Tuesday 26 September 2017

Master historian Fanning understood how politics operated

Ronan Fanning was a legendary figure who provided a remarkable service to scholarship and to this country with his examination of the political process

Ronan Fanning: The historian examining documents at the National Archives on Bishop Street Photo: Steve Humphreys
Ronan Fanning: The historian examining documents at the National Archives on Bishop Street Photo: Steve Humphreys

Patrick Geoghegan

When I was studying history in UCD, Ronan Fanning was something of a legendary figure. He wasn't a character in the way some people are known for their eccentricities or flamboyant teaching styles. His reputation was built on his achievements. He was renowned as one of finest historians of high politics, foreign affairs and administrative politics, as well as for his intellectual mastery in small group tutorials where his ability to challenge, provoke and inspire had an enormous effect on countless generations of students. In addition to that, he was respected for the considerable influence he was known to wield in the history department, in UCD, and further afield.

It is impossible to do justice to all the academic achievements of Ronan Fanning, but it is enough to say that scholars will be making use of his works, and the research projects he was instrumental in bringing to fruition, long into the future. The outstanding Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series, published by the Royal Irish Academy, is one such achievement. Ronan was one of the editors of the project, and was integral to making it happen. Ten volumes have already been published, and more will follow, and all will owe a debt to his remarkable abilities as an historian and as a person who could get things done.

Most historians slow down or cease publishing entirely after retirement. Ronan's output, in contrast, would put most working academics to shame. First there was the superb revisionist study of the South American heroine Eliza Lynch, written with the distinguished diplomat and close friend, Michael Lillis.

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