James F. Lydon (1928-2013)

Prof. James F. LydonWe are saddened to hear of the passing of one of the founding members of the society, James Francis Michael Lydon on June 25. He was a graduate of University College Galway where he studied English and History for which he was awarded a first class honours degree. Two years later for his M.A. He concentrated on history under Mrs. Mary Donovan O’Sullivan. It was during this time he was involved in the creation of the Historical Society as it was then known. He applied for, and obtained, a Research Fellowship at the Institute of Historical Research at London University. He remained active with the society even during this period, he was made editor of a proposed journal and such was his status that he gave a paper at the 1953 I.U.H.S.A. Conference in Cork. In 1954 he was awarded a travelling studentship by the National Univeristy of Ireland, which allowed him to research in the Vatican Archives, before returning to London to finish and present his doctoral thesis in the following year. The thesis, on ‘Ireland’s Participation in the Military Activities of English Kings in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries’, was supervised by J. G. (later Sir Goronwy) Edwards. Sir Maurice Powicje also took a keen interest in his work and indeed encouraged Galway to offer him a lectureship ata time when academic posts in Ireland were in exceptionally short supply. He remained at Galway until 1959, when he came to Trinity as a Junior Lecturer in History, then a single department but later to be divided into Medieval and Modern.

The move to Trinity was a turning-point in James Lydon’s career. After three years as a Junior Lecturer he was promoted to Lecturer in 1962. His election to Fellowship in 1965 was the prelude to many other academic honours. Shortly after being appointment Associate Professor in 1967, he was elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy. When Professor Ottway-Ruthven retired in 1980, he was a natural choice as her successor in the Lecky Chair of History, a position he held with great distinction. From 1981 to 1984 he served as President of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. In 1988 the National University of Ireland honoured him with the degree of Doctor of Letters, which was conferred, fittingly, at Galway.

Professor Lydon’s expertise in the administrative history of the colony was combined with a knowledge of Old and Modern Irish, and an interest in applying the insights gained in American frontier studeis to the situation in Ireland during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This has led him to study the interaction of native and colonial societies. His meticulous research in the document of the period was to result in a long series of scholarly articles, beggining in 1954 with ‘The Hobelar: An Irish Contribution to Madiaeval Warfare’, on varied and often neglected aspects of the Lordship’s development. At the same time his books, The Lorship of Ireland in the Middle Ages (1973). together with his extensive contributions to the second volume of the New History of Ireland (1987), brought medieval Ireland to the attention of a wider audience. His joint editorship with Dr Margaret MacCurtain of the multi-volume Gill History of Ireland (1972-73) successfully broke with earlier patterns of historiography: they allowed much greater coverage to the non-ecclesiastical aspects of pre-Norman Ireland and to the Gaelic side of Ireland in the later middle ages.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Further Reading:
– Prof. Steven Ellis’ of the History Dept.’s made an excellent post about Prof. Lydon which can be read here.
– David Lydon’s wonderful memory of his great-uncle can be read here.

This was put together from the little information we have uncovered in the course of our research society.
Most of it is reproduced from:
‘James Lydona an Appreciation’ by Sheelagh Harbison in Barry, Terry; Frame, Robin and Simms, Katharine. Colony and Frontier in Medieval Ireland: Essays Presented to J. F. Lydon. (Hambledon Press, London 1995)


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