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ATQ Stewart (1929 - 2010):
Historian and academic

ATQ Stewart was one the most prominent and distinguished historians of Ulster in the later twentieth century, once described as the “doyen of Ulster historiography”, and noted not just for his considerable scholarship and analysis, but especially for his pronounced literary style. 

Anthony Terence Quincey Stewart (he was known personally as Tony and in print as ATQ) Stewart was an Ulsterman by birth, education and profession: he was born in Belfast and educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Queen’s University, Belfast where he graduated in 1950 with a first class honours degree in History. He had intended to continue fulltime study in European history, but circumstances edged him into school teaching (including five years at Belfast Royal Academy) though he completed a part time MA at Queen’s at the suggestion and under the supervision of leading historian Professor JC Beckett. The area his thesis covered was the transformation of Presbyterian radicalism between 1792 and 1825. This would be his particular specialty, by no means the only one, throughout his academic career. Between 1961 and 1968 he taught at Stranmillis College, Belfast (a teacher training college, later Stranmillis University College), during which time he was awarded a schoolteacher fellowship to Peterhouse College, Cambridge where he read for a PhD which he was awarded by Queen’s in 1968. This was published the same year in book form, The Ulster Crisis; he was also appointed Lecturer at Queen’s, leaving Stranmillis as senior lecturer. 

In 1975 he was appointed Reader in Irish History He had though published a book dealing with an area far from Ulster history: the Mandalay campaign and the British annexation of Burma in 1886. In 1977 he was awarded (jointly) the first Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize for his book The Narrow Ground; aspects of Ulster History 1609-1909. (Ewart-Biggs was British Ambassador in Dublin and he and an aide were blown up in Dublin the previous year; his widow set up a prize in his memory to recognise cross-community achievements in Northern Ireland.) The Narrow Ground he described as an “essay”, positing five areas to “examined” in answering the question of how exactly the past in Ulster influences the present. He argued in relation to the Troubles which flared up in Ulster at the end of the 1960s that whether or not they were caused by unsolved problems from the past or the present, they were unfolding along lines which lie deeper (he often stresses “surface” as opposed to “deep”, as he would in later work). 

Stewart retired early from Queen’s in 1990 – not comfortable, said some, with developments in the University making for a more bureaucratic institution; if this was what he felt he was most certainly not alone. He was not appointed to a professorial position, which raised several academic eyebrows. However, he continued to write prolifically, and was in demand as an historical consultant, including on television. He also served for a time on the committee of the British Irish Association, and was President of the Belfast Literary Society.

Aside from his scholarship and analysis, for which he received the highest peer praise, Stewart was also noted for a literary element to his writing style. One distinguished Irish historian compared his writing to that of the novelist F Scott Fitzgerald, remarking that “very little history is sent into the world so subtle, so spare, so sinewy as to face a comparison like this without flinching”. The Ulster Crisis was saluted by many readers as having the excitement of a political thriller.  

Stewart was highly regarded personally as well as professionally. He was, according to the title of an article about him, “A scholar and a gentleman”; a fellow academic, Arthur Aughey wrote of this: “That expression is often used ironically. In this case there was no hint of irony.” He was “a reserved man...he disliked polemic in principle”. Other publications included books such as A Deeper Silence (1993 – in it he examines the origins of the United Irishmen), a biography of Edward Carson, as well as numerous articles, book reviews, radio and television scripts, and he was a contributor to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Born: 8 July 1929
Died: 17 December 2010
Richard Froggatt
Sabine Wichert: From the United Irishmen to Twentieth Century Unionism: A Festschrift for ATQ Stewart (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2004 – this contains a list of his major publications); The Times, 3.1.2011; The Irish Times, 11.1.2011; Daily Telegraph, 9.1.2011; The Independent, 3.2.2011; Belfast Telegraph, 24.12.2010