For the past four years Magherafelt High School students have been involved in an Oral History project that has aimed to record for posterity the testimony of those who made a significant stand in Northern Ireland. 

The project was the brainchild of the American Federation of Teachers in partnership with the NASUWT in Northern Ireland.  Through the funding that the AFT secured, teachers from around the world were given the opportunity to attend training events to prepare them to enthuse students to go out and record interviews with key civic activists for themselves, armed with their nifty Flip Cameras.  These interviews could then be compared with other key contexts, such as South Africa, USA, Georgia, Poland and others.  The key aim was to always ensure that the students were leading the project and they were the key decision makers in relation to who should be interviewed.  Students were literally recording History.

 

Interviews in Magherafelt High School

 When the project began, it was an exciting adventure into the unknown.  Who would be willing to share their stories with a group of Year 10 students?  We did not anticipate that 99% of historical figures, current political figures and local activists would agree to be the subject of a Paxman inspired grilling by Year 10 Students.  It was always an amazing feeling for the teacher to tell students that their target had agreed to be interviewed and we have got a date!  Then the excitement really began. 

 

Magherafelt High School Year 10 students interview Assistant Chief Constable   Judith Gillespie as part of the "Civic Voice" initiative

 Magherafelt High School Year 10 students interview Assistant Chief Constable Judith Gillespie as part of the "Civic Voice" initiative

 

The interview subjects were decided on the following criteria.

  1. Student input was central. 
  2. Teacher suggested themes. 
  3. Interview subjects that challenge our own perspective. 

MHS Students chat with UTV live news 'anchor' Paul Clarke as part of the "Civic Voices" project

MHS Students chat with UTV live news 'anchor' Paul Clarke as part of the "Civic Voices" project.

 

This translated into interviews that fell under the following headings: 

Year 1   Local Political Representatives and Activists
Year 2      Civil Rights Campaigners and Interpreting Northern Ireland on Camera
Year 3   Victims of the Troubles and the Campaign for Justice
Year 4   Police and Prison Officers in Divided Societies  
As we move into the future, we would hope to interview two further categories.
Year 5   The British/Irish Perspective on the Northern Ireland Peace Process
Year 6   Other perspectives on Northern Ireland and Civic Activism outside the Political Arena (Charities in Northern Ireland) 

           

As a school we have been fortunate to interview: 

  • Baroness May Blood who told us of her life as a Trade Union Activist. 
  • Broadcasters Mr Paul Clark (UTV) and Mrs Donna Traynor (BBC) who told the students about the challenges of reporting Northern Ireland.  
  • The current leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Mr Mike Nesbitt
  • Mr Paddy Joe McLean and Mrs Bernadette McAliskey from the Civil Rights Campaign of 1960’s and 1970’s Northern Ireland. 
  • Victims Campaigners such as Mr Alan McBride of Wave (Families of the Disappeared), Mr Michael Gallagher (Omagh Support and Self-Help Group), Mrs Mary Hamilton (Claudy Victims Group) and Mr Willie Fraser
  • Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie (PSNI) and Mr Finlay Spratt (Prison Officers Association) 
  • Legendary figures of Northern Ireland politics such as the Rev. Martin Smyth (former South Belfast MP), Rev. William McCrea (MP), Mr Jim Nicholson (MEP) and Lord Maginnis of Drumglass. 
  • Local MLA’s such as Mr Sandra Overend, Mr Billy Armstrong (former MLA), Mr Ian McCrea and Mr Patsy McGlone
  • Local Councillors such as Mrs Anne Forde and Mr Paul McLean
  • Mr Chuck Richardson, former Director of the Spirit of Enniskillen, an inspirational scheme that benefited so many young people in Northern Ireland. 
  • Mr Ryan Feeney, Head of Community Development, Strategy and Public Affairs, GAA. 

 

Some of the interviews challenged the students to question their own views, while other interviews offered very moving accounts of dealing with the legacy of the past conflict in Northern Ireland.  All of the interviews offered inspirational advice to the students on how important it is to be involved in your local community.  The students gained valuable skills in preparing for and carrying out their interviews. 

The interviews form a valuable historical record of Northern Ireland’s past and the transformation beyond that past.