The Struggle for Shared Schools in Northern Ireland: The History of All Children Together

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The Struggle for Shared Schools in Northern Ireland: The History of All Children Together. By Jonathan Bardon. With a preface by Dr. Mary Robinson, an introduction by the Rt. Hon. the Lord Mawhinney, and an epilogue by Donald Akenson. (Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation. 2009. Pp. xiv, 322.^13.99 paperback. ISBN 978-1-903-68887-8.)

When the violence that was to last for thirty years erupted in Northern Ireland in 1968, the leaders of the Catholic Church and the Protestant churches were at pains to explain to the world that it was not about religion and the scandalous division of Christians. Perhaps the most prophetic sign that they could have given that this was the case would have been to join together in starting an experimental "shared school." It would have been an experiment because school segregation was almost total - all but a handful of Catholic pupils attended Catholic schools and virtually no Protestant pupils attended Catholic schools. To have been able to present to the world a desegregated school, shared by the Catholic and Protestant churches, would have been an ecumenical project of the first order, demonstrating most effectively that whatever the violence was about it was not about differences between Christians. Sadly, as the vivid cartoon on the cover of Jonathan Bardon 's The Struggle for Shared Schools in Northern Ireland makes clear, most clerical leaders chose the other side of the struggle.

All Children Together (ACT) was established to campaign for an alternative to Roman Catholic or state (i.e., Protestant) schools. Driven from the outset, as Mary Robinson, former president of the Republic of Ireland, states in the preface, by "a group of ordinary women, not previously prominent in public life" (p. viii), ACT is to be commended for commissioning this history of the organization. Tracing its origins in 1973 through to its winding-up in 2003, Bardon's book complements Fionnuala O Connor's A Shared Childhood: The Story of the Integrated Schools in Northern Ireland (Belfast, 2002). As one would expect from the author of A History of Ulster (Belfast, 1992), Bardon's history of ACT is extremely well written. …

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