The National Library of Ireland: Learning resources for World War One

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In 2016, The National Library of Ireland (NLI) is expanding its education and outreach programme for schools.

The National Library of Ireland

The National Library of Ireland is in a unique position to promote and foster an appreciation of history in the classroom. As well as books, newspapers and periodicals the National Library holds over 1 million manuscripts, prints, photographs, drawings, maps, pamphlets and other primary sources documenting over 1,000 years of Irish history. The purpose of our exhibitions is to share these cultural treasures with the public, showcasing material to stimulate learning and engagement with Irish history. As such, schools have a special place in the NLI’s educational programmes and learning resources have been developed for students of all ages. A new workshop for 5th and 6th class hopes to introduce students to the uniquely Irish experience of World War One.

1914 Recruitment poster NLI EPH F93

The workshop is the product of our current exhibition World War Ireland: Exploring the Irish experience which opened in November 2014. The exhibition draws on the National Library’s collection of letters, diaries, recruitment posters, newspapers, cartoons, music and poetry so that the students can learn about the past from the people of the past. Tours of the exhibition for school groups seek to introduce students to the skills of the historian in using evidence to tell the stories of the Irish men and women who experienced World War One. The exhibition offers a wide panorama of events from 1914-18, emphasising the massive impact of war across Irish society irrespective of geography, class, religious beliefs or political opinions.  Highlights of our tour include reports of Irish soldiers, who fought in the trenches in France, Belgium and Gallipoli, letters sent from the Front to loved ones back home in Ireland, a diary of a mother of two sons fighting at the Front, documents relating to the sinking of the Lusitania off the coast of Co. Cork, photographs of Irish women who volunteered as nurses and audio recordings of poems and songs that capture the Irish experience of the war. For every year the exhibition has been open, a section has been updated to document a centenary event and this year’s section will feature items documenting the participation of Irish soldiers in the Battle of the Somme and the death of Ireland’s most famous pacifist, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, during the 1916 Easter Rising.

As an alternative to guided tours, teachers are also welcome to self-guide students around the exhibition. Teachers are encouraged to consult the online version of the exhibition at www.nli.ie/WWI/ for learning resources that offer some preparation for students of all ages and for worksheets that can be completed before and after the tour.  Staff will also be happy to customise a guided tour to include aspects covered by students in class in advance of their visit.

The new Postcards from the Front workshop introduces 5th and 6th class students to the importance of eye witness testimony in learning about the past. The National Library of Ireland collects and preserves letters and postcards that were sent and received by Irish soldiers and nurses deployed on and near the front line of battle. The workshop will allow the students to develop their skills as historians by discussing what we can discover about the war from these records and to share what they have learned. The students will have the opportunity to step into the shoes of Irish soldiers and nurses by completing their own postcard from the Front, bearing an image from the NLI’s collection which, it is hoped, will be a treasured souvenir of their visit to the exhibition. The workshop is thus intended to meet the aims of the SESE (history) curriculum for skills and concept development (working as a historian and using evidence), eras of change and conflict (World War I) and empathy (imagine and discuss the feelings and motives of the people of the past).

To book a tour and/or workshop please contact a member of the Education and Outreach team on learning@nli.ie to arrange a date and time. We also offer workshops for primary schools based on our exhibition: Yeats: the life and work of William Butler Yeats. Early booking is strongly recommended to avoid disappointment. With the expansion of our education programmes for 2016, with two new exhibitions devoted to the 1916 Easter Rising: Signatories and Rising, teachers are advised to consult our education and events page, join our mailing list (mailinglist@nli.ie) and to follow the NLI on Facebook and Twitter for details of current and upcoming exhibitions, events and learning resources.

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