Northern Ireland

Family of ‘the People’s Historian’ Dr Éamon Phoenix inundated after appeal for material for foundation to continue his legacy

Dr Éamon Phoenix Foundation website will be officially launched later this year

A discussion on the 'impact and enduring legacy' of historian Dr Eamon Phoenix is taking place at St Mary's University College on August 3.
Historian Dr Eamon Phoenix, who died in November 2022 aged 69.

The family of late historian Dr Éamon Phoenix say they have been “overwhelmed” by the response to an appeal for material ahead of the launch of a new charity carrying on his legacy and encouraging people to connect with the past.

The renowned academic and author, who had a long association with The Irish News, died in November 2022 at the age of 69.

Dr Phoenix was responsible for The Irish News’ On This Day column, in which he delved back into the archives for stories reported by this newspaper in years gone by.

His family has now registered the Dr Éamon Phoenix Foundation as a charity, with the aim of “promoting the study of history as a way of fostering a deeper understanding of the past” and “promoting reconciliation”.

Dr Dr Eamon Phoenix at Clifton House, the oldest public building still in use in Belfast, with his CRC Good Relations Award. Picture By Hugh Russell
Dr Eamon Phoenix with his CRC Good Relations Award. PICTURE: HUGH RUSSELL

The foundation will continue his legacy by encouraging people to get closer to the history around them, and will also offer scholarships further down the road, as well as activities including planned projects with schools.

A new website is being developed for the charity ahead of its official launch later this year, and the historian’s daughter, Mary-Alice Phoenix, put out an appeal on social media for relevant material relating to her father that people could send for use by the foundation.

She called for articles, videos, photos, or stories, and said she has been “inundated” with people getting in touch with material and memories of their experiences meeting her father.

“We have been overwhelmed with the response so far, and it has been really moving hearing people’s stories relating to him,” she told The Irish News.

“Many people have been in touch with material relating to his fantastic work during the Decade of Centenaries. Others sent photos from when they met him, or attended an event at which he was speaking, or told us how he inspired them.

“One of our aims is to have a digital library with much of dad’s work in it. We are still in the early stages, but plan to launch the website in the autumn.

“Dad was known to many as the People’s Historian, and we want to pay tribute to that, by keeping his work alive for others to access.”

The historian’s legacy is also now celebrated in Belfast with the annual Dr Eamon Phoenix Memorial Lecture, hosted at Stranmillis University College, where he himself inspired students as a lecturer. The inaugural event was held in February and attended by US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, Joe Kennedy III.

“He never lost his interest in people, whether he was speaking in a parish hall or an Orange hall, he always maintained that respect for them, and one of the things he was very passionate about was people celebrating their own history,” Mary-Alice said.

“He wanted people to have a sense of pride in their surroundings, and to learn about where they were from, and to see how such understanding can help people overcome barriers and promote reconciliation between communities. We hope to be able to continue that work in his memory as best we can in the years ahead.”