Antonia Leslie pays a very personal tribute to the eminent academic and architectural historian
Published 15/05/2011 | 05:00
Maurice Craig died last Tuesday morning. He was old, a widower and it was his time to go. But, dear God, it hurts. Most people will remember him as an academic or architectural historian of a pretty high calibre.
Some friends would even refer to him by the pet name "The Professor-Doctor". He could appear to a person who didn't know him well to be intimidating, always challenging other people's knowledge and know-how in whatever particular field the person chose or professed to be adept in. But when he did this, he did it light-heartedly, almost playfully. A stranger to him would not have got that, though.
Maurice lived for his books, hundreds of them adorned every square inch of every wall, of every room in his home. He read encyclopaedias like you and I read a paperback novel, and wrote many books himself on subjects stretching from architecture to 'Cats and their Poets'.
To me, this big character, this intellectual, this architectural historian, this venerated academic, was simply a father. He stepped into that role from the time I was eight years old, and my mother, who had split from my father in pretty traumatic circumstances, was dating again. I was a confused and hurting child back then; Maurice appeared on the green living-room sofa one evening to take my mother out. She sent me in to tell him she'd be down in a minute and I'm not sure about my mother, I think it came a little later, but for me it was love at first sight.
Later in the week, Maurice arrived at the breakfast table, fresh from my mother's bed and I called her aside and said "If you're going to make anyone my new sort of daddy . . . make it him!" She did and Maurice became a loyal and genuine friend to me from that moment on. He was a rock. A reliable and constant father figure and I adored him for the rest of my life. His own family, his children and daughter-in-law, Mickey, Catharine and Gemma were just as warm and gracious. The Craigs are a good lot.
Apart from a quest for knowledge and a love of the dissection of all subjects which Maurice passed on to me, he gave me a great sense of humanity. Yes, absolutely, underneath all this waffle and intellectualism, Maurice was a real humanitarian, a real softie with a huge sense of justice and fairness. He loved animals, donkeys, owls, dogs and cats especially and despite his protests to the contrary, he did love children, he just didn't know how to communicate to the very small ones, as they were too young to speak proper English or look up dictionaries.
Maurice did everything the right way but inside was a rebel. Only those who knew him well would know this. He loved to challenge authority, he was a socialist, an anti-royalist, and very anti-religion, despite being from a staunch Presbyterian family from Belfast. All manners of control mechanisms of any form in society were there to be questioned and argued down. He was an advocator of free speech, as long as the grammar was correct, and could see through superficiality a mile away despite being somewhat guarded of his own real self when out in the big wide world.
I could talk to him for hours on end. He knew all my secrets and kept them to himself. He helped me out of some very big scrapes here and there and never looked for emotional compensation or spoke of the events again. So yes, my dear friend, father and role model has left this world and it is a sadder and lonelier place because of it. My heart hurts. He was a fascinating and lovely man.
Belfast-born architectural historian, writer and poet, Maurice Craig, known as Ireland's first conservation warrior, has died aged 91. One of his most notable books, 'Dublin 1660-1869: The Shaping of a City' brought him to public attention on its reissue in 1969 as, in it, he addresses the neglect of Georgian Dublin. From the 1940s, he was in the vanguard of the movement to save Ireland's historical buildings