Across an Open Field was launched at Laghey Primary School on Tuesday 31st January. Children from P3 to P5 were supported in their research by artist Ann Donnelly, writer Mary Branley, teachers Siobhan Coleman, Geraldine Martin and Magdelana Mullan, and Dungannon Library.
Over 300 children from 10 primary schools in Ireland and Northern Ireland investigated global and national happenings, local events and family stories in the 1912-1922 era, including four schools in Antrim, Down and Tyrone. The children became action researchers within their own communities during a two-year project led by Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership. The project was funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund and supported by the Education Authority of Northern Ireland.
The conditions soldiers faced during World War I was one area of investigation for the children: ‘Gas masks were used to breathe in gas-filled places in World War I. Mustard gas was able to stop you from breathing. It was called mustard gas because it smelt like mustard and was a yellowy brown colour. It gave the soldiers blisters on their arms and lungs. They used the trenches to dodge the bullets. The trenches were very dirty because they were in the ground. They dug holes in the ground. Soldiers, if they were hungry enough, ate their own head lice. It’s disgusting.’ Some of the children discovered they had relatives who fought in the war, including Grace Donnelly whose great granddad died from the effects of mustard gas in 1925.
The children also researched social history, focusing on living conditions and modes of transport at the time. As Ryan McVeigh learned: ‘Donkeys helped people get around, instead of walking or taking carriages. The donkeys also helped carry cargo to the front.’
Across an Open Field is published by Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership in association with Kilkenny Education Centre (representing the Association of Teacher Education Centres in Ireland) and the Education Authority, Northern Ireland. The book was created by children aged 8-12 from schools in Antrim, Down, Dublin, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick, Monaghan and Tyrone. The children’s historical research is documented on a dedicated website which includes case studies and videos capturing their voices and perspectives: 100yearhistory.com