How much Irish history do your pupils learn?

Lise Hand the Times columnist recently described a visit to see the film Michael Collins with her well-educated and well-known friend.

During the scene where the Black and Tans open fire on the crowd in Croke Park on what became known as Bloody Sunday, he whispered: “This bit’s made up, yeah?” I assured him that it was historically correct, yet several times as the story unfolded he asked if these events had actually happened.

Afterwards they went for a pint to continue the history lesson. Her friend was genuinely puzzled. Surely, he reasoned, he would’ve been taught about those characters and that massacre when he was at school? 

How much sense can your pupils make of all this Brexit debate without any grounding in Irish history? As someone who grew up in Londonderry during the Troubles, I am acutely conscious of the need to ensure that the pupils I have taught had a deep understanding, from both the British and the Republican point of view.

When a rookie head of department in Plymouth in the early 80s I locked horns with Alan Clarke MP who was the then Defence Secretary. He was deeply concerned that I was teaching such a controversial topic in a naval town and was rightly worried about partiality. My solution was to write my own material and then have them vetted by two university history departments north and south of the border. It was a bruising experience but one I never regretted. And it silenced Alan Clarke!





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