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Death of eminent historian

Renowned Irish historian and Marist priest Fr Brendan Bradshaw died peacefully yesterday, 10 December, at Cherryfield Lodge Nursing Home in Milltown Park, in the company of his family.  Brendan came to stay in the Jesuit nursing home on 13 June 2013. Rachel McNeill, Nursing Manger in Cherryfield, said he settled in very quickly and was happy and content. “He was able to do continue with his work for nearly all of his time with us, editing or writing,” she said, adding, “I think he appreciated the company of the community and the support he got for his work.”

As a mark of the esteem that Brendan was held in by Irish Jesuits, a special edition of Studies, the Jesuit quarterly, was dedicated to him just this winter. This particular issue of Studies contains the papers delivered at the ‘Reformation 500’ conference held in Christ Church Cathedral and St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Dublin, in October 2017. Brendan himself was the author of seminal work and important publications on the history of the Reformation, with particular reference to Ireland. According to Bruce Bradley SJ, editor of Studies, “Something of the quality and significance of the work he has produced over the years is made clear in the essay, ‘After Bradshaw: the debate on the Tudor Reformation in Ireland’, by Dr James Murray, in a volume launched at the ‘Reformation 500’ conference.

Brendan was  born in Limerick City in 1937, in what local people call ‘the parish’, St. Mary’s, the old medieval part of the city. His father had a small family business and he went to the local Christian Brothers school. He joined the Civil Service in 1955 but left five years later and joined the Marist Fathers. Brendan studied history for his primary degree in University College Dublin in the early 60’s. He then went on scholarship to Cambridge and quickly established himself as a notable historian. He spent most of his working life in Cambridge and recently retired as a Life Fellow of Queen’s College.

As well as his ground-breaking work on Tudor history and the Reformation in Ireland, Brendan produced also produced a stalwart defence of a nationalist view of Irish history. The Troubles in the North, and the IRA campaign in particular, gave rise to an interrogation and deconstruction of the Irish Nationalist tradition, by a small group of historians, mostly from the Republic of Ireland.  Brendan Bradshaw met them head on, and offered a wide-ranging critique of this ‘revisionist trend’ in recent Irish historiography, most notably in a renowned article in the professional journal Irish Historical Studies, in 1989.

His latest book,  And so began the Irish Nation’: Nationality, National Consciousness and Nationalism in Pre-modern Ireland, was published just over two years ago, in August 2015. In a review of that book in Studies, Jesuit Brian Mac Cuarta writes of Bradshaw’s opposition to the ‘revisionists’, saying he challenged “specifically, the tacit assumption of neutrality on the part of the historian: while enjoining objectivity, Bradshaw disputes that real neutrality is possible; the pursuit of neutrality (ultimately futile in his account) leads to an anodyne presentation which deepens the cleavage between the professional historian and the public who are interested in the story of their community.”

Fr Brendan will be sadly missed by his family including several nieces and nephews, grand nieces and grand nephews. Also by the Marist Fathers in Ireland and overseas, and by the Jesuit Community in Cherryfield Lodge. His death will also be regretted by  his many friends and colleagues within academia, particularly those associated with Queens’ College, Cambridge. Memorial Mass in the Chapel of the Marist Fathers, Mount St Mary’s Milltown, Dublin 14 at 5.00 pm on Tuesday next, December 12th.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.