News 1916

Monday 18 December 2017

Make history - make a movie

The Charlestown students film their JFK project.
The Charlestown students film their JFK project.
Charlestown National School pupils editing their JFK movie.
The Irish Independent from the day after JFK's funeral.
Michael McGrath with his grandson Jake and the pupils at Charlestown National School.
Children from Charlestown National School filming their JFK history project.

When the pupils of St Attracta's National School, Charlestown, Co Mayo rose to the challenge of making their own movie, they didn't have to look too far for their inspiration.

Sitting in their classrooms were direct links to one of the most famous world events of the 20th century, the funeral of US President John F Kennedy, who was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

Among the 152 pupils are the grandson and grand-daughters of local man, Michael McGrath, who helped form the guard of honour for President Kennedy's funeral in November 1963.

Then 19, Michael was one of 26 young Irish army cadets who travelled to the US, following a special request from President Kennedy's widow, Jacqueline, that they form a guard of honour at his funeral in Arlington Cemetery, Washington.

She did so because, only months earlier, on his celebrated visit back to the country of his forefathers, President Kennedy had been highly impressed with the funeral drill he saw when he came to pay his respects at the Arbour Hill military cemetery in Dublin - burial place of executed 1916 leaders.

Michael recalls that not only were they participants, but the Irish cadets were given prime position and stood only metres away from the Kennedy family.

St Attracta's principal Brian McDermott understood what a great story it was, and his pupils embraced it with gusto as their entry for the Fís Film Project, an initiative encouraging primary schools to explore the medium of film: "I got him to come down to the kids and we scoped all the questions we needed from him. We took it from the angle of his story."

The fifth and sixth class pupils, including Michael's grandson Jake (12) got the job of producing the film, while third and fourth classes participated in crowd scenes. Jake's siblings, Jessica, Roisin and Cian are also pupils at the school and an older brother, Darragh is a past pupil.

Their Back in the Springtime film, tells the story of Irish emigration, the links between the Kennedy family and Ireland, and how the visit helped to put Ireland on the world map. Pupils mixed their own scenes with footage of the funeral they found on YouTube.

"The range of learning possibilities was fantastic - from history to communication to teamwork. What really came to the fore was the different strengths of individual pupils," said Mr McDermott.

Michael McGrath said it was wonderful to work with the pupils: "They were so immersed in it; they asked so many questions, it was amazing. They made history come alive."

* 'Back in the Springtime' is a finalist in the National FÍS Film Festival in the Helix Theatre on November 3. The school is already planning its 1916 Fís project

* Ireland 2016 film award: there will be two prizes for 1916 based films in the 2016 Fís Film Festival competition. Full details will be on

The new Irish: telling the story of all the nation's children

Ireland has become an ethnically and culturally diverse country,  and nowhere is that richness better reflected than in the country's schools.

At last count, there are more than 100,000 pupils born outside of Ireland enrolled in primary and post-primary schools - that's about 12pc, or one in eight, of the school-going population.

In the 2014/2015 academic year, 60,969 primary school pupils were recorded as having a nationality other than Irish. They are from all over the world, including almost 10,000 from Asia, more than 9,000 from Africa, about 2,300 from another State in Europe other than the EU, and 782 from Latin or South America.

Meanwhile, about 44,000 post-primary students are of non-Irish origin, from as many as about 180 countries. After the UK, the biggest representation is from Poland, followed by Nigeria, Lithuania, USA, Philippines and Spain.

School projects under the banner of the 1916 centenary programme will be a legacy for future generations, offering a snapshot of Ireland at a particular time in its history and, thanks to modern technology, an easy facility to store it forever.

The network of 4,000 primary and post-primary schools has a reach into communities the length and breadth of the country like nothing else. So, schools are uniquely positioned to reflect back the story of Ireland in 2016.

While the centenary programme is commemorating events of 100 years ago in Ireland, it also provides an opportunity for those whose forefathers were not Irish to reflect on their history and to share their stories and journeys.

Through the various initiatives in the 2016 Schools' Programme, such as the Ancestry Project, the Proclamation for a New Generation, The Schools' Collection 2016, the film, art, drama and song competitions, there are platforms for pupils with non-Irish backgrounds to weave their histories and perspectives into the tapestry that is the new Ireland.

Irish Independent

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