Belfast Telegraph

North Belfast teacher defends Holy Cross Boys' School's Easter Rising 1916 production

The vice-principal of Holy Cross Boys' School in north Belfast has defended his pupils' production of The Death Of The O'Rahilly – which is centered on the centenary commemorations of the events of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Chris Donnelly was speaking on the Stephen Nolan Show on Friday morning in response to a column by north Belfast MLA Nelson McCausland in the Belfast Telegraph.

In it Mr McCausland expressed his concern of how the subject of the Easter Rising was taught.

Mr Donnelly denied the schools' production was a celebration of the events 100 years ago.

He said: "The Easter Rising was a seminal event in Irish history, the occasion of the 100th anniversary has been rightly seized upon by many teachers to provide a theme through which learning can take place in a connected learning environment – and that is crucial.

"The way the new curriculum is taught is that we are actively encouraged to think of topical issues and plan teaching in a circular, connected way around what are the themes that are prevalent within society."

He continued: "We have produced a short drama on the 1916 theme which is one of the all-Ireland initiative agreed by both education departments.

"We have an art competition inviting pupils to imagine the Ireland of 2116 – one hundred years from now.

"A learning initiate involving the ever-popular Minecraft game.

"We've written a proclamation for a new generation, which is based on the Easter proclamation template but really it's involved the student council modernising that document to reflect what they see as rights and entitlements of today."


Asked if he would teach the UVF gun running in a similar manner he said "no one was pretending to be gun runners - or anything else" and that one of the children in their assembly had acted as Edward Carson.

Read more: Uncritical take on 1916 Rising by schools very concerning

Mr Donnelly added: "In this divided society, the school culture is often reflective of the prevailing culture of the local community.

"I would work across many schools as I am a passionate believer in shared education so would know that many schools have plaques to British army regiments that have visited and they hold British Remembrance Day services.

"Also as part of our theme we talk about the history of the Irish national flag and also of the Union flag and broke it down in terms of the symbolism and what they mean as that is what education is about.

"Children would have different beliefs, but for a child to say that an Irish volunteer who fought in 1916 was fighting for freedom, that is something that is belief by the overwhelming majority of the people in Ireland.

"Nelson [McCausland] is representative of those in unionism who struggle to accept the need that they must have in this new order to accept the legitimacy of another narrative, that is not the British and unionist outlook of what has happened.

He added: "The boys of Holy Cross will be able to say what the Union flag stands for and when they should call it the Union jack and its symbolism plus the school every year visit the Northern Ireland War Museum."

Read more: Irish brewery stands by 'Children of the Revolution' beer label despite complaints its targeting minors

Maura McNally, the playwright of the production later said it was the children's idea and that she wrote it from an "academic point of view".

"It was very, very historically correct," she said.

Asked if it was a celebration, she responded: "Why would we not celebrate 1916? I am very proud of 1916."

Nelson McCausland did concede he had not seen the performances over which he wrote about, but had read reports in the media.

He added: "We are living today still, with I think, the lethal legacy of the 1916 Rising.

"Because the celebrations of the event 50 years ago to mark the Rising contributed in some way I think to what happened in the past 40 years.

"We are living with the legacy of people in dissident republicanism who are trying to hold with this mythical past, this republican ideology, that is passed on from generation to generation that they need to hold faith with the past.

"I find that disturbing and I think we are in danger of condemning another generation.

"We are actually endorsing and affirming deep – deep division.

"The tragedy is that instead of having a thoughtful conversation about 1916 what we are having is a effusive celebration of 1916."

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