Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Obituary: ATQ stewart - Distinguished Irish historian, writer and consultant

ATQ Stewart, who has died aged 81 after a long illness, was one of the most noted Irish historians of his generation. A number of his books became bestsellers and he was an historical consultant on several important television series.

Anthony Terence Quincey Stewart (known to his colleagues and friends as Tony) was born in 1929.

He became a teacher at Belfast Royal Academy and later a member of staff in the School of History and Anthropology in Queen’s University.

He was one of a line of distinguished Irish historians at Queen’s, not least JC Beckett (Professor of Irish History 1958-75) who followed Stewart’s path from school-teaching into academia.

One of Beckett’s major works was The Making Of Modern Ireland 1603-1923, dealing with Irish history broadly from the Plantation to just after Partition.

ATQ Stewart, however, first made his name on focused aspects of this broad canvas and his 1969 book, entitled The Ulster Crisis, featured the establishment of the Ulster Volunteer Force.

Apart from the historical importance of the book, it was published at a time of greatly increasing tension in Northern Ireland which, in more recent years, had enjoyed a period of |relative peace.

The title of the book itself — The Ulster Crisis — received a great deal of attention from a wider public which was living through a major crisis and feared that history was repeating itself, an observation which was noted repeatedly by Stewart.

His most important works included The Narrow Ground: Aspects Of Ulster 1909-1969 (1977), A Deeper Silence (1993) and The Shape Of Irish History (2001).

One of his main interests was the history of the United Irishmen and the 1798 rebellion and he traced in detail the role of northern Presbyterians in Irish history.

Stewart was not without controversy and was sometimes accused of being an apologist for unionism, but he had the virtue of reminding people that Irish nationalism was never the sole prerogative of the Catholic community.

Stewart also showed, in his analyses of the non-Catholic contribution to developing events, the complexities and some of the contradictions, as well as popular misconceptions, of Irish history.

He underlined the Irish tendency to regard all history as |“applied history” and of using this as a “convenient quarry which provides ammunition to use against enemies in the present”.

Following the publication in 1993 of A Deeper Silence, Stewart returned to familiar ground two years later in The Summer |Soldiers: The 1798 Rebellion In Antrim And Down.

Though Tony Stewart also worked on the BBC History Of Ireland series, as well as The Troubles on Thames TV and Channel Four’s Divided Kingdom, he was not a television historian in the modern, popular sense.

He was in the mould of a generation of older academics who had made their academic and public reputation within and from the confines of the university |corridors of learning, rather than through the mass appeal of the |television screen.

As an historian ATQ Stewart added significantly to the general understanding of the roots of the major Ulster crisis from 1969 onwards and, indeed, much earlier, and he encouraged people to think more clearly about the complex interaction of politics and religion and the role of non-conformists throughout Irish history.

ALF McCREARY

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