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Professor David George Boyce, PhD (died 19 August 2020, aged 77)


Obituary available to read online at:


Professor David George Boyce, who has died at the age of 77, was a pioneer in the field of Irish history. His modest manner belied both his influence and a remarkable breadth and depth of historical and literary knowledge.

Boyce was born in Lurgan, Co Armagh, in November 1942, the third of four children of Isaac Boyce, a long-term soldier, and his wife, Jane Anna Courtney, a linen worker.

He was educated at Carrick Primary School and later Lurgan College, then something of an idiosyncratic institution. However, Boyce was inspired by two of his teachers: history teacher William Crawford, later a celebrated archivist and pioneer of local history, and the artist Cecil Maguire, then an English teacher, both of whom cultivated his passion for reading at the local Carnegie Library.

Boyce became the first member of his family to attend university, studying history at Queen's in Belfast.

Following postgraduate research, he was employed as an archivist in the Department of Western Manuscripts of the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

In 1971, he was appointed as a lecturer in Political Theory and Government in Swansea University, Wales. Boyce's first major work, Englishmen and Irish Troubles: British Public Opinion and the Making of Irish Policy 1918 - 22 (1971), was based on his PhD thesis supervised by Professor JC Beckett at Queen's. In this volume, Boyce examined the influence of the British public on political policy towards Ireland in the revolutionary period.

Boyce was to revisit this topic many years later in a transformed political context with The Irish Question and British Politics 1868 -1996 (1996). However, his natural curiosity drove him to examine Irish history from many different perspectives: Nationalism in Ireland (1982) provided innovative analysis of the ideology of Irish nationalism.

In the mid-1990s, Boyce turned to editing works on 19th and 20th-century Ireland with his friend, Alan O'Day, collecting insights from established authors and encouraging new scholarly voices.

Beyond the subject of Ireland, his published works include Decolonisation and the British Empire 1775 - 1997 (1999), The Falklands War (2005), and articles on subjects as diverse as military history, newspaper history, literature, and devolution.

In 1989, Boyce was awarded a personal chair at Swansea. Ever aware of the broader cultural context of his work and with a keen sense of humour, he began his inaugural lecture, The Sure and Confusing Drum: Ireland and the First World War, with a reference to the popular BBC sitcom Blackadder Goes Forth.

Frequently consulted by senior figures in Irish history, he was also noted for the support and encouragement he gave to younger scholars, in whose work his intellectual legacy will endure.

Although Boyce remained in Wales for the rest of his life, he continued to return to Northern Ireland annually, usually staying near Strangford Lough.

He is survived by his wife, Kathleen, daughter Maria, son Niall and grandchildren. His ashes will be interred in County Down.


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