LLM students publish secondary school teaching materials on Ireland’s institutional abuses

Jul 21 2021 Posted: 16:59 IST

Teaching materials created with survivors and school teachers, pupils, activists and artists

Five LLM students at the Irish Centre for Human Rights (ICHR), NUI Galway, have published educational resources designed to help secondary school teachers to address the human rights violations suffered in Ireland’s Industrial Schools, Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby institutions.

In addition to being published here, the educational resources are also published on the website of the Open Heart City project (www.openheartcitydublin.ie), which aims to generate commitment to a national network of archives and memorials for public education about Ireland’s ‘historical’ institutional and gender-based abuses.

The educational resources are the following:

NUI Galway students Tomás Carlos Biggins, Helen McDonagh, Jessica Howard and Emily O'Reilly teaching at Coláiste na Coiribe, Knocknacarra, Co Galway in May 2021 (Photo credit: Sijia Shen)

NUI Galway students Tomás Carlos Biggins, Helen McDonagh, Jessica Howard and Emily O'Reilly teaching at Coláiste na Coiribe, Knocknacarra, Co Galway in May 2021 (Photo credit: Sijia Shen)

The ICHR Master’s students trialled their classroom materials with Transition Years in Coláiste na Coiribe, Knocknacarra, in May 2021. They were joined in class by survivor and LLM graduate of the ICHR, Mary Harney, who spoke to the Coláiste na Coiribe students about her personal experience in a Mother and Baby Home and foster care as a child, and her ongoing work for justice and memorialisation.

To design the teaching materials, the LLM students—Emily O’Reilly, Jessica Howard, Helen McDonagh, Sija Shen and Tomás Biggins—worked closely with Mary Harney and with Fionna Fox, a second generation survivor and solicitor, as well as with the Clann Project and with a number of survivors, educators, secondary school students, artists and activists. The students also researched education and memorialisation efforts in other countries including Germany, Canada and Australia and spoke with educators abroad.

“We must teach children the history of this dark chapter in Ireland and keep that memory alive so that it never happens again” (Mary Harney)

The LLM students explain the purpose and contents of their lesson plan and resources as follows:

By listening to survivors we realised the importance of memorialising the abuses which occurred in these institutions to ensure that they do not happen again. Research on memorialisation efforts in Canada, Australia and Germany, highlights that education plays a vital role in preserving history and preventing human rights violations.
Given the important role that education plays in preserving the historical record and preventing human rights violations, we believe that survivors’ testimonies needed to be taught in Irish classrooms today.
Survivors of Ireland’s institutions are growing older, and they should not have to wait for the Department of Education to change the Leaving Certificate History syllabus to have their voices heard in classrooms. As such, we decided to develop a lesson plan aimed at Transition Year students.
This pilot programme, which was developed in collaboration with the Clann Project, survivors, educators and activists, aims to amplify the voices of survivors of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes and Industrial Schools and highlight the State’s continuing failure to provide comprehensive redress.
The lesson plan, entitled ‘Ireland’s Dark History’, is a two-hour long lesson which aims to teach Transition Year students about the human rights violations which occurred in Ireland’s institutions throughout the twentieth century, and which continue today. It is thus centred on the idea of transitional justice and the importance of teaching young people about Ireland’s dark history in order to ensure non-recurrence. It covers the Mother and Baby Homes, the Industrial Schools and the Magdalene Laundries as well as the issues of illegal adoptions and unmarked graves. The lesson is taught through a human rights lens to ensure that people are aware of the human rights violations and the legal obligations which the Irish State has so-far failed to meet.
The programme was taught to students for the first time on the 6th of May 2021 in Coláiste na Coiribe. The authors of the programme believe that this event provided invaluable experience and feedback. They have since improved the lesson plan so that is it ready to be published online on www.openheartcitydublin.ie. Once launched online, the lesson plan will be publicly available and free to download. It will also be accompanied by a guidebook for teachers on transitional justice and education, a PowerPoint presentation and a script which will allow any teacher in any classroom to direct the lesson themselves. Also available on the Open Heart City website will be an archive containing additional resources including documentaries, music and newspaper articles as well as a Galway-specific lesson plan which aims to emphasise the ubiquitous nature of these institutions across Ireland.
Survivors of institutional abuse, academics, journalists, organisations such as Adoption Rights Alliance, Justice for Magdalenes, the Clann Project and many more have been fighting tirelessly to raise awareness of the human rights abuses which occurred in Irish institutions during the twentieth century. As authors of this pilot programme we endeavour to assist their cause. We hope that Coláiste na Coiribe will be joined by many other schools across the country in teaching students about this topic and helping to preserve survivors' testimonies.

“It is our hope that in the future the Irish State will incorporate historical abuses into the Irish Leaving Certificate Curriculum. Until then our pilot programme is available to teachers all over Ireland” (Emily O’Reilly, LLM student)

NUI Galway students Helen McDonagh, Jessica Howard, Emily O'Reilly, Mary Harney, Tomás Carlos Biggins and Sijia Shen at Coláiste na Coiribe in May 2021 (Photo credit: Sijia Shen)

NUI Galway students Helen McDonagh, Jessica Howard, Emily O'Reilly, Mary Harney, Tomás Carlos Biggins and Sijia Shen at Coláiste na Coiribe in May 2021 (Photo credit: Sijia Shen)


This project was carried out as part of the Human Rights Law Clinic at the ICHR, which is directed by Dr Maeve O’Rourke. The Clinic introduces students to theories and tools of ‘movement lawyering’, also known as ‘rebellious lawyering’, and enables them to collaborate with grassroots movements for social change.

Many thanks are due to the following people in particular who assisted greatly with the LLM students’ work:

Fionna Fox, Community Organiser, Solicitor, Second Generation Survivor
Mary Harney, BA, MA, Hon. MPhil, LLM, Community Organiser, Survivor
Dr. Sarah‌ ‌Anne‌ ‌Buckley‌ , PHD, Lecturer in History NUI Galway
Marilou Charron, MA, History Teacher, QC Canada
Cormac‌ ‌Davey‌ , Advisor, Professional Development Service for Teachers
Joshua Dolman, MA, Civics and Political Science Teacher, ON, Canada
Beth Doherty, Leaving Certificate Student
Rowan Hickie, BA, LLB, LLM Candidate at the ICHR
Kelly‌ ‌Ledoux‌ ‌–‌ ‌MA, JD, LLM
Melanie‌ ‌Lynch‌, Activist, Entrepreneur, Director of Herstory – www.herstory.ie
Emily Smith, MA, Civics and Politics Teacher, ON, Canada
Grace‌ Tierney, Development and Engagement Officer, Irish Council for Civil Liberties
Ciarán Ó Colleráin, Múinteoir, Comhordaitheoir Idirbhliain, Coláiste an Coirbie, Gaillimh