The Irish Problem

I have a blog that has been brewing in my mind for about a year but for some reason I cannot write it. The kernel of the idea is there but, like that one annoying fly that manages to evade the rolled up newspaper, it is just beyond my reach. It covers topics such as the role of Bildungsroman in fiction, my teenage years, the importance of sci-fi, a woman I love, the destabilising effect of unemployment, feminism, an unfinished epic and the strange places in which we often find a flicker of that beautiful, yet fragile,feeling we call hope. Big themes that are close to my heart. It may be that too much of myself is wrapped up in the blog, that I am too intimately connected to the subject to be able to find the words that convey the depth of my feeling. That may be the case, however, the blog is coming I can feel it and when I get it right it will be a good one.

In the meantime, here is a defence of history and in particular the way Junior Cert history is taught in the secondary school system in Ireland. One of the things I hear mentioned most often with this particular topic is : We were only taught Irish history in school. So, is this correct? Let us look at the facts. The Junior Cert in Ireland has been on the go now for twenty plus years. Fair enough, but what is covered in the curriculum?  The first year of the JC looks at an ancient civilisation, you pick from one of three: the Romans, the Greeks or the Egyptians, after that you look at Ancient Ireland, Early Christian Ireland,  the Medieval period (which looks at both Britain and Ireland) and finally the Renaissance. For sure, we have Irish history there (fair enough since it is taught in Irish schools) but even the most blinkered must admit that there is a concentration on history outside the isle. It must have been from second year onwards that the curriculum really imposed ‘Irish only’ history on the unsuspecting youth of Ireland.

Second year covers such Irish topics as: European expansion into the New World, The French Revolution, The American Revolution, The Reformation (imagine that ‘Catholic’ Ireland looking at the Protestant Reformation in mainland Europe!). The Plantations are covered but that obviously considers English history also, oh and the 1798 Rebellion is looked at (how insular he he) and the Famine but no more ‘outsider’ history bar the Industrial Revolution in the UK of course. The conclusion? Well it must have been third year where nothing but Irish history (republican at that) was taught. It has to be, doesn’t it?

Well, third year does look at political developments in Ireland in the twentieth century, which includes Unionism and Nationalism and the impact of the Home Rule crisis. 1916, The War of Independence and the Civil War are covered as are the dismantling of the treaty and World War Two in the north and south of the island. As a special topic you can look at either Northern Ireland or Ireland’s role in the UN and the EEC. Social change and the role of women is also covered. Ah ha!! so, it is third year that is the culprit. Case closed, or so you would think but just one more thing  before I leave (Columbo reference) we also look at International history in the twentieth century i.e. Peace and War in Europe(WW II) and the Cold War. Rounding the whole lot off we have those very Irish topics of either greater European unity or African and Asian nationalism. 

The first class to sit the JC exam was in the year 1992 which means that the above curriculum, in some shape or form, has been taught since 1989. What does it all mean? Firstly, that anyone aged 36 or under in the Republic of Ireland has had access to a wide and varied history syllabus. Secondly, internet trolls that cry: ‘But all we learnt was Irish history’ are, in all likelihood trolls that never listened in class and are looking for attention. Thirdly, and probably most  importantly, if you feel that your school only taught you Irish history take a bit of personal responsibility and educate yourself.

  1. I love it! Right to the point. Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone. It’s with the corpses of the intermediate and junior certificate in the grave! I’m a pre-1992 exam taker and I distinctly remember being taught the unification of Italy and Germany on the junior syllabus, the French Revolution, the Reformation, the first and second world war, the industrial revolution, and lots more. I love this post because it disrupts the narrative we all want to believe existed.

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