Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Andrew Boyd: prolific journalist who chronicled troubled history of Northern Ireland

Andrew Boyd, a prolific journalist and popular historian who for decades enlivened the Belfast writing scene with his trenchant opinions and researches into the city's history and politics, has died. He was 90.

A highly independent individual who delighted in argument and relished controversy, he was a man of the left throughout his life.

Although he abhorred Partition and the creation of the Northern Ireland state, Boyd was contemptuous of modern republicanism.

He was also highly critical of the Unionist Party, accusing it of maintaining power "by exploiting the ignorance and fears of the Protestants, thriving on recurring violence, the inflaming of hatreds and the continuance of divisions".

His most striking work was his book Holy War In Belfast, which detailed the violent outbreaks other historians had tended to play down.

By an extraordinary coincidence his account of the city's previous violent episodes was published in August 1969 - the exact month when the most recent Troubles erupted.

His research was originally intended as a PhD thesis - he had graduated from Queen's University Belfast with a BSc honours degree in economics in the early 1960s.

A unionist historian later wrote disapprovingly that his book was "vividly written, but exhibits strong political prejudices". But it restored to the historical record the fact that sustained violence, far from coming out of the blue, had numerous precedents.

Boyd, who was born in 1921, was the son of a Boer War veteran. He came from a conventional Protestant working-class background in east Belfast, serving an apprenticeship as an engineer in the shipyard.

A major regret in his life was being rejected by the Royal Navy for service during the Second World War, but he compensated for his disappointment by becoming the youngest member of the shipyard committee on war procurement services.

By the late 1940s he had become increasingly active in left-wing politics. Moving to London, he met the veteran communist and social agitator Wal Hannington, who became his political mentor and close friend.

He married Kathleen Kelly, a Catholic from the Falls Road, the couple returning to Belfast in the early-1950s.

At various times Boyd had connections, formal or informal, with the civil rights movement, the SDLP, the Communist Party and other groupings. He also had influential contacts in the British and Irish Labour parties.

He produced a stream of books and pamphlets on topics such as the trade unions and unionist Prime Minister Brian Faulkner. His own favourite was Fermenting Elements, his work relating the history of labour colleges in Ireland. As the chronicler of Belfast's troubled past, he could not bring himself to believe that the developing peace process would end conflict in his city.

As a writer, Boyd came to the fore in 1969 as a teller of politically inconvenient historical truths, displeasing the unionist authorities by bringing to light events which had been airbrushed out for decades.

In his final years Boyd retained his brand of independence, sceptical and non-conformist to the last, ever unafraid of appearing out of step with prevailing orthodoxies.

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