Historian Éamon Phoenix dies aged 69

Historian Dr Éamon Phoenix who has died at the age of 69. Picture: Hugh Russell
Historian Dr Éamon Phoenix who has died at the age of 69. Picture: Hugh Russell

Renowned historian Dr Éamon Phoenix has sadly died at the age of 69.

The academic, author and archivist of The Irish News, died peacefully at his Belfast home following a short illness.

He is survived by his wife Alice, daughter Mary-Alice, son-in-law Stuart and granddaughter Nicole.

Dr Phoenix had a long association with The Irish News, providing unrivalled insight and forensic analysis of key events in our history.

He will be particularly remembered by readers for his unmissable On This Day column, which was required reading for those interested in our troubled past and how history informs the present and future.

Despite his illness, he continued to contribute his daily column. His final On This Day appeared today.

Irish News editor Noel Doran said: ''I am deeply saddened by the death of Éamon Phoenix, a revered colleague and a valued friend throughout my time with The Irish News.

''Éamon was one of Ireland's pre-eminent historians and possessed unparalleled insights into the past, present and future of our society.

''He was also the chronicler of all aspects of The Irish News since 1891 and indeed its predecessor the Belfast Morning News since 1855.

''His On This Day column was cherished by our readers over the decades, and his recent work on the crucial 1922 and 1972 periods epitomised the importance of his role.

''It was always a privilege to welcome Éamon during his regular visits to our office, often wearing his blue gloves to examine the ancient bound files which formed the basis of his research.

''As well as being a gifted writer, Éamon was an exceptional orator with an ability to bring every subject to life through his anecdotes and observations.

''He will be hugely missed by everyone associated with The Irish News, and my sincere condolences, and those of all our readers, go to his widow Alice, daughter Mary-Alice and the family circle.''

South Belfast MP Claire Hanna said: “I was deeply sad to learn of the death of the eminent historian Dr Éamon Phoenix at the early age of 69 after a short illness. Our deepest condolences go out to his dear wife Alice and his daughter.

“Éamon taught for years at Stranmillis University College and was renowned for his mesmeric and musical speaking voice. No man knew more about the history of Ireland, and particularly the North and the tragic historical circumstances that shaped the attitudes of all of us on this small piece of earth. He was recognised as being impartial and fair-minded by everyone and could travel anywhere without issue due to his recognition as a man of integrity and honesty.

“He was particularly in demand for centenary events over the last few years and he had his own opinions which he expressed quietly when asked and they included the futility of the use of violence and the missed opportunities by all sides to show generosity, especially in the early 20th century.

“Éamon has left a vast spoken word archive with the BBC, his ‘On This Day’ column in the Irish News, which stretched back to events reported from 50 to 100 years ago, will be an essential source for historians for years to come. I can personally testify that John Hume was an unstinting admirer of his work, particularly his magnum opus ‘Ulster Nationalism’.

“Is fíor a rá ní fheicfidh muid duine agus stáraí chomc eirmiúil arís. I measc Naomh na hÉireann agus ar dheis Dé go mbeidh a anam uasal.”

Sinn Féin Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill said she was deeply saddened to hear of Dr Phoenix’s death.

“Eamon was a gifted communicator who has been publishing and contributing to many valuable and important pieces of historical writing, reflection and analysis for almost four decades,” she said.

“His passion and enthusiasm for Irish history and politics brought it to life raising public awareness and interest across society for today’s generation.

“His distinctive contribution to building the peace on this island was clear to all, and particularly through his regular columns in local newspapers and appearances on radio and television, and his important involvement with the decade of centenaries.

“His valuable writings and insights into our past leave a powerful legacy for future generations.

“My thoughts are with Eamon’s family, friends and colleagues in academia and in the Irish News at this sad and difficult time.”

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he was incredibly saddened by the news.

“Eamon takes to the grave an insight into the history of these islands that few will ever rival,” he said.

“Our deepest sympathies to his wife, daughter and wider family.”