TW Moody

The most influential historian to have come out of Northern Ireland

Theodore William Moody is the father of modern Irish history. Born in Belfast in 1907, Moody was educated at Royal Belfast Academical Institute with JC Beckett and RB McDowell. This group of historians were to be highly influential in the study of history in Ireland, but Moody was to have the greatest influence.

After completing his undergraduate degree in Belfast, Moody studied in London at the Institute of Historical Studies, coming under the influence of new ideas concerning depth of research and the thoroughness of sourcing.

Moody and his friend RD Edwards returned to Ireland and determined that a new broom was needed to sweep clean the dusty, imprecise halls of Irish historical academe.

In order to achieve his vision of an objective, dispassionate study of Irish past, Moody created the Ulster Society for Historical Studies in 1936, which combined with the southern Irish Historical Studies to create a joint organisation.

This institution ensured that Ireland had a standard level of historical enquiry. Moody was aware that in many episodes of Ireland’s history, myths about events had caused immense pain and suffering. His struggle with the mythology and fantasy of Irish history became a personal crusade.

In 1978, he said:

'If history is used in its proper sense of continuing, probing, critical search for truth about the past, my argument would be that it is not Irish history but Irish mythology that has been so ruinous to us and may prove even more lethal.

'History is a matter of facing the facts of the Irish past, however painful some of them may be; mythology is a way of refusing to face historical facts.’

In this way, Moody was instrumental in forcing Irish society to take history seriously and realise its importance, removing to a certain extent history's use as a political tool. It was a life long struggle for this much loved man, who died in Dublin on February 11, 1984.

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