Thursday, 6 August 2015

Ulster Protestants, the Famine, and how we were taught history

The Belfast Newsletter has an interesting article at concerning the plight of many Ulster based Protestants during the Irish potato famine of the late 1840s. The subject was the basis of a talk given at the Shankill Library earlier today in Belfast, in which the myth that Ulster was somehow not affected by the catastrophe was forensically deconstructed and repudiated.

The article is one that struck a chord with me, particularly in its description by a member of a local social history group in the Protestant based Shankill area of how Irish history was taught at Northern Irish schools - “We were never taught it in school – we never heard about it in any history. Occasions like this help reconcile people to realise that we all suffered”. When I attended Carrickfergus Grammar School (Co. Antrim) in the 1980s, my only recollection of Irish history being taught there was about Sir Roger Casement and gun running in Larne, and the Easter Rising, in the midst of the First World War. None of it was presented with any historical context other than that of the British Empire and the distractions it caused from the war, something I have taken many years to redress by reading up on Irish history for myself.

Since living in Scotland I have often heard similar cries from folk here about how they weren't taught their own history as children, and I have no doubt many in England, Wales and the Republic of Ireland may have also felt the same in the past. Today, that has certainly changed, certainly here in Scotland at least - as a parent of two children at school just now I am aware of the Scottish history curriculum that they are now taught, but for those who feel that they never did quite get such an opportunity as kids, this is certainly one of the benefits of studying family history. Our ancestral research path can help us to determine a personalised curriculum into our past on a highly enjoyable and much more relevant grass-roots based basis than any grand over-arching historic narrative that may have failed us as children.

So move aside Starkey, and take a break Schama - here's to the continued democratisation of our history!


For details on my genealogy guide books, including my recently released Discover Irish Land Records and Down and Out in Scotland: Researching Ancestral Crisis, please visit

1 comment:

  1. Selective education on historical events, particularly touchy subjects, seems to be universal. For example: I was not taught about many African American slave issues and contributions of African American authors, innovators, scientists, etc. as I was growing up in the US North (supposedly less racially restricted) in the 1960s, as the US Civil Rights era was emerging.