Junior cycle history: students consider the past from different perspectives

Teaching the Civul War in the history classroom

The rationale for the Junior Cycle history specification outlines how understanding the actions of people in the past and how we come to know about these actions helps students to develop positive values about history, including “a respect for truth and evidence, a commitment to being open to seeing the past from different perspectives and a regard for the integrity of the past”.

While studying the Civil War necessitates that Junior Cycle history students consider contentious or controversial issues in history from more than one perspective and discuss the historical roots of a contentious or controversial issue or theme in the contemporary world (Learning Outcome 1.2), it can also help develop a sense of historical empathy by viewing people, issues and events in their historical context (Learning Outcome 1.1).

In his overview of the period for this publication, Diarmaid Ferriter observes that “part of the challenge of this year’s centenary is to open the conversation about 1922 to confront the silences”. The articles in this supplement offer Junior Cycle history teachers a variety of sources with which to engage their students and open that conversation, while fostering the skills of the historian as students develop historical consciousness, work with a range of evidence, and acquire a ‘big picture’ of the past.

The ‘big picture’ of Irish history

As our Junior Cycle students develop as young historians, it is important that they recognise key changes in the history of our nation by applying historical thinking to their exploration of people, culture, and ideas. This can often be facilitated through asking key questions of the past. An alternative to this enquiry-focused approach is exemplified in the article by Anne Dolan and William Murphy, where they examine the legacy of Michael Collins through a retrospective overview of his career as they consider the question as to how Collins's decisions might have affected Irish history had he survived.


Colum Kenny's exploration of the legacy of Arthur Griffith includes testimony from those close to him, and gives details of his life that may be less familiar to students who choose to focus on Griffith's career as they investigate the role and significance of two leaders involved in the parliamentary tradition in Irish politics (Learning Outcome 2.2).

But it is not solely the heavyweights of Irish history that Junior Cycle students will encounter over their three years of engagement with the history specification. The experience of the ordinary citizen is also key. Lindsey Earner-Byrne's analysis of the status of women in the new State contains valuable insights on how the experience of women in Irish society changed during the 20th century (Learning Outcome 2.9), and on the historical significance of Christianity on the island of Ireland (Learning Outcome 2.6), noting, as she does, that for the Catholic Church "the most alarming thing to happen in a century that had scarified millions of souls to conflict and flu, was the liberation of women".

The experience of those living in the six counties is also crucial, and Marie Coleman's examination of sectarian killings in Northern Ireland in 1922 contains a wealth of evidence to support students as they explore how the physical force tradition impacted on Irish politics (Learning Outcome 2.3), examine the rise and impact of nationalism and unionism in Ireland (Learning Outcome 2.4), and identify the causes, course and consequences of the Northern Ireland Troubles and their impact on North-South and Anglo-Irish relations (Learning Outcome 2.5).

Through engaging with multiple perspectives from the range of sources in this supplement, students will be able to demonstrate awareness of the significance of the history of Ireland and of Europe and the wider world across various dimensions, including political, social, economic, religious, cultural and scientific dimensions (Learning Outcome 1.11), thus acquiring the 'big picture' of Irish history.

Classroom-based assessments

The written records contained here can be used as exemplars of quality historical writing for students engaging with Classroom Based Assessment 2 – A Life in Time. An additional benefit that this supplement brings to the Junior Cycle history classroom is the range of information on lesser-known personalities and events from across the country, many of which could inspire students to conduct further research for Classroom Based Assessment 1 – The Past in my Place. Not only will this allow students to make connections between local, personal or family history and wider national and/or international personalities, issues and events (Learning Outcome 2.11), but it will also address the need, identified by Ferriter, for our young historians “to appreciate and understand the depth of conviction that drove people in Ireland in 1922, but also how, for many, the idealism became so cruelly compromised”.

Angela Hanratty is an adviser on the history team at Junior Cycle for Teachers. For further information on Junior Cycle gistory, visit www.jct.ie/history.