Leaving Cert history: Critical thinking skills essential on paper with good choice of topics

Students asked whether Lemass was a strong leader in challenging examination paper

Students were asked about the Irish diaspora, 1840-1966. Photograph: iStockphoto

Students were asked about the Irish diaspora, 1840-1966. Photograph: iStockphoto


An engaging history paper challenged students to take a position and defend it, while there was a good choice of topics on the paper, according to teachers.

Fintan O’Mahony, history teacher and blogger, said the documents question, which focused on the establishment of RTE and the role that the fledgling TV station played in politics and society, was “a lovely choice".

"They were also asked whether [former taoiseach] Seán Lemass was a strong leader and would have been able to make a case either way,” he said.

Some topics which are rarely seen, including Ireland and the union as well as industrial development in Belfast, did crop up, but there was enough choice for students to skirt them if they wish, he said.

Others such as land reform and the 1913 lockout will have been both and familiar.

“There was a particularly lovely question about Cosgrave and de Valera and how effective the two governments were in dealing with threats to the State,” he said.

In the section on Europe and the wider world, Mr O’Mahony said students will have been glad to see banker questions on Hitler and Stalin.

“The contributions of Leni Riefenstahl, Bing Crosby and Charlie Chaplin to cinema were interesting were nice, while the section on the US and the wider world is very popular right now. The significance of advances in space travel was a really nice choice of question,” he said.

Gerard Hanlon, ASTI subject representative and a teacher at Newtown School in Waterford, said the higher level paper had a good array of questions.

“There were some really good elements of critical thinking, while students who covered the section on nation states and international relations will have loved the questions on Bismarck and Hitler.”

Seán Delap, a history teacher at the Institute of Education, took a slightly different view.

“The higher level paper was quite challenging,” he said. “There were not many questions based on the case studies and this was especially true in relation to the options on nation states and international tensions and dictatorship and democracy. There was, however, at least one nice question in each section which should suit and student that prepared well for the exam.”

Mr Delap said tat the ordinary level paper was more straightforward. “There were plenty of questions based on the case studies and nice questions on the RTE document study.”

Mr O’Mahony said the documents on the ordinary level, including an extract from journalist Gene Kerrigan’s book Another Country about how RTE impacted on his childhood, were really good choices. Overall, there was nothing unfamiliar on the paper and anyone prepared should have done well.


The Irish diaspora, 1840-1966

- How did the creation of Irish images through film and music contribute to the growth of tourism and heritage?

- Why was there anti-Irish sentiment in both Britain and the US in the nineteenth century?

(Spend approx 30-40 mins per question)