Ireland's History Competition Celebrates Bold Expansion Amid Covid-19
Ireland’s EUSTORY Competition went nationwide this year as »The Irish National History Competition« (INHC). The new competition iteration extended essay invitations much farther afield to more than 260 secondary schools within the Irish Republic.
Previously, competition participants from Wales pulled from an innovative National University Ireland – Galway (NUIG) archive engagement programme comprising about 20 schools from Ireland’s west coast. This »Breaking-the-SEAL« programme (Student Engagement with Archival Learning) involved English and Irish-speaking schools in Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon. Breaking-the-SEAL focused on research and academic writing, sought to raise curricular scores, and encouraged students to enter their handiwork in an annual essay competition.
“We were seeing some fantastic work, but it was only ever seen by their history teacher and whomever was marking the Irish Leaving Certificate. Breaking-the-SEAL’s annual essay competition gave that marvellous research another spotlight. It put more eyes on their work,” said Luke O’Donnell, 2021 competition co-ordinator. The new competition iteration, »The Irish National History Competition« (INHC), extended essay invitations much farther afield to more than 260 secondary schools within the Irish Republic.
This year’s competition culminated on 29 April 2021 with an online awards ceremony via YouTube, and recognised for the first time year-specific categories – effectively the fourth, fifth and final years of secondary schooling. Whereas Breaking-the-Seal previously judged all entries against one another regardless of study stage, the Irish National History Competition sought to level the playing field, pitting like against like. Aside from Transition Year (fourth-year), Senior Cycle(1) (fifth-year) and Leaving Certificate (sixth-year) categories, the 2021 competition also distinguished between Breaking-the-SEAL workshop entries, and those outside the NUIG workshop catchment.
Competition director Paul Flynn (NUIG) was delighted with the calibre of entries from beyond the traditional and ongoing Breaking-the-SEAL initiative. “Through Breaking-the-SEAL we always sought to encourage greater critical analysis in historical investigations, highlight opportunities which archival engagement presents for young historians, and showcase some study options here at NUIG. As a result of those Breaking-the-SEAL workshops, we’ve always had the luxury of very accomplished entries into the competition. This year, despite going nationwide beyond our traditional catchment, the entry calibre held firm with dozens of excellent essays from all over Ireland outside our BTS programme.”
Ballygar’s Sarah Scott, a previous competition winner under the Breaking-the-SEAL programme, took part at one of EUSTORY’s Youth Activities. She said her EUSTORY Summit experience was brilliant: “It was a great opportunity for me, a fantastic personal achievement, and a real nod to my school as well for having gotten on board with the competition.”
Like so many other events worldwide, Covid-19 affected EUSTORY’s annual calendar, Breaking-the-SEAL’s seminar schedule, and the Irish National History Competition’s awards ceremony. Mr O’Donnell (NUIG) said the global pandemic had forced thousands of events to innovate, but the INHC team was determined the competition should evolve as per its original plan. “We always had high hopes of taking it national, and while many entrants cited access issues during lockdown conditions, they all seemed to overcome them one way or another and produce some amazing research. The competition remains a work in progress, but we’re very pleased it now has a nationwide forum. The fact so many from beyond our traditional clutch did so well suggests we’re already on the right track despite the Covid interruptions,” he said.
Teachers too won a collective clap on the back from competition organisers. “Some of these teachers have been part of Breaking-the-SEAL since its 2017 inception, but as mentioned we had prize winners this year from well beyond the archive engagement programme, too. That’s as much a celebration of teaching and mentoring as it is of student enthusiasm and excellence,” Mr O’Donnell added.
Competition Champion 2021: Muireann Ní Churnáin, Coláiste an Eachréidh, Athenry
Competition Runner-Up: Sheenagh Rowland, Scoil Mhuire Community School, Clane
Competition Third-Place: Onaleigh Earls, Presentation College, Athenry