Teaching about the past in Northern Ireland: avoidance, neutrality, and criticality

Caitlin Donnelly, Clare Mcauley, Danielle Blaylock, Joanne Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
99 Downloads (Pure)


Citizenship education has been a feature of the school curricula in many western democracies since the 1990s. Consequently, there is a proliferation of research which explores its efficacy in instilling political literacy and encouraging democratic engagement amongst pupils. Less is known however about how citizenship is taught in societies emerging from conflicts which are [at least in part] motivated by competing narratives around citizenship. This paper examines this issue within the context of Northern Ireland. Drawing on qualitative interviews with 18 post-primary citizenship teachers, it argues that whilst the curricular text for citizenship education has encouraged teachers to discuss ‘the past’ in Northern Ireland only a minority of teachers do so. The paper suggests that teachers are constrained in their attempts to explore the past by a complex interplay of factors including cultural norms of avoidance and their interpretation of the current socio-political context. The paper argues that it cannot be assumed that teachers themselves possess the critical capacities that they are expected to nurture in pupils, yet, where efforts are made to harness teachers’ critical skills, they are more likely to display the confidence and skill to discuss contentious issues related to the past.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-18
Number of pages16
JournalIrish Educational Studies
Issue number1
Early online date15 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Educational Studies Association of Ireland.


  • Citizenship education
  • Teachers
  • Post-conflict
  • Northern Ireland
  • Avoidance


Dive into the research topics of 'Teaching about the past in Northern Ireland: avoidance, neutrality, and criticality'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this