The Arts

Art, Drama, Music and RE offer unique and complementary opportunities to understand characters and events in history and how they are reflected in community identity and commemoration.


The use of drama, and in particular role-play and role-reversal, can help encourage young people to develop skills in empathy, which in turn can reinforce understanding of historical contexts, experiences and motivation by fostering an appreciation of WHY people in history did what they did.  Developing understanding and empathy through the use of drama techniques and skills can help young people to:

  • develop a more personal interest and understanding of historical characters events and circumstances;
  • use evidence, imagination and creativity to think critically, reflectively and empathetically about the past;
  • interpret and reconstruct  contexts, events, characters and ideas;
  • explore the impact of social, historical and cultural influences;
  • become more aware of and sensitive to the individual and collective motivation and reaction and its complexity; and
  • reflect on and evaluate the authenticity of their own interpretations.


The use of art can be very effective in enabling young people to reflect about how commemorations are represented in the community and their impact on people and the environment, for example, thinking about how symbols, flags, colours and music have come to represent different identities.  Using art can also provide an important outlet for expressing views and emotions that they might not be able to put into words.

Individual art and/or music collage

Pupils might search the internet, books, newspapers cuttings, magazines and symbols in the local community as the basis for creating and explaining collages relating to commemoration, community, conflict, culture, history, and identity supported by music, words and images associated with the emotions they represent and the power they generate.  It is important to create a safe space for this form of expression. 

Collective collage

On a large roll  of paper / card, spread widely enough so that the class can access different parts on which to work, everyone selects a space in which to draw or paints something which represents their thoughts in response

to a relevant question  After a time (for example, ten minutes) pupils can be asked  to find another space, and respond to a follow-on question. This can be

repeated as is appropriate and according to space on the spiral.

Sample questions could include:

  • How would you represent important aspects of your past?
  • How would you represent important aspects of your present?
  • What are your hopes for the future?

Afterwards, allow time to stand back and look at the collage, walking around to see other people’s contributions. Follow this by de-briefing as a group, talking about what people can see on the spiral or what they chose personally to depict, and considering the process of working together. For example:

  • How comfortable were they with an art-based activity?
  • How did it feel to work in this way? When had they last done something like this?
  • How did people feel if someone used ‘their’ space and developed or added to their work?
  • What does the collective work represent?
  • What do they like and dislike?
  • Is this a fair representation of the issue?
  • Are they surprised by any of it?

These activities are useful because they require young people to articulate their thoughts and feelings and, therefore, help to build all kinds of literacy, including emotional literacy.


This is a similar exercise to the collage, where individuals / small groups are asked to design a news report for a specific communication medium such as radio, television, newspaper or the internet to explain the work they have been doing. They should consider to whom the report is to be made available. The report could include:

  • the value of the work, including both positive and negative points;
  • what they have learnt and what action needs to be taken;
  • interviews with people who have views on the issue in question;
  • examples of written or artwork;
  • celebration of the group, the learning, etc and  future plans.

Personal reflection journals

It is important that people have the opportunity to develop skills of personal reflection and to be comfortable with themselves. Using a journal can help to focus thoughts and reflections, through writing, drawing or a combination of the two. It allows young people to reflect back on their learning over a period of time.  As young people are likely to record very different things depending on the audience, it is important to establish a very clear understanding from the outset as to whether or not what is written is totally personal or whether it is to be shared..


Music forms an important part of the cultural identity of the two traditions in Northern Ireland and many ‘tunes’ played by both sides have similar historical origins. Songs are more than just words and musical notes and people in conflict create rallying tunes and songs of conflict that  are a reflection of the times in which they were written, the people who penned them and the people who sang them. The lyrics are often deliberately soaked in pain and longing for freedom, or sometimes triumphant after a battle, from rebel ditties rejoicing in a bloody shootout to Unionist’s ballads nearly 400 years old.

Exploring the music of both sides can be a very effective way to help young people to reflect on how history and commemorations are represented in the community and their emotional impact on people, tapping into cultural loyalties that may be difficult to put words. One quote about the importance of music to both traditions in Northern Irelandclaims that ‘They might have won all the battles but we had all the best songs’.  

Top Ten Tunes

Young people might research

  • the ‘top ten’ Republican and Loyalist tunes and their lyrics to explore their similarities and differences and the historical past on which they draw.
  • The ‘top ten’ historical events that these tunes are associated with and why reference to them is made.
  • The ‘top ten’ instruments played, the extent to which they are shared and some instruments which have become associated with one side more than another.