‘We found families with roots in the Black and Tans’

Student-led project on the War of Independence unearths ancient secrets

Students from Coláiste Phobal Ros Cré work on their project on the War of Independence.

Students from Coláiste Phobal Ros Cré work on their project on the War of Independence.


School: Coláiste Phobal Ros Cré, Co Tipperary

“What’s the best way to kill history?” asks Shane Fitzgerald, a teacher at Coláiste Phobal Ros Cré.

“The textbook. I’ve always tried to go a little bit outside the norms with teaching, so I built MrFitzgeraldsHistory.com and joined Twitter to collaborate with colleagues across Ireland. But I wanted to go further. Now, students at the school are carrying out their own local research on the War of Independence, interviewing relatives and researching local sources. Our aim is to produce a quality piece of research that can be used by historians and make a contribution to academic inquiry.”

The student-led project on the War of Independence is unearthing ancient secrets and it’s also contributing to the literacy, critical-thinking and research skills of the students as well as improving their mapping and IT skills. The initiative has been made possible by a generous donation from George Cunningham, a prominent local historian, of more than 4,000 books to the school.

“It means that we now have a unique and innovative archive of local history sources,” says Fitzgerald. “This archive is without rival in Ireland and it allows students an opportunity to engage, explore and understand Roscrea’s rich history. As part of the new junior cycle, there is a shift in focus to more local history and our school is now a forerunner in the area.”

Particular tasks

Working in different groups, the students each have particular tasks. Some are liaising with local historians and a communications team is working with the local libraries. “The students are talking to their relations and finding records online and in the archive, and we have already traced back the family line of some students in the class to find that their families had roots with the Black and Tans, the old IRA and Cumann na mBan. George Cunningham has also lent his expertise and support and has visited the school to work with the students.

Fitzgerald says the new resource sheds light on the history of the area during the volatile and formative years of the State. “We have documents on the War of Independence as well as a huge amount of photos and the students are working with Tipperary library to make sure they catalogue them correctly. It’s amazing that this material, which was in George Cunningham’s private archive, is now available to the students. Some of the material is really amazing: it would make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. We hope to grow the archive into a local centre where people can access primary sources and, ultimately, we want it to be a student-led archive that is of use to national historians.”

Factfile: Coláiste Phobal Ros Cré, Co Tipperary

Located in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, this is a co-educational, multi-denominational school under the auspices of the Tipperary Education and Training Board. It has 700 students and offers all mainstream subjects, including the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme and the Leaving Cert Applied programme.

Interesting fact: The school won an Enterprise Award for an innovative and cross-disciplinary healthy eating and language project. The students sold smoothies and used the money to fund an exchange programme with a partner school in Germany. Customers who ordered in German got a half-price smoothie.

Website: www.cpr.ie