From the Great Irish Famine to the revolutionary period of the early 20th century, RTÉ History provides a wealth of accessible material by noted historians, along with a huge range of maps archival images and more, to support secondary school history students

The three-part documentary The Irish Revolution premiered on RTE television in February 2019. Narrated by Cillian Murphy and based on the award-winning Atlas of the Irish Revolution, the success of documentary led to the development an online collaboration between RTE and the Atlas of the Irish Revolution team in UCC.

Funded by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the War of Independence on RTÉ History commemorates the centenaries of key events between 1918 and 1921.

Visitors to the site will find accessible explainers of crucial events such as the 1918 General Election and the First Dáil, Bloody Sunday, the Burning of Cork and the Government of Ireland Act. More detailed articles by key historians of the period are complemented by image galleries, archival documents and maps from the Atlas of the Irish Revolution.

Dedicated to creating a one-stop shop for the history of the Irish revolutionary period, RTE has included relevant content from across its TV and radio archives, as well as articles from Century Ireland.

Daniel Macdonald's painting The Eviction c 1850. Reproduced with kind permission of Crawford Art Gallery Cork

Building on the success of the Irish Revolution project, RTE and UCC collaborated again in 2020 to develop a companion website to the The Hunger: the story of the Irish Famine. The acclaimed two-part documentary, which aired in November 2020, was based on UCC's Atlas of the Great Irish Famine.

The companion website showcases articles by many of the noted historians featured in the documentary. Like the War of Independence project, visitors to the site will find interactive maps depicting key concepts and events during the Great Irish Famine as well as galleries of rare images, paintings and cartoons.

Both web projects are ongoing and regularly updated and, together with the documentaries available on RTE Player,  present teachers with a treasure trove of sources, samples and inspiration for Junior and Senior Cycle classes.

Relevance to Junior Cycle History:

RTE History presents historical content in a stimulating and highly visual way and offers teachers an opportunity to meet many of the learning outcomes in Strand 1 and Strand 2 of the Junior Cycle specification for History.

Strand 1: The Nature of History 

Students are encouraged to consider the role of the historian and the skills associated with historical research. With images and documents from many of our national cultural institutions and articles from a diverse range of historians, the site provides myriad examples of primary and secondary sources.

A ticket for the match that became a massacre at Croke Park on Bloody Sunday in 1920

Teachers can choose from a variety of maps, political cartoons, newspaper accounts or photographs as the basis for a debate on the value and limitations of different types of historical source. (1.6)

The articles and maps on RTE history exemplify the skills of the historian in researching and collating data to present patterns of cause and effect. (1.5) These can serve as an interesting starting point for an investigation into the job of the historian, or a discussion on historical concepts such as source and evidence; fact and opinion and viewpoint and objectivity. (1.4; 1.5)

Sir Charles Edward F. Trevelyan, K.C.B. Engraved by D.J. Pound from a photograph by John Watkins, Parliament Street. Source: Getty Images

Both the Great Irish Famine and the War of Independence were pivotal moments in the history of Ireland. Students can explore the roots of many controversial issues such as partition, the Anglo Irish Treaty or the British response to the Famine, in their historical contexts (1.2).

Archival footage and eyewitness accounts, in particular, promote the development of historical empathy (1.1). RTE archives is itself an important repository of historical evidence (1.8) and can serve as a fascinating subject for investigation under  Strand 1, Element 2: Working with the Evidence. 

Developed to coincide with the 175th anniversary of the beginning of the Famine, and the centenaries of the key events during the War of Independence, RTE History exemplifies commemorative activity can prompt discussion about how and why certain historical personalities and events are commemorated. (1.3)

Structured as a timeline of events, the War of Independence project reinforces a sense of chronological awareness (1.10), while the Famine project, with articles relating to the Irish diaspora and the legacy of the Great Hunger, helps to place the key event within the 'big picture’ of history. 

Strand 2: The History of Ireland 

Strand 2 provides an opportunity to examine personalities, issues and events in Irish history. The articles, maps and images on RTE history will prove useful when exploring the physical force tradition and its impact on Irish politics (2.1.3) and the causes, course and consequences, nationally and internationally, of the Great Famine, and the significance of the Irish Diaspora (2.7).

The locations of the IRA attacks on Bloody Sunday. Map courtesy of The Atlas of the Irish Revolution edited by John Crowley, Donal Ó Drisceoil, Mike Murphy and John Borgonovo.

Using the maps in particular, students can make connections between local history and wider national events during the War of Independence or the Famine. (2.11) 

The Junior Cycle curriculum encourages teachers to provide opportunities for student engagement with an increasingly broad repertoire of spoken, written and multimodal texts across a growing range of settings. The material on RTE history combine visual, audio textual and spatial representations of different events in Irish history.

Student engagement with these texts will enhance literacy and numeracy skills, while also encouraging the development of some of the other key skills, embedded in the learning outcomes for Junior Cycle History.

Relevance to the Transition Year Programme 

Transition Year (TY) is a time for sampling subjects, exploring options and augmenting the skills acquired at Junior Cycle. Students find space to learn, mature and develop in the absence of examination pressure. Their courses and modules are designed to reflect the core aims of Transition Year: to educate for maturity and to foster general, technical and academic skills with an emphasis on interdisciplinary and self-directed learning.

The accessible and richly-illustrated RTE history website is a useful springboard for student-led research as well as offering opportunities for students to develop their research and digital literacy skills.  The primary and secondary sources provide inspiration for debates on concepts such as commemoration, the provisional nature of history, the cult of personality or the role of women in Irish history.

Photograph of a painting of Dr Eileen MacCarvill née McGrane, Cumann na mBan captain, who worked closely with Michael Collins in the War of Independence. Reproduced courtesy of the MacCarvill family

Maps from the Atlas of the Irish Revolution and the Atlas of the Great Irish Famine add detail and colour to complex historical periods, allowing students to visualise locations, events, patterns and trends as well as inspiring independent or collaborative student research. Transition Year students can also delve into the RTE archives for examples of oral history or historical footage to feed a research project or presentation.

While RTE History most clearly lends itself to the history classroom, the extensive use of photographs paintings, documents and maps, means the website will also be useful to TY teachers of, for example,  English, Art, Gender Studies, Local Studies, Geography or Digital Humanities.

Relevance to the Senior Cycle History 

The Leaving Certificate History Syllabus encourages the study of human experience in the past from a variety of perspectives. The treatment of the Irish revolutionary period and the Great Irish Famine on RTE History compliments the perspective-based curriculum for Leaving Certificate History. In accessible and richly-illustrated articles, noted historians explore the political, social and cultural history of these pivotal moments in Irish history.

Working with the Evidence:

The images, documents, maps and eyewitness accounts, brought together on RTE history, have clear applications to the two facets of ‘Working with the Evidence’ in the Syllabus framework: The Documents-Based Study and the Research Study.

The Senior Cycle history students will find a wealth of primary source material to inspire a research topic, corroborate a finding or model the structure of a historical argument. Short accessible articles by historians exemplify the processes of source analysis and using evidence to form a judgement.

The death of Terence MacSwiney, as captured on the cover of a French newspaper supplement in 1920

The collection of audio, visual and documentary sources across all of the RTE history pages provide plenty of opportunity for students to ask important questions about reliability, viewpoint, bias and objectivity.

Topics for Study:

Each of the Topics for Study has specified date parameters. The Irish Revolution Project and the Great Irish Famine project contain material that is most relevant to three topics from the Later Modern Ireland section of the syllabus:

LMI 1: Ireland and the Union, 1815-1870

LMI 3: The Pursuit of Sovereignty and the Impact of Partition 1914-1949 (LMI 3)

LMI 4: The Irish diaspora, 1840-1966 (LMI 4) 

Each Topic has three associated Case Studies, each of which involves an in-depth investigation of a particularly significant or representative aspect of an element of that topic. The ongoing RTE History projects provide valuable supplementary material on the following case studies:

Private responses to Famine, 1845-1849 (LMI 1)

The Treaty Negotiations (LMI 3) 

De Valera in America, June, 1919-December, 1920. (LMI 4) 

Grosse Isle (LMI 4)

Éamon de Valera in San Francisco in 1920

Students will also find details about some of the key personalities from their topics of study. 

Charles Trevelyan and Asenath Nicholson (LMI 1) 

Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Countess Markievicz and W. T. Cosgrave (LMI 3) 

Key concepts from each of the Topics are also explored in the pages of RTE history.

Sectarianism, laissez- faire, landlordism and famine (LMI 1) 

Sovereignty, partition, Ulster Unionism, physical force, IRB/IRA, dominion status and republic (LMI 3) 

Pre-paid passages, emigrants’ remittances and discrimination (LMI 4) 

RTE is pleased to provide short, hyperlinked histories of the Irish War of Independence and the Great Irish Famine. Students who would like to delve deeper into a particular key personality or key concept can follow the links to the relevant articles, radio documentaries and archival material.

Lesson plans, worksheets and overviews

Students and teachers can also access the Atlas of the Irish Revolution Resources for Secondary Schools on RTE history. Based on the award-winning Atlas of the Irish Revolution, and developed in UCC by an experienced teacher and historian, the PDF pack includes eight teaching units covering a range of themes and topics from the 1845-1923 period.

With an emphasis on skills acquisition, student-led learning, collaborative group work and creativity, the lesson plans are adaptable to the requirements of the Junior Cycle, Transition Year and Senior Cycle curricula.