Almost two out of three history teachers in second-level schools say their students find the history of the North "boring" and "bogged down in politics", according to a new report.
But with the history of Northern Ireland set to become compulsory in the leaving certificate history curriculum next year, the government report suggests teachers deploy the irreverent humour of comedians like Patrick Kielty and Des Bishop to "engage the interest of students" in the subject.
History teachers said they avoided Northern Ireland because it "can raise discriminatory attitudes in class and name calling". There was little support for introducing it in the classroom, they said.
Other reasons given by teachers for avoiding the subject were they felt they lacked knowledge of the subject and believed they could not compete with the information the students got from their communities and families.
But the report warns this will have to change. "If students do not learn about modern Irish history in a school context, will they be skilled enough to interpret what they see in the media outside school?" it asks.
"If in senior cycle, teachers are not supported to take on sensitive issues, are they abdicating an important duty to give impartial information on topics? If we wish to deal with post-conflict situations and empower upcoming generations, we cannot ignore the difficult and sensitive events that have impacted upon us," it warns.
But the government feels humour can help history teachers to spark students' interest in Northern Ireland.
"Humour is rampant in practically all corners of the island and humour has seen many citizens through the bleakest of times," says the report. It can be used as a "subtle inroad" to explore sensitive issues for students, it adds. Father Ted is instanced by the report as a possible tool "for examining the cultural changes of Ireland, from it not being socially acceptable for RTÉ originally to buy it, to its being bought back at a later date having been a huge success for another station".
Comedians like Des Bishop, Patrick Kielty, Nuala Mc-Keever and Jimmy Young are also mentioned as people who have sent up bigotry and sectarianism and made people laugh at themselves and at "the others".
The rapid evolution of irreverent text humour could also be used to generate interest, the report suggests. It recalls a recent text before the Ireland vs England rugby game at Croke Park which read: "Ireland may well be without Horgan and O'Driscoll, two players that most teams would be loth to be without, but England will be without their tanks and machine guns from their last visit to Croke Park."
"The speed of texts and their spiky humour is something that could be deployed as a tool that students can immediately relate to," the report, prepared by the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Science, concludes.