Provisional IRA poster

Teaching ideas

There is a range of approaches that could be used to help students engage with the purpose of the poster and its design.

• remove the wording from the poster and ask them what they think it is about and suggest they create some captions – then show them the full poster and discuss

• give the students the poster with all detail removed except for the man’s head and ask them to draw what they think may be in the rest of the poster

• explain that their community is embedded in conflict and there is fear that enemy agents might be spying: how would they warn people to watch what they said?

• give them the poster and asking them what they can infer about the situation in Republican areas of Belfast and Derry/Londonderry in 1974.

compare the poster with warning posters produced by security forces such as the Tufty poster in A bigger picture. They are both aimed at the general public but use very different techniques: how is each trying to achieve its aim?

This poster and others like it can be compared with the British government’s ‘Careless talk costs lives’ posters by Fougasse during the World War II which can be found in For the classroom. Students can look for the hidden Hitler and Goering listening in. Fougasse and the Republican artist use a similar idea but in very different styles: how effective is each and why? Do students think the designer was familiar with the posters from World War II? If so, what does that tell you about how the Provisional IRA saw the situation in Northern Ireland? Is it right to compare the army’s counterinsurgency activity in Northern Ireland with its previous activity in Malaya, Kenya and Aden and later actions in Iraq and Afghanistan? Or was Northern Ireland more like contemporary Ukraine or the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s, in Rwanda or between the Kurds and Turks?

Distinctive features of the conflict in Northern Ireland were the range of everyday ephemera used to convey political messages and define allegiances, and the use of murals to convey messages and define territories.

The CAIN database in For the classroom contains a wide range of these ephemera and some have been selected for A bigger picture. Look at a selection of these – badges, pen, posters, drum, tickets, clothing, handkerchief etc – and ask students to sort them, judging from their slogans or motifs whether each is nationalist, loyalist or from the security forces.

Ask students to collect examples of contemporary ephemera that carry messages. They will find many commercial ones. Can they also find political messages? Set a challenge for students to find as many as they can. If they were wanting to spread a campaign message through their school or local community, what ephemera could they use? Why are ephemera good for spreading messages?

The use of ephemera to convey politically charged messages is not new. There are two examples elsewhere among the 100 objects: the Peterloo handkerchief and the Glorious Revolution playing cards. What similarities or differences can be seen between them and the ephemera in the CAIN collections?

There is a rich selection of nationalist and loyalist murals on the website in For the classroom. Many of them refer to historical events such as the Battle of the Boyne, the Somme and the Easter Rising. Very often they emphasise divisions and tribal loyalties although some seek to reach out across communities. Students could look at some murals alongside examples from the civil war in Syria and contrast them with community murals of rebuilding after the civil war in El Salvador, all of which can be found in For the classroom. This can lead to a discussion of the power of mural art rooted in communities and how such art can both reflect division and promote unity.

The following four activities are intended to help students understand more about the presence of the British army in Northern Ireland.

The BBC clips in For the classroom are extremely well selected and each clip is accompanied by a suggested classroom activity. Clips particularly relevant to the role of the armed forces are:

• Northern Ireland in the 1960s

• People’s Democracy march in January 1969

• British troops arrive to keep the peace in 1969

• Nationalists begin to clash with the British Army

• Introduction of internment in 1971

• An overview of the events of Bloody Sunday

Sunningdale and the UWC strike

Contrasting views of the role of the armed forces can be studied by comparing extracts from the British officer’s account of a soldier’s life with eyewitness accounts of Bloody Sunday and William Rukeyser’s photos - see For the classroom.

If the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which set up a power-sharing government for Northern Ireland, resulted from the recognition on all sides that the conflict could not be won, how can the role played by the British army be seen? Did it succeed in preventing civil war and preserving the union? Or, by being drawn into armed struggle with the IRA, did it make things far worse? Was it an army of occupation or protection of the community from terrorism? Using documents and the BBC clips, students could create counter arguments for an informed debate.

The power sharing government at Stormont offers a model of resolution but communities are still divided. The difficult question of how to achieve post-conflict reconciliation has been approached in many different ways including the Nuremberg Trials, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the International Criminal Court and the grassroots Fambul Tok movement in Sierra Leone. There are projects in Northern Ireland to bring students in Catholic and Protestant schools together. Links for all the above can be found in For the classroom. Students can look at aspects of some or all of these and consider their relative merits. If, as in Northern Ireland, perpetrators of human rights abuses go unpunished, can there be lasting peace? Or is reconciliation and forgiveness essential if a society is to move on?

Students who are studying conflict resolution in Northern Ireland and elsewhere can consider what would work in their own school. In For the classroom there are both details of a scheme and criticism of its effect.

The IRA poster asks the whole community to identify with their struggle. Similar pressures worked within loyalist communities. Nevertheless, there were individuals who resisted violent sectarianism and students can be asked to watch their stories in the film Upstanding and identify what factors may have made these people into ‘upstanders’.

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Provisional IRA poster