Professor RB McDowell, eccentric Irish historian, dies at 97

As a lecturer, he combined an extraordinary knowledge of a wide range of subjects with an anecdotal style of lecturing that employed a genial, high-pitched address touched with an element of wonder. As an historian firmly rooted in the tradition of unrepentant bourgeois Unionism, McDowell experienced some eclipse in professional standing as his Anglocentric view of the history of Ireland became decreasingly fashionable.

Nevertheless, his first book, Irish Public Opinion, 1750-1800, was recognised as an incisive treatment of a novel subject when it was published in 1944; and even today it sets a standard which few subsequent scholars have reached.

His later work was uneven. It included an overlong History of Ireland in the Age of Revolution (1979) but also an admired history of Trinity College. There was also a stream of books on such subjects as the Anglican Church and the Conservative Party, as well as the Kildare Street Club, whose successful merger with the University Club he helped to bring about in Dublin during the 1970s.

Crisis and Decline (1998) dealt with the southern Irish Unionists abandoned by the Westminster government as the Republic came into being; and a biography of Henry Grattan (2001) was certainly not the work of a fading scholar, even though produced in his late eighties....

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