entirely. Stalin couldn’t have done a better job in terms of revisionism! It just didn’t exist. … It wasn’t that Sean O Mordha was as such biased – he was reflecting the history as he understood it himself… But it is a considerable problem..
Re Irish language: “Whatever about people’s attitudes to the Irish language, for or against, we would have to say after seventy years the policy of teaching it as a second language has not been successful, and I think has to be looked at… It simply is not achieving the objectives which were set for it. It’s probably the most spectacular failure in our education system going back over 70 years, in terms of what was set out to be achieved and what is actually there. If it was any other policy in our society it would come under great scrutiny, but there’s a certain sense of the sacred cow about it, you simply cannot ask questions without being immediately accused of not being properly Irish, or not being nationalistic… I say this as someone who has a particular gra for the Irish language.. and see it as an integral part of a multicultural Ireland, but certainly we have to look at how it is being taught at the present time….And for those people who refer to the multiplicity of gaelscoileanna – there are quite a number of them around the country – the reasons for that are quite different. The pupil/teacher ratios in gaelscoileanna are much more favourable in many cases, not all but certainly in the urban areas in my experience …. and secondly, the parents perceive the teachers to be far more enthusiastic and far more committed than primary teachers in the main schools… That may not be a pleasant thing to say, I’m simply recounting the perception of parents…
Re changing our identity: “I think this country’s identity is rapidly changing. I regard myself as a European of Irish nationality. If we have … 350,000 extra people coming to this country, half of whom will be returning Irish people, the other half coming from many different parts of Europe and from outside, then that change is going to occur. And we do have problems of racism – we’re no better or no worse than anybody else, it’s just that we never had to deal with this ourselves. But when you look at the Irish in America for example, and the Irish-Americans… I’ve done a test recently, a humorous sort of test. If you ask an Irish-American who you would regard as the most famous Irish-American singer or actor, or comedy actor, you get names like Bing Crosby etc., and you say “what about Ella Fitzgerald?” They say, “she’s black, she’s not Irish”. Or Eddie Murphy the black actor – there is no such thing as a black Irish-American! … So I think we have to learn from other European countries and not repeat their mistakes… but it’s going to change in a world that’s changing anyway because of globalisation, and because of modern communications.”
Dr. Kenneth Milne: Re descriptions of the State: “I get mad when I hear people talk about the “Eire Government” – the Belfast Newsletter used to be very strong on that … but you have to admit it’s what we have on our stamps, and our coins, and you couldn’t really blame a foreigner .. The Constitution is a little bit ambiguous about the word Eire actually. Mr. Quinn mentioned how Yeats had represented a certain class maybe, and in another way so did Joyce. Could I put in a word for O’Casey? I was told once that O’Casey immortalised the plain people of Dublin, so somebody has done them justice.
Re aspirational nature of discussion: “Certainly everything we said was aspirational…. I recognise this. That is why I was hesitant in many of the things I said. But the programme of induction for the new curriculum, which is going to be a very slow business as teachers know only too well – I think it will be trying to see how do you translate these aspirations into classroom practice, and there will be meetings and there will be opportunities. We heard earlier how the 1971 curriculum really failed – it was totally aspirational, and there was no work for teachers in it. But it is very much hoped that this new curriculum will receive adequate support in that sense.
Re identity: “the best thing we can do is to enable people who wish to be both Irish and British to be that. We have been very exclusive, we made it very difficult. I know members of my own family living in the North who when I was very young called themselves Irish but who wouldn’t dream of it now. We made Irish consonant with a particular kind of Irishness… but there are people who, like the Welsh and the Scottish, want to be British as well. … Nobody suspects all this subversion that there is in that Agreement!”
Dr. Michael Farry: Re descriptions of the State: “… Today in my work, something went wrong with a computer, and I rang a support line which happened to be at Harrogate in England, and when I was giving my address, I said “Ireland” and he said “which part of Ireland, is that Southern Ireland?” So I said the “Republic of Ireland” – that is how I would usually call my country when dealing with people from outside.
Re socialism and the working-class: “James Connolly is obviously a good example. Another good example would be Michael Davitt, where detailed discussion of his life is given up to the time of the Land War, but after that he is completely forgotten, his great involvement with the Labour Party in Ireland and of course in Britain is completely forgotten. One of the reasons obviously is because the great biography of him by Moody also ends around the same time. Another reason is of course this whole business of “Labour must wait” during the War of Independence – Labour were asked, if you like, to hold on until we get independence and then in this wonderful ideal Ireland which will rise from the ashes, labour and the working-class will get everything it’s owed. So that’s another reason. I hope my book on the Civil War laid to rest one false myth and that is the myth that the working-class supported the republicans during the Civil War, this has been one of the myths going around. I did very detailed study on Co. Sligo, the working class and the poorer parts of the county. I went through, say, people who joined the Free State Army, people who were interned on the other side, to see if one of them came from the lower socio-economic groups, and they did not. In fact if anything it was the other way around. The Free State Army was composed of more lower socio-economic status people and those who were interned contained more from the middle and upper socio-economic status people. That I hope lays to rest that myth.
Ruairi Quinn: “Including Countess Markievicz”
Dr. Farry: “Right. And I think one of the problems is that over the years the republican movement has tried to drag in the labour movement, and to say our aims are the same, when obviously they were not.”
Re criticism that discussion aspirational: “I wonder. When I went to school,l the Battle of Clontarf and the Vikings – they were all the nasties. That great poem about Brian Boru “standing out for Erin’s glory”… that is all changed. I came across a textbook recently which was published about 20 years ago which dealt with the Vikings in a very different way. It gives extracts from manuscripts …Irish and French manuscripts saying much the same thing, describing the rape and pillage of course. It also gave extracts from sagas from the Viking lands which painted a completely different picture of the Vikings. And it said “well, why would they say this, why would they say that?” It didn’t say “make up your mind, you have to decide on one side or the other”. The thing is that different people have different perspectives. And of course Vikings are safely a long time ago, but the same thing could be done about the Treaty, about the War of Independence, the Troubles in the North. You can look at more sides than one, and it’s a matter of being able to provide those source materials – extracts from writings, extracts from speeches and so on……….
Re our own identity: “it’s a myth that there is an Irish identity – it always was a myth. It arose from the rise of the nation-states, whenever they arose, the French Revolution, that time – you had to make people believe they belonged to France, instead of, say, belonging to Brittany. I have a friend, he’s a Breton, he belongs to Brittany, he doesn’t belong to France – Normandy, Brittany belong to France but in a sense it is not a real identity. And the same with Ireland. In the past it was more homogenous … and it’s changing now with people coming in from abroad, but even in the past there was never a single Irish identity. This is a myth, and history, the history that I spoke about, the history that was being taught post 1922 helped to try to make the ideal person, you know, the farmer who spoke Irish, dances at the crossroads and so on. There was also this terrible thing about the national costumes – that always made me feel very very strange. The Spanish National Costume – Irish National Costume – I have never seen anyone dressed in Irish national costume except at Irish dancing, so in a sense history, and especially the more modern way of looking at history, should explore all that.
There are many many Irish identities, and it’s not just working-class, there’s feminism, and even within republicanism, within the history of women in Ireland, there are all different strands. There are many different strands even within the working-class – rural working-class and urban working-class. There’s a myriad of different identities all coming together. In a sense it doesn’t make an Irish identity. You’ll probably find that a rural worker in Ireland may have more in common with a rural worker in England, and so on. That’s what shared history is about – the history of Ireland is the shared history of all those different strands.”
Chair (David Robertson): “Ladies and gentlemen, before I close the meeting, I thought you might like to end on an optimistic note with an insight into the new Leaving Certificate history syllabus. Just two sentences from it which I think sum up the best of what our speakers have said tonight. “History should provide our children with an insight into other ways of life and into other ways of thinking and it should enable our students to make their own judgments based upon the evidence which they have studied.”
Closing words and thanks: Rev. Canon John Clarke, Rector of Navan: “On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, it is my great pleasure and privilege to thank the Chairman and our speakers this evening, for their wonderful presentations which have been most open and frank as well as enlightening. … As one who would claim that anyone who has any sense of spirituality is a theologian, I expect anyone with any sense of history is a historian as well, but due to the complexity of this evening I obviously feel I should stick with being a theologian! But it’s been a great evening and thank you very much indeed… “. [Rev. Clarke also thanked the audience for coming, especially those who travelled long distances and he thanked the Columban fathers for their generous hospitality.
Meath Peace Group Report, March 2001. Transcribed and edited by Julitta Clancy. Taped by Felicity Cuthbert and Anne Nolan. © Meath Peace Group 2001
Appendix: THE DRAFT LEAVING CERTIFICATE HISTORY SYLLABUS
By John Dredge, Education Officer,National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.Reproduced by kind permission of the N.C.C.A.
“A new Leaving Certificate History syllabus is at the final stages of preparation. It differs in many respects from the current syllabus: there is an introductory module on the nature of history and the work of the historian, a wider range of options is provided (spanning a period of 500 years) and there is a clear focus on evidence-handling and research skills. The preparation of a new syllabus occurs at a critical time for History as a Leaving Certificate subject. The numbers are declining; between junior and senior cycle History loses more students than any other subject. The current syllabus – introduced in 1969 – is widely considered to be instrumental in this. Offering a choice between a course in “Renaissance Civilisation” and one in “Contemporary Civilisation”, the level of specification of content is poor. There is no listing of topics to be covered, merely start and finish dates and a brief description of aspects to be covered. This makes the examination somewhat of a lottery given the extensive range of topics on which examiners may set questions. The examination itself requires prodigious writing skills. At Higher level, candidates are required to write five essay-type answers in three hours. At Ordinary level, the requirements are even more unnerving: candidates are expected to attempt sixteen short-answer questions, four paragraph questions and four short-essay questions, also in the space of three hours. Is it any wonder that the high failure rate at Ordinary level attracted media attention in the summer of 2000?
“The new syllabus is designed to give students a more balanced and coherent experience in the learning of history. Content is carefully defined, a documents-based study is introduced for the first time at this level and all students will engage in a research study to be assessed outside the confines of the terminal examination. In the Higher level examination candidates will answer four questions rather than five; at Ordinary level the examination paper will be greatly simplified and easier to “navigate”. At both levels the pressure to reproduce historical “facts” will be lessened; the new documents-based question and the research study will require a more reflective and considered response.
“The Preface to the new syllabus asserts that history has “a unique potential to develop the student’s skills of critical thinking.” Its underlying principle is “that the study of history should be regarded as an exploration of what historians believe to have happened based on an enquiry into the available evidence.” Note the emphasis on evidence, enquiry, exploration and critical thinking.
The Aims of the syllabus include the following:
To promote understanding of the present through the development of a historical perspective on issues of contemporary importance
To provide students with a perspective of change in a world of change
To develop an awareness of differing interpretations of particular historical issues
To develop the ability to think critically
To develop in students an appreciation of the society in which they live and of other societies, past and present
So a student studying a course based on this syllabus should develop:
a historical perspective which sheds light on issues of the day
a perspective of change which teaches that all human life and human institutions are subject to a process of change
an awareness that past historical events may be interpreted in different ways (and that all interpretation must be built on a solid foundation of evidence)
an ability to look at evidence with a critical eye and an open mind
a critical appreciation of their own and other societies
None of these abilities or perspectives, of course, is developed in a vacuum. The syllabus content through which they are mainly developed includes four topics or thematic modules, each dealing with a well-defined period of Irish history or the history of Europe and the wider world. Two of the four topics relate to Irish history. The following are examples of topics in Irish history:
Reform and Reformation in Tudor Ireland, 1494-1958
The ending of the Irish kingdom and the establishment of the Union, 1770-1815
The pursuit of sovereignty and the impact of partition, 1912-1949
Politics and society in Northern Ireland, 1949-1992
Case studies: “For each topic, there are three Case Studies – in which aspects of the topic are looked at in greater depth. One Case Study relates to political matters, one to society and economy and one to culture and religion. In addressing themes from Irish history, one of the challenges is to reflect the diversity of tradition on the island. Listing the Case Studies for the topics named above may help to illustrate one of the ways in which the syllabus committee has sought to meet this challenge:
The Plantation of Laois / Offaly; Women & marriage under Gaelic law; The Bardic schools; The Wexford Rebellion; The rise of Belfast; Maynooth College; The Treaty negotiations; Belfast during World War II; The Eucharistic Congress, 1932; The Sunningdale Agreement & the power-sharing executive, 1973-1974; the Craigavon & Coleraine University controversies; the Apprentice Boys of Derry
“I hope it is clear from some of the above examples that the committee has not shied away from subject matter that may be deemed controversial or emotive. Indeed, it may fairly be argued that only by addressing such matters can some of the syllabus objectives be realised e.g.
Students should be able to look at a contentious or controversial issue from more than one point of view
Students should learn to evaluate their historical inheritance through the study of history from a variety of perspectives
“In attempting to realise these objectives, the documents-based study is clearly of key importance. The study is designed to develop students’ ability to “think critically by making judgements based on an evaluation of evidence”. Students will encounter different accounts and conflicting interpretations of particular historical events and will learn to assess the strengths and limitations of the sources under scrutiny. Their developing understanding of the nature of evidence will also inform their work on the research study.
“One would hope that a student following a course based on this syllabus would be immune to the worst excesses of propaganda and would display, instead, qualities of self-questioning and tolerance. It is salutary to remember, however, that all of us acquire part of our education in history outside of the classroom and that the subtle propaganda expressing the biases of one’s own affinity group may well be the most difficult to recognise and confront. Yet confront it we must if we are to be true to our calling as teachers and/or learners of history.
“In Denmark, history teachers are encouraged to be frank with their students as to their own political viewpoint or ideology. Is this a sincere acknowledgement that complete objectivity in history-teaching is impossible and that the best pedagogical practice is to put one’s prejudices clearly “on the table” for all to see? Whatever one’s view of such an approach, it does not obviate the need for the commitment to truth-seeking which is the mark of all genuine historical research and historical learning. The use or abuse of history to further a political agenda had many unfortunate manifestations in the history of the 20th century – from jingoistic assertions of imperial grandeur to the totalitarian indoctrination of Stalinist Russia. In eschewing labels such as “nationalistic” or “revisionist”, we need to ensure that our own mind-set does not blind us to uncomfortable or contradictory truths.
“The advice of Michael Stanford[A Companion to the Study of History, Blackwell, 1994 – P. 54 ] is worthy of reflection:
“My advice is to distrust all politicians, publicists and professional educators who attempt to shape your attitude to history. The only people to trust in this respect are those who are concerned with the past rather the present, who have no purpose to which history can be put, and who are motivated only by an open-minded search for the truth, wherever that search may lead and whatever convictions its results may overthrow. Do not, therefore, study history so that you may be more patriotic, nor that you may be a more convinced socialist or conservative, Catholic or Protestant, Muslim or Jew. Do not study it, even, in order to become wiser or more tolerant – though that may well be the result. Study it only because you want to know the truth.”
To which one might be tempted to add the Biblical injunction [St. John, Ch.8, v.32]:
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
“History can help us to learn the truth about our island’s past and to identify our own prejudices in the process. Evidence is the key that can unlock bigotry and certitude and promote tolerance and open-mindedness. While the new history syllabus will play a role in creating a sense of identity and belonging, it will also encourage students to respect evidence and acknowledge the validity of differing interpretations of evidence. In helping to shape the citizen of the future, I believe it will be on the side of peace and reconciliation.
J. Dredge, N.C.C.A. Education Officer 20th February 2001.
DRAFT AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
Knowledge and understanding
To develop knowledge and understanding of human activity in the past.
To promote understanding of the present through the development of a historical perspective on issues of contemporary importance.
To develop knowledge and understanding of Irish, European and world history.
To develop students’ understanding of historical concepts.
To provide students with a perspective of change in a world of change.
Skills of history
To develop an awareness of differing interpretations of particular historical issues. To develop a range of research skills essential for the study of history.
To develop an appreciation of the nature and variety of historical evidence.
Preparation for life and citizenship
To develop the ability to think critically.
To develop positive values associated with the study of history.
To develop in students an appreciation of the society in which they live and of other societies, past and present
To develop in students an informed and critical awareness of their historical inheritance
Subject to further revision
Knowledge and understanding
1. Students should acquire knowledge and develop understanding of
the specific listed elements of the topics studied.
how the actions and experiences of previous generations have helped influence the world of their successors.
how elements of the Irish history topics studied fit into a broader international context. Depending on the topic in question, that context may involve consideration of such aspects as –
the British dimension
the European dimension
the global dimension
the Irish diaspora
human activity in the past from a variety of perspectives. In studying human activity in the past attention should be given to the experiences of women.
The main forms of activity to be studied may be categorised as follows – administrative cultural economic political religious scientific social.
2. Students should develop an understanding of and an ability to apply such concepts as are fundamental to the study and writing of history e.g.
Procedural concepts:Source and evidence; Fact and opinion
Bias and objectivity
Interpretative concepts: Change and continuity; Cause and consequence; Comparison and contrast
Substantive concepts: Power and authority; Conflict and reconciliation Democracy and human rights; Culture and civilisation; Economy and society; Identity and community; Space and time
Skills of history: Students should develop a range of skills associated with the study and writing of history.
1. A recognition of the nature of historical knowledge: Students should learn to recognise that historical knowledge is tentative and incomplete and, accordingly, subject to revision and/or reinterpretation; that historical writing must be based on reliable evidence and that the available evidence may be open to more than one valid interpretation.
2. Research skills Students should learn to
define an appropriate topic for research study
locate historical data from a variety of primary and/or secondary sources
select and record relevant data
present findings in a well-structured, logical format.
3. Evidence handling skills: Students should develop the ability to
recognise different types of historical source materials
extract information from source materials to answer historical questions
evaluate the usefulness of particular sources and their limitations
Preparation for life and citizenship:Through their study of history students should acquire a unique combination of skill and understanding which, while contributing to their personal growth as individuals, help to prepare them for life and work in society.
1. Students should develop the ability to
think critically by making judgements based on an evaluation of evidence.
2. Students should develop positive values associated with the study of history. They should learn to:
be thorough in the collecting and accurate in the recording of information;
be aware of bias and to strive to be objective;
be able to look at a contentious or controversial issue from more than one point of view.
3. Students should learn to evaluate their historical inheritance through the study of history from a variety of perspectives.
[Subject to further revision]
APPENDIX 2: SYLLABUS FRAMEWORK
I Working with evidence
II Topics for study
Early Modern field of study
Later Modern field of study
Subject to further revision
LIST OF SYLLABUS TOPICS
Subject to further revision
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES ON SPEAKERS
Dr. Michael Farry trained as a teacher in St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra and taught at a number of schools in Meath before being appointed ICT advisor at Navan Education Centre. He has published a history of his native parish, Killoran and Coolaney (Co. Sligo), and a study of County Sligo during the 1914-1921 period, A Chronicle of Conflict (1992). He was awarded a Ph.D. in Trinity College, Dublin for his study of Sligo during the Civil War, published as The Aftermath of Revolution: Sligo 1921-23 (2000)
John Lowry – former teacher and a member of the Workers Party for 25 years. When a student at St Joseph’s Teacher Training College, Belfast, he was elected President of the Students’ Union, was active in USI and was also on the executive of the youth wing of the Workers’ Party. He is a former chair of the Belfast and Northern Ireland Regions of the Workers’ Party and has been a party candidate at local, Westminster and European elections. He led his party’s delegation at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation which sat at Dublin Castle from 1994-1996.
Dr. Kenneth Milne is a former principal of the Church of Ireland College of Education, and is currently a member of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment as well as Chairman of the Irish Society for Archives. He wrote NewApproaches to the Teaching of History for the Historical Association (1979) and co-edited with Aine Hyland the 3-volume Irish Educational Documents. He also edited Christ Church Cathedral Dublin: A History (published in 2000).
Ruairi Quinn T.D. – Leader of the Labour Party since Nov. 1997. An architect by profession he served on Dublin City Council from 1974-1977, and was Leader of the Civic Alliance and Labour Group in the Council from 1991-1993. First elected to the Dail in 1982, he was first appointed Minister of State at the Dept. of the Environment, and has served as Minister in various departments since then, including: Labour, Public Service, Enterprise and Employment and Finance. He was Director of Elections for Mary Robinson’s election campaign in 1990, and was Deputy Leader of the Party from 1990-97
David Robertson (chairing the talk): Teacher of History and English at Wilson’s Hospital School, Multyfarnham. Born in Yorkshire and educated at Durham and Oxford universities, he was formerly Head of History at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen and Headmaster of The King’s Hospital School, Dublin. He is author of Deeds Not Words – the story of Irish soldiers, sailors and airmen in two world wars.
©Meath Peace Group 2001