Development & Alumni Relations Office 


James Mackey, PhD (died 25 January 2020, aged 85)


Full obituary can be found online at


Born 9 February 1934 the eldest of three children to Peter Mackey and Esther Morrissey, James Mackey attended the Christian Brothers school in his home town of Dungarvan before completing his secondary education at the Cistercian College in Roscrea.


He studied Philosophy and Theology at St Patrick's College, Maynooth, finishing his doctorate in Theology in 1960. He moved to Belfast to lecture in Theology at Queen's University where he also did a PhD in Philosophy. He returned to Waterford to teach Philosophy at St John's College seminary from 1966 until 1969. It was during his time there that he met his future wife, Noelle Quinlan. Receiving a dispensation from the Catholic Church, James and Noelle were married in 1973. By that time, James had already moved to teach Theology at the University of San Francisco where his wife later joined him. The couple went on to have two children, Ciara and James, before returning as Thomas Chalmers Professor of Theology at the University of Edinburgh in 1979.


James organised many conferences and wrote 14 books spanning his interests in systemic theology and Celtic Christianity. A practising Roman Catholic throughout his life, he was nonetheless critical of some of that church's practices and doctrines. In the 1980s, he presented religious television series for ITV and Channel 4 as well as writing occasional articles for the Irish Times.


Although he spent most of his academic working life abroad, he never lost touch with his home place, returning to Waterford every summer with his family. The family purchased a holiday house in Clonee where James sailed regularly with a lifelong friend, passing on to his children and grandchildren a love of sailing. Having played hurling in Waterford and rugby when at the Cistercian College in Roscrea, he maintained a strong interest in both the Irish rugby team and the Waterford hurling team. Upon retiring from the University of Edinburgh, he returned with his wife to Waterford, continuing to work as a visiting professor to universities in the United States and for many years at Trinity College Dublin.


James is survived by his wife, Noelle, his son, James, his daughter, Ciara, and his grandchildren Seren and James.


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