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Acclaimed historian Jonathan Bardon unravelled our past with rare clarity


Dr Jonathan Bardon at home in north Belfast

Dr Jonathan Bardon at home in north Belfast

Dr Jonathan Bardon at home in north Belfast

The death of Dr Jonathan Bardon robs Northern Ireland of one of its most distinguished and accessible historians. A man of prodigious output, his A History of Ulster is regarded as a seminal work for anyone wishing to make sense of the tangled and complex past of this island.

Born into a middle class Protestant family in Dublin in December 1941 - a time he regards as one of the worst in modern global history, with Hitler's troops only 20 miles from Moscow, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the Royal Navy suffering one of its most demoralising defeats in the South China Sea - he spent most of his early years among his co-religionists and first met anyone from Belfast when he went to Trinity College in Dublin.

It was there he met Victor Blease, later to become chief executive of the NI Housing Executive, and began a brief flirtation with the NI Labour Party due to the Blease family's influence.

Later when he went to Queen's University - he lodged in a room sublet by Eamonn McCann - and came to know many of the students agitating for civil rights. He recalled once going to view a riot in the Lower Falls area and being knocked out by a police officer, who hearing his Dublin accent, regarded him as either an agitator or a rubber-necker.

After graduation, he taught at Orangefield Boys Secondary School, then as lecturer and later manager of the College of Business Studies (now part of Belfast Met) and between 1998 and 2007, he was employed in the School of History at Queen's University.

His historical writing took flight working for the BBC, beginning with 48 20-minute dramatised documentaries on Irish history and followed by A Short History Of Ireland - 240 five-minute dramatised documentaries for radio, later extended by another 60.

He cited ATQ Stewart as a guiding light: "His writing made you want to keep turning the pages," and with typical modesty only regarded the importance of A History of Ulster when it was favourably reviewed by distinguished historians.

Dr Bardon is survived by his wife Carol, a daughter Jane and son Dan from his first marriage and four stepchildren and five stepgrandchildren from his second.

Belfast Telegraph