EducationExam reaction

Leaving Cert history: An exam that ‘played the hits’

Land reform, home rule, Edward Carson, John Redmond, the GAA, Eamonn de Valera and the Eucharistic Congress make a welcome appearance

President Eamon de Valera in Áras an Uachtaráin in December 1968. Photograph: Independent News And Media/Getty Images

Well-prepared candidates were delighted with the options on this year’s higher-level history paper though it as not without challenges, teachers have said.

Stephen Tonge, a history teacher at the Institute of Education, said that students who focused purely on case students will be challenged by trickier questions that needed them to add greater context.

“Those who prepared a broad range of topics will find some very manageable questions,” Mr Tonge said.

Jamie Dockery, subject expert and a teacher at Tyndall College in Carlow, said that the exam “played the hits”, particularly in the Ireland section.


“The topics of land reform, home rule, Edward Carson and John Redmond, the GAA, Eamon de Valera, the Eucharistic Congress and Northern Ireland all made much welcome appearances.

“The majority of well-prepared candidates will have been delighted with this selection of options. While it contained many questions that were widely expected and predicted, it also offered the more discerning and hardworking student food for thought as well.”

Philip Irwin, ASTI subject representative and a teacher at The High School in Rathgar, Dublin 6 , said that some of the questions asked in topic three of the Ireland section covered relatively long periods of time, placing high demands on students.

In question three in the section on politics and society in Northern Ireland (1949-1993), students had the choice of writing about the importance of two from the Sunningdale agreement, the Anglo-Irish agreement and the Downing Street declararion. But Mr Irwin pointed out that the course only goes as far as 1993, so it would be difficult for students to explain the impact of the latter.

Mr Dockey said that there was a lack of questions on the paper regarding the contribution of prominent women to Irish history.

“It should be noted that this was rectified in the Europe and the wider world section of the exam with the infamous Margaret Thatcher, Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan and Marilyn Monroe all featuring,” he said.

Mr Dockery said that students were happy to see Stalin’s show trials as the “much-predicted” documents-based question.

Mr Irwin said that the documents question was fair.

“It included two diary entries, which is somewhat unusual, and the questions probed knowledge of different periods in the 1930s,” Mr Irwin said.

“The questions given here were good and should not be a problem, and there were particularly interesting comparative questions here, too.”

Mr Tonge said that the history course is extensive, and students often need to prioritize certain sections.

“Those who did topic two, on political and social reform between 1870-1914 will have found good questions that covered everything,” he said.

In the section on Europe and the wider world, Mr Irwin said that there was a nice question on the challenges facing US President Harry Truman between 1945-53.

“Here, candidates could bring in the atomic bomb, the Berlin blockade and the Korean War,” he said.

“Students will also have liked the case study on the Montgomery bus boycott.”

Ordinary level

On the ordinary level paper, Mr Dockery said that it was well received by teachers and students.

“The paper can often be more predictable and accessible than its higher level counterpart,” he said.

“Again, Stalin’s show trials were the focus of the documents-based question. I very much welcome the higher and ordinary Level exam having similar DBQs, particularly considering that the average senior history groups will have higher and ordinary Level students learning together in the one class.”

When teaching ordinary level students, my advice to them is always to focus mainly on the case studies for each topic and the key personalities. Candidates who followed this approach will have been happy with this exam.”

Many of the main personalities from Irish History found their way into the exam including O’Connell, Parnell, Davitt, Roscommon man Douglas Hyde, Collins and de Valera.

Women were also well-represented in the guise of Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Countess Markievicz and Maureen O’Hara.”The Europe and the wider world topics were also varied and offered the well prepared candidate the opportunity to do well,” Mr Dockery said.

Try this one at home:

-Leaving Cert history, higher level

Government, economy and society in the Republic of Ireland, 1949-1989

From your study of culture in the Republic of Ireland, what did you learn about two of the following: RTÉ; changes in education; changing attitudes to the Irish language?

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