Biography

“It’s not usual for historians to reveal much about themselves …”.

I was born under the star sign of Leo (or was it Taurus?)  to a farming family in County Tipperary in 1946. That was before the advent of rural electrification, the Friesian cow and Radio Telefís Éireann. A two-teacher national school, Ileigh in the parish of Borrisoleigh, laid the basis for my later academic career. University College Cork and the University of York had something to do with it as well. Among my early intellectual influences I count John Hicks (A Theory of Economic History), Edna O’Brien (The Country Girls) and the letter columns of the Tipperary Star.

Being an emeritus professor of history at Queen’s University Belfast has its compensations and keeps me off the streets. Having lived in Belfast for most of my adult life, through much of the Troubles, I couldn’t help trying to make some contribution to life in my adopted city (though I say ‘adopted’ rather reluctantly).

In terms of the academic community I am a Member of the Royal Irish Academy and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. For those who wonder how I came to write history as I do, I might suggest an article I published in the Dublin Review of Books some years ago. It seeks to reflect on the challenges of writing contemporary history against a backdrop of political violence. Here’s the link: https://www.drb.ie/essays/making-history-in-ireland

Sporting Heritage

My uncles, Eddy Ryan and Tim Ryan, won All-Ireland hurling medals. Eddy was captain of the Tipperary team in 1954, seen here with one of the greatest hurlers of all time, Christy Ring. The picture tells of a lost world of deference. Then again perhaps uncle Eddy was simply anticipating ‘taking the knee’.

A first cousin, Bobby Ryan, was captain of the All-Ireland winning team of 1989, and his brother Aidan was another star. My brother Paul played for two counties in senior hurling, Tipperary and Limerick. My hurling career had its moments but despite my best efforts not many. Best passed over in silence. I have to add, both as an enthusiast for the game and as a historian, I love this photo of the Bishop, the hurler and the hurler on-his-knee. A playful student of semiotics might have a field day here. Ní mar síltear bítear (old Irish saying: not everything is as it seems).