Teaching the Treaty in the Junior Cycle history classroom

This critical year in our island's history will spark discussion and debate in the Junior Cycle history classroom

British  police attacking a farm occupied by Sinn Féin members in Tipperary, frontpage of French newspaper Le petit journal, December 5th, 1920.  Photograph: Leemage/Universal Images Group via Getty

British police attacking a farm occupied by Sinn Féin members in Tipperary, frontpage of French newspaper Le petit journal, December 5th, 1920. Photograph: Leemage/Universal Images Group via Getty

 

The ability to consider contentious or controversial issues in history from more than one perspective, and to discuss the historical roots of a contentious or controversial issue or theme in the contemporary world (Learning Outcome 1.2) is just one of the 38 learning outcomes prescribed in the Junior Cycle history specification.

In his analysis of the events around the Treaty for this publication, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar uses both “contentious” and “controversial”, signifying the potential for this key event in our nation’s history to spark discussion and debate in the Junior Cycle history classroom. As we approach the centenary of the Anglo-Irish Treaty it is important that our young historians have access to a range of sources that will develop their historical consciousness and help them acquire the “big picture” of history, while also fostering the skills of the historian through working with evidence.

Within this supplement, teachers can access a rich repository of historical records that may assist them in supporting students’ engagement with a range of learning outcomes in the Junior Cycle history classroom.

Multi-perspectivity

The multi-perspective approach is reflected in the various articles in this publication. The Tánaiste’s article is juxtaposed with the critique of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, offering history teachers an opportunity to have their students engage with opposing views of a significant historical event.

Indeed, Mr Varadkar’s assertion that “civil war politics really only ended last year when Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil came together in Government” allows students the opportunity to discuss why historical personalities, events and issues are commemorated (Learning Outcome 1.3), while also making connections and comparisons between people, issues and events in different places and historical eras (Learning Outcome 1.11). References within both articles to Éamon de Valera and Michael Collins, as well as the parallels drawn to difficulties negotiating the Belfast Agreement (Ahern) and Brexit (Varadkar) offer many possibilities for students to investigate the role and significance of two leaders involved in the parliamentary tradition in Irish politics (Learning Outcome 2.2).

1921: Truce and Treaty

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An opportunity to develop students’ sense of historical empathy by viewing people, issues and events encountered in their study of the past in their historical context (Learning Outcome 1.1) could be accessed in considering Ahern’s contention that “the time for a Border poll is not opportune until we reach a situation where nationalists and republicans and also a sizeable amount of unionists and loyalists are in favour of such a poll on the basis of consent. That is still some years away”.

This might also link to students’ prior learning in examining the rise and impact of nationalism and unionism in Ireland, including key events between 1911 and 1923 (Learning Outcome 2.4), and their identification of the causes, course and consequences of the Troubles and its impact on North-South and Anglo-Irish relations (Learning Outcome 2.5).

Conor Mulvagh’s examination of the plotting of the partition line is another useful source that will assist teachers in engaging their students with the range of learning outcomes outlined above.

Classroom based assessments

Both Liz Gillis and Leeann Lane focus on the role played by women in the events surrounding the Treaty, choosing a biographical format for their historical records. Not only could the stories of Ellie and Alice Lyons, Kathleen Mc Kenna, Lily O’ Brien and Mary MacSwiney be of help to students in explaining how the experience of women in Irish society changed during the 20th century (Learning Outcome 2.9), but this form of written record could be used as an exemplar for students engaging with Classroom Based Assessment 2: A Life in Time. Indeed, the biographies of these women may also inspire students undertaking Classroom Based Assessment 1: The Past in my Place, supporting them as they make connections between local, personal or family history and wider national and/or international personalities, issues and events (Learning Outcome 2.11).

David McCullagh employs a different style in his writing on de Valera’s refusal to lead the delegation of plenipotentiaries responsible for negotiating the Treaty, beginning his analysis with the question he intends to explore. The enquiry-focused approach is an invaluable strategy in the history classroom, and designing a robust enquiry question to act as a focus for their research is a skill that will assist students in both Classroom Based Assessments and also in their engagement with a wide range of the learning outcomes in the Junior Cycle, not least their development of historical judgements based on evidence about personalities, issues and events in the past, showing awareness of historical significance (Learning Outcome 1.7).

Essentially, these articles can support teachers in fostering the skills of the historian with their students; skills which will serve them well throughout their study of history at second level and beyond, enabling them to make informed and considered evidence-based judgments throughout their lives.

For further information on Junior Cycle history, please visit our website: jct.ie/history

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