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22/09/2021

Winners of Leitrim's Young Historian of the Year awards

Winners of Leitrim's Young Historian of the Year awards

Letizia Sheridan-Seery, Carrigallen VC: Overall Winner, Best in School and Social History award winner

Last week, Transition Year students at Ballinamore Community School and Carrigallen Vocational School were presented with the county’s first Young Historian of the Year awards.
The programme was initiated by Fiona Slevin and Natalie Fryde. Fiona has researched and written about the history of Lough Rynn and Mohill; Natalie was Professor of History at Darmstadt University before coming to live in the Mohill area five years ago.
“We wanted to work with schools to encourage students to engage with their personal and local history”, said Fiona, “but we would have got nowhere without the enthusiastic and practical support of Leitrim County Librarian, Pauline Brennan and Local Studies Librarian, Mary Conefrey at Leitrim County Library”. A pilot programme was designed, and two schools and history teachers signed up: Seamus Mullen at Ballinamore Community School and Norma Comyns at Carrigallen Vocational School.

A treasure trove of past people and events
Students were asked to address the theme of ‘History on Your Doorstep’ and to pick a project and format that followed their skills and interests. Notwithstanding pandemic restrictions, Mary Conefrey worked hard to provide guidance on sources and to make library materials available. “In a year in which classes were mostly virtual and restricted socially, the students and teachers deserve huge credit for nurturing thirty projects to completion”, said Fiona.
While most projects were Leitrim-based, for some ‘doorstep’ meant Cavan and Spain. The range of topics was impressive, ranging from 1916 and the War of Independence, to emigration, the Famine, local heritage sites, key events and sport. For Seamus Mullen, the programme was “an avenue to a treasure trove of past people and events”. He thought that “students were more engaged and enthusiastic than normal, and were pleasantly surprised and excited by their findings”.
Natalie Fryde noted the quality of some students’ research: “they uncovered fascinating new information through interviews with family members and local people”. Some projects included images that brought their story to life, like old family photographs, historic posters and remarkable illustrations.



Winners
After reviewing all of the submissions, seven projects stood out for the judges. Last week, the winners were announced and certificates presented to all participants.

Overall Winner, Best in School and Social History category winner: Letizia Sheridan-Seery, Carrigallen VS, for Cavan Orphanage Fire 1943.

Best in School and Contemporary History category winner: Anya Stringer, Ballinamore CS for Leitrim’s Part in Making History at the Eurovision.

Category winners
Folklore – Killian Maguire, Ballinamore CS, for Haymaking in Leitrim in the 1930’s.

Built heritage – Lucy Keegan, Carrigallen VS, for The History of Fenagh Abbey;

Memoir – Emma Geoghegan, Ballinamore CS, for 'How my grand-aunt ended up working for one of the wealthiest families in America';
Family History – Marc Gannon, Ballinamore CS, for 'How I Got Here!';
Political History – Dylan Cole, Carrigallen VS, for 'Seàn MacDiarmada (1883-1916)';

All the winners received cash vouchers, and the overall and school winners were presented with engraved plaques – all sponsored by Leitrim County Library. The team is especially grateful to Ken Cunningham at Leitrim Crystal and Tommy McCormack at Lyric for producing the awards so quickly.

Next year’s programme
Given the success of the pilot, the team has been thinking about the next school year. They plan to publish some of the projects during the summer and hope to get more schools on board.
“There is a Young Scientist of the Year’, I think a ‘Young Historian of the Year’ programme is just as important”, said Fiona Slevin. “We had two goals: one was to encourage students to connect with their history and sense of place; the other was to help students develop the skills of history, like researching, asking questions, distinguishing fact from fiction and opinion, and storytelling. A recent OECD study indicates that just 15% of Irish 15-year-olds can distinguish fact from opinion in a reliable way, so learning the skills of history is a great way to address this.
‘This competition really brought the past to life for the students in Carrigallen Vocational School’, said Norma Comyns, ‘we hope to be involved in it for many years to come’.
For more information on the Young Historian project, contact Fiona Slevin at fiona@loughrynn.net.

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