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.

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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