Do you know what’s going to happen tomorrow?

Ciarán Wallace from the Centre for Contemporary Irish History at Trinity College Dublin is one of the educators on the free online course, “Irish Lives in War and Revolution: Exploring Ireland’s History 1912 – 1923.” In this post, Ciarán discusses how ordinary life continues in spite of violent events happening all around.

A page from "The Lady of the House" magazine, published in Dublin in December 1917

A page from “The Lady of the House” magazine, published in Dublin in December 1917, showing how ordinary life continues in spite of violent events.

A hundred years ago this month, keen gardeners in Ireland were sending off for their free copy of “A Reliable Guide to Profitable Gardening,” advertised by Mackey’s Seeds. Department stores advertised “New Spring Goods,” including ladies coats and blouses, while Axminster carpet was available from £5 / 17 shillings per yard.

Customers for all these goods could not know the dramatic and violent events that were about to unfold around them; that fruit bushes planted this spring may not seem so important by spring 1916, or that opportunities to wear fancy new clothes might become scarce as the Great War took more and more young men away.

But gardening was always a peaceful escape from the worries of the world and people always manage to have fun regardless of their circumstances. Just because the news from Flanders is grim or Dublin is destroyed by shelling, it doesn’t mean that people in Galway or Cork feel any less house-proud as they show off their new carpet.

Ordinary lives lived during upheaval

Irish Lives in War and Revolution” is a course dealing with ordinary lives lived during the upheaval of the Great War, the 1916 Rising, the Anglo-Irish War and the Irish Civil War. We try to understand how individuals across Ireland – both north and south, young and old, radical and conservative – experienced these years.

A census form from the 1911 Census of Ireland might tell us how many adults, teenagers and children live in a household, but what was it like to be a child when your father was away fighting in France? Or when fighting took place in the hills around your home? Maybe the latest cowboy film was more important than wondering why the grown-ups seemed so worried.

Did a teenager finishing a secretarial course pay more attention to getting a job and leaving home than to elections and national politics? How did anxious parents cope with an idealistic 20 year old, determined to do his bit in the armed struggle, whichever army or volunteer force he chose to join?

It is impossible to arrive at one complete truth for any of these questions, but that does not mean we should not ask them. It is important to wonder why one person chose to fight while another chose to stay home, or to think about the costs, both financial and personal, involved in that decision.

All history is constructed and contested

Hundreds of thousands of documents, images, recordings and newsreels have been digitised in libraries and archives. From your keyboard, you can lose yourself in the details of real people’s lives and see the raw ingredients that “history” is made from.

If it is true that “all history is constructed and contested,” then this course allows you to build a history of this period in Irish life based on what interests you. In the regular discussions, you can put forward your own views and questions, and think about the questions posed by other learners.

So don’t expect to find “the answer” to Irish history on this course – in fact, be prepared to come away with more questions. But you will hopefully have an appreciation of how history can be considered from different points of view and an understanding of some of the sources, whether newspaper advertisements or gardening catalogues, that historians use to construct it.

You can join “Irish Lives in War and Revolution: Exploring Ireland’s History 1912 – 1923” now or join the conversation using #FLirishlives.

Category Learning

Comments (55)


  • J P McNellie

    As a retired Irish-American teacher, historian and amateur genealogist, living in the UK, I have been waiting years for a course like this and although in the 2nd week, I am enjoying it thoroughly!
    I have an ‘older’ Grad degree (80s) in International Relations, and Education, yet my interests have been with Irish history for decades. Could you please tell me if it is possible to complete a ‘Certificate’ course In Irish History (Studies) or related course ? I’d appreciate any knowledge on how to proceed with a course online or other.
    For now, it’s back to Week 2 of the Irish lives course!

    JP McNellie

    • Hi JP, great to see you’re enjoying the course!

      If you are interested in opportunities for further study with Trinity College Dublin, I recommend contacting them directly, as they are unlikely to be monitoring this blog post:

      David (FutureLearn)

  • Jean Hoyle

    Both sets of my great grandparents came from Ireland and I have been researching the family history for a while now. I realised some time ago that I also don’t know much about Irish history in general so am interested in researching Irish history as well as the family history.
    I am very much looking forward to starting this course. Any suggestions as to useful books to read before the course starts would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks. Jean

  • joseph faney

    both sets of my grand parents were roman catholic irish republicans who had fought for the cause of irish freedom on easter week in 1916 my fathers father was only 16 years old when he went into a post office in sligo town he was shot twice by the british army in action but easter week in 1916 was a personal victory for my fathers father as he did shoot and kill more than 20 british soldiers for the cause of irish fredom on easter week in 1916 during the irish civil war my mothers side of the family were freestaters and my fathers side of the family were anti treaty republicans my granddad at 80 years old took both bullets to his grave in 1980

  • Michael Helmantoler

    My mothers families came in 1813 from Catholic Republic of Ireland families of Casey, Flynn, Hassett, O’brien, Walsh, Quirk and Joyce. My fathers Northern Ireland ancestors came to
    America before the American Revolution and were called Scots Irish. They were Lucas, Simmons and Clarke’s

  • Linda Harvey

    Did they have many cowboy films in those days?

  • Rashid Patch

    Very much looking forward to this course. My maternal grandparents emigrated to the U.S. during this period – they actually met in New York City. I’ve always been interested in this period of history in Ireland. I still don’t quite understand the mechanics of how the class works – it’s supposed to be 5 hours per week – but is that at a specific time, or can I log in to the material anytime during the week, or what?

  • Mike Booth

    The last job of my working life meant I had to travel to Southern Ireland quite often. The more I went the more I learned and was absolutely thrilled to see this course about the struggles of everyday people in the Republic of Ireland at a critical time in their history. Overall the Irish people are lovely, warm, friendly and genuine and a pleasure to know and work with, but that wasn’t always the case.
    A little anecdote about the first time I visited Cork. The man I was visiting had a broad Cork accent and takes some getting used to, He welcomed me to Cork and was very friendly. But when we arrived and ventured on to St Patrick Street he very firmly said to me “See this Street, The British burnt it all to the ground while they were looking for Irishmen”. “Wow, I didn’t know that” I said not knowing how to feel except some sadness. But he was still being friendly, he just wanted me to know that the British are still a tender subject for some people. He told me if I wanted to know more I should watch the film, The Wind that Shook the Barley, which I did. The next time I went to Cork I took him onto St Patrick Street, apologised because I was British & detested what we had done.

    • Marilyn

      Thank you for this. I have ordered The wind ……. barley. Also, a film about Michael Collins which covers The Easter Uprising and his death. Film made in 1998. Looking forward finding out more.

  • Wendy Hodgson

    This course looks fascination. I love social history. I hope I’m not doing too many other courses at the same time. I can’t resist ticking the ‘join’ boxes when I get the emails

  • Karen

    The approach to the material is quite interesting. Usually history is taught from the top (from the government leaders and their polilcies) while the “people” are often left out – even though they are the ones either necessary for carrying out the decisions of the powers that be, or more effected by those decisions, or both! Looking forward to the class.

  • Rob Beattie

    Hi there, just wondered if there’s a reading list available before the course starts? Many thanks.

  • Rob Beattie

    I’m really interested in participating in this course, but I’ve never used this method of study. Does anyone know how it is presented? And are we required to read certain texts? The course looks great and just wondered how it is run, many thanks.

    • fiona campbell

      Rob, I’ve done a few futurelearn courses and the materials are usually presented as videos, reading passages or PDFs. I think one or two have included suggestions for further reading but you don’t need to buy books or have access to a library. You will find that the other participants are a good source of information and suggestions. Learning is a bit of a team activity around here. Enjoy!

    • Mike Booth

      Rob, just let the course start, it is all in sequence and you can work as fast or slow as you like. They provide you with links for further reading but you can always trot off and look for things yourself. Just let it happen, these courses are great and I’m really thrilled at this one. Hope that helps

  • Michelle Mather

    I am really interested in this course, the only issue I am concerned with is that I am currently in my final block of teaching practice and I am wondering how this course will be assessed and when the 5 hours are allocated through the week? I am really interested in this course but concerned with the conflict it may have with my post-grad course.

    • Phoebe

      Hi Michelle! Not to worry, you can put as much time as you’d like into the course. There are no formal assessments, since we want to encourage as many learners as possible to join in the conversation. Hope you enjoy the course!

    • Mike Booth

      Michelle, dont worry about it. It isnt like you have been used to with physical courses. You can go as fast or as slow as you like. They recommend a certain number of hours a week but thats a guideline, you wont be penalised and the course wont finish until you do. Its a great subject so just enjoy it

  • Hilary O'Shea

    Very interested in this course,have always enjoyed history at school and looking forward to the course.

  • Gillian Seager

    There is only one reservation that I have is that I am worried whether it will be the British forces were the bad guys against the plucky Irish rebels. I know that there were excesses on both sides but will it be looked at from both sides? Other than that I would be very interested as I do not know much about this period.

    • Tom Mc Tague

      Gillian, Just having registered for the course, I find your comments interesting: Having been born in ireland and worked all of my life in West of Ireland, also keen to get a sense of the “other” side: this also applies to the Civil war period in Ireland 1922- 1923 when opposing parties to the 1921 Treaty came into being and emerged as “Civil War ” parties right up to and beyond the 90s in Ireland

    • Wendy Hodgson

      I think the course will be well balanced, Gillian.

    • joseph faney

      i wouldnt worry about your concern to much gillian as this course is based not only on men who fought in the struggle for irish freedom but also went out to fight for britain in france and other countries during world war 1

  • john porter

    have been interested in this period for a long time now. having studied social history when at university, I am looking forward to how this is presented. I know and speak to people who were directly affected via their parents etc and would like to be knowledgeable of the timelines etc.

  • Frances Doyle

    The course sounds very interesting from a historical and social perspective. I like trying to understand how events such as war affect the ordinary people and how they have to learn to live their lives around these events.

  • Anne Maria Murphy

    I am really looking forward to learning more about this area of Irish history.

  • Liam Greene

    As a Dublin city tour guide this course can only enhance my understanding of a significant period in our history.

  • Patrick Crotty

    I’m looking forward to starting this course

  • Bob Collum

    I am interested in both European and Irish history as my family comes from both County Fermanagh and Dublin. I live in Hawaii and I hope that the eleven hour’s difference isn’t too great in this type of a class. I’m excited to get on with it!

  • Geraldine Mahoney-Moore

    I can’t wait for this course to start.

  • Kimberly Mitchell

    This is great. Cannot wait to begin.

  • Ruth Anne Lawler

    I have booked the Certificate but cannot see a link to exams.

  • maureen

    Would love to do this course, but have limited download (very limited) and rely on satellite service – even though I only live in County Armagh. Do you think I would be able to participate?

  • sinead

    I am also starting this course late, i learned about it via FB!! My gran was a young woman who had to deal with the fallout out of having a brother in the old IRA, a Collins man through and though.. she living through the agony of the Tans visiting her house regularly and I remember her stories. As an adult I have watched movies like “The Wind that Shakes The Barley,’ and as a history teacher, I have taught student about the horrors of total war, civil war, using “The Sniper” by Liam O’ Flaherty as the example to shock students into awareness. This course resonates with me hugely, seeing as how we never knew my Grandfathers family as he was estranged from the over a difference of choice during the Civil War.
    I live as an expat and want to ground my children in the qualities of being Irish,, and Yet…. in the light of my own family history, having chatted to friends about theirs, it seems there is a common thread of divided families who broke and never saw each other again…
    Thank you TCD for providing a forum where this can perhaps be discussed in a neutral way. Living in the Middle East, very little is seen that way, and yet…….

  • Joe McGonigle

    I’m starting this course late; an Irish friend told me about it on Facebook, so I investigated, and here I am. I’m Irish American (15 of 16 great-great grandparents). I’ve visited Ireland 4 times, have met my wife’s Irish relatives in Skerries, Galway, and Donegal, play Irish ballads in an Irish Ceili Band, and though I’m 71 years old (today), I’ve recently been enjoying good histories, biographies, etc. from my library. My seminary education was absolutely mediocre regarding history. I’ve read some comments during this course so far and they’re all good. Looking forward.

  • Roberta Beal

    Hello I live in Maine. I do have some Irish heritage. I love history, pictures and people. I hope to take away from this a better understanding of the lives of the Irish people and not only that is discussed and celebrated on St. Patrick’s day.

  • Sandra papasedero

    hello..I live in Boston,My family background is not Irish. I honestly don’t know why,but I have felt an affinity for all things Irish since I was a child. This period in history,specifically,is pertinent. Again,excepting a great-grandmother who migrated during the famine years,my family is predominantly English,but it is just a sense of belonging to the Irish that draws me.

  • Carmel McLoughlin

    I am a late starter but hope to catch up. My interest in this period of history is due to my grandfather and his brothers fighting in the Irish Civil War in Co. Wexford and my grandmother being a member of Cumann na mBan. I want to try to understand what inspired them take up arms and to engage in some quite daring escapades during this time and what it was like for their families.

  • Una Lynch

    Hallo to everyone
    My cousin told me about this course knowing my personal circumstances confine me and an online course that I can access 24hours would really work for me. I have a particular interest in family history and am consumed with curosity to uncover the kind of life my grandfather and great grand father had to live to survive during those troubled but exciting times in Ireland and the fact that my family history hints at stories from various sides in those times…..I love the idea of looking at history from the prospective of ordinary lives and i am at the age when we were at school in Ireland we were not allowed to learn about this time as the resentments were still very fresh in the minds of people from both sides My own family were burnt out twice by the British Army and by the Old IRA and my father told me how as a child he saw and heard the horses scream in terror as the workmen and his father and grandfather tried in vain to rescue then from the burning stables and how all was destroyed and how neighbours came to help them with food and seed after and the terror of the horses stayed with him and spurred him on to become a vet………..

  • brian sumner

    I thought the course would tell me about what took place duing the period bu I think I will gain more by undergoing what you are offering

  • steve anslow

    keen fo a new view of a period that has always fascinated me and which I last visited at university some time ago. Always been interested tho and have kept reading and thinking about the period ever since. But it is always presented as the story of the main players and ordinary folk and there motivations are what I hope to discover thru this

  • Damien Flinter

    Morning all,
    I’m hoping the course is not just about the multiplicity of individual lives and circumstances but also looks at the macro imperial forces contending for global dominance in their fratricidal Great Game.
    If so we may be able to draw lessons to try to arrest the apparent return to that disastrous program since the end of the napalm-hot ‘cold war’.
    I’m not optimistic.

  • John wild

    Looking forward to learning more about a country and its history a history that still has much relevance today. I like the idea of looking at events through the eyes of those who actually shared the experiences.

  • Ana

    Hi Everyone,

    I came across this course by accident and am quite excited to learn more about that period in Irish life.

    My grandparents lived through it but never wanted to talk about it. One of my great-uncles was killed in the Dardanelles.

    I too am ten hours into the future near Sydney Australia and have been here for the last 26 years.

    There is so much conflict around the world at the moment, neighbour against neighbour, perhaps this course will give us an insight into these lives also.

    • Damien Flinter

      Morning, Ana
      Glad to see I’m not the only one disturbed by the escalating return to the stupidities that led to the ’14-’18 Armageddon….our ‘leaders’ seem to have embraced historical amnesia in their return to that same imperial hubris.
      I think Irish history is something of a microcosm of the global forces at play, and functioned as laboratory for Britannia to refine her colonising methodologies to pursue that ’empire upon which the sun never sets’…with the conductor’s baton passed to Washington and the Nato corporate cartel driving for PNAC full spectrum dominance.
      My prognosis would not be great.

  • John Lawler

    Anxious for another perspective on the events surrounding 1916. We read a lot about the leaders leading up to and through the Easter uprising. I’ve always wondered how the average person felt and dealt with the massive changes.

  • Mark

    Hi Everyone,

    One of my early reactions, when I first read the blurb about this course, was that it was an opportunity for me to learn more about what happened between two neighbours. Certainly, from 1916, nothing was ever going to be the same again. As I have read further, I am convinced I am not going to get away lightly. And that’s no bad thing!

    I find myself out on a limb. Well, for one thing I live ten hours in the future – near Brisbane, Australia. Secondly, I lived in various parts of Great Britain for 52 years. I also flew in the RAF, so was part of the establishment. However, living in the north of Scotland exposed me to several realities of the north/south divide. With friends in Ireland, north and south – and for that matter, Jewish friends and Muslim and recently, Russian, the personalisation of conflict interests me. The more I think about todays conflicts, the more I am convinced we need friendships, not gung-ho leaders!

  • Darragh

    Looks like an interesting course and I look forward to be part of it. My father was in WWI as a young soldier and often went to Ireland during this time. I would love to know more about what he experienced as well as what life was like during such a tumultuous time.


    Great to join another course with futurelearn. Particularly with an early 20th c. Ireland theme. It is vitally we know about the lives of the “ordinary” people during the period 1916 to 1923. To much attention has paid to the stars of the period from Collins to Craig. Lets now find out “the tolling masses”

  • Damian

    Great intro- it will enable me to look at the bigger picture surrouding the subject and hope by interacting with fellow learners this will enable me to ask questions, answer questions and genrally discuss further and educate myself.

  • David Penney

    I’m very much looking forward to this course. As a Geographer, I often think Historians focus too much on the big stuff and forget the ordinary person in the street, and how war and troubled times effect them both spatially and in terms of opportunities. The time period also happens to be when women’s rights of identity and authority were accepted through the vote etc. So there are many issues to be explored, such as War Widows. I am archivist for Trinity Cricket and Hockey Clubs, so there are many names of ordinary (mainly) Irishmen there who never returned from Flanders or Suvla Bay. How did their deaths affect their families? Finally, my Mother’s family, the Varians from Cork: notorious United Irishmen in 1848, then Parnellites and Socialists from 1860-95 who eventually became loyal to the Crown in the early 20th C. (witness: war deaths) and must have had to make serious alterations to survive in 1922 (the Varian Brush Factory). Lot’s of these questions remain unanswered.

  • Max

    Dear Sirs and Madams,
    My name is Max, I’m Italian and really interested in attending this amazing course. I wonder if my English is good enough to do it. My ex Irish teacher, Colette, teaching at the ATC school in Bray co Wicklow, some days ago told me to attend your language courses. I’d like to improve my bad knowledge of the Language but I don’t know this course can be at my current level. Do I have to do an entry test? Please make me understand what to do. Thank you for your time. Kind regards, Max

  • Colette Eames

    Thank your for this very interesting introduction to this course. I am really looking forward to taking part in this course which I hope will answering some of the questions I have already and to formulating many new ones.