© 2016 Educational Studies Association of Ireland. There are ongoing initiatives in curriculum development and implementation in Ireland and internationally in order to enhance the educational experiences and outcomes of learners. This article is the first historical longitudinal analysis of primary school curriculum development and implementation in Ireland from the 1890s to the 1990s. The purpose of the paper is to distil key lessons from the history of curriculum development and implementation to inform contemporary policy and practice. The paper begins by situating current curriculum discourse and developments in both a national and international context. It then delineates the three main curriculum reforms undertaken in Ireland in the period under review. The section relating to each period includes an overview of the societal context in which the curriculum was developed, the process of development, the content of each curriculum and its implementation. Three key themes emerge from the analysis – the impact of wider societal factors on curriculum, the impact of the radical nature of curriculum change attempted and a lack of focus on planning for implementation.