Minturn teachers explore Ireland’s dark past |

Minturn teachers explore Ireland’s dark past

Sarah Mausolf
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily

MINTURN, Colorado – Teachers Noel Falk and Stephanie Gallegos recently rented a condo on the outskirts of a harbor town in Ireland.

While many tourists would have been most intrigued by the beaches and pubs, those were perhaps the last things on the teachers’ minds.

Instead, Falk and Gallegos were on a quest to understand a dark time in Ireland’s past: the potato famine.

The Minturn Middle School teachers received $9,500 from Fund for Teachers, to explore Ireland’s history and bring back lessons for students.

The seventh-grade social studies teachers say they applied for the grant three times and were excited to finally win the money.

“I kept saying ‘Really? Are you sure?'” Gallegos said.

During the 11-day trip to Ireland earlier this month, the women set out to answer three questions: “Under what circumstances did the Irish immigrate during the potato famine?” “Why does prejudice exist?” and “How did the American dream exist for famine Irishmen?”

The potato famine reached its depths between 1845 and 1850 and marked the beginning of mass immigration to America. To better understand the time period, the teachers strolled through real potato fields and visited a mass grave for victims of the famine.

In the Bonane parish in Kenmare, the teachers got a tour of Molly Gallivan’s, a farm that has been restored to its 200-year-old state. There, the teachers attended a homecoming ceremony similar to those immigrants would have experienced when they came home to visit or to stay. The teachers immersed themselves in the traditional Irish food, songs and dances.

The teachers also stopped by the Skibbereen Heritage Center. They visited a burial site where 8,000 to 10,000 Irish people who died during the famine were laid to rest because their families could not longer afford coffins. They learned that for the Irish, burying loved ones in a mass grave was especially heartwrenching because elaborate funerals had been part of their culture.

The teachers also visited Cobh, a busy port where millions of Irish left for America and Canada during the potato famine.

“I can’t imagine the depths of knowledge we are going to bring to our kids this year,” Falk said.

The teachers blogged about their experiences, snapped pictures, collected books and discovered primary documents like written accounts of the potato famine.

They plan to incorporate those things into their lessons on immigration and prejudice. Those lessons will help students to answer the questions “Why does prejudice exist?” “Why do people immigrate?” and “How does the American dream exist in Eagle County today?” Minturn Middle School’s expeditionary learning program uses guided questions to help students learn. Students will explore whether connections exist between the Irish immigration of the past and the Mexican immigration that is currently happening in America.

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

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