Thursday 18 January 2018

'We didn't treat farm animals like that'

Reports of punishment beatings in the North led a quiet academic to confront the brutality behind them.

Prof Liam Kennedy
Prof Liam Kennedy
Ruth Dudley Edwards

Ruth Dudley Edwards

Few care about the Northern Irish "punished" by paramilitaries with knee- cappings or terrible beatings with nail-studded baseball bats, iron bars or hammers. Though many did nothing worse than cheek a thug or nick a car, they were seen by many as the dregs of society and had no one in public life to stick up for them

One exception is my friend Liam Kennedy, a slight, gentle Queen's academic from a small farm in Tipperary. A graduate in food science from University College Cork, Liam experienced what he described as a "Pauline conversation to history", took a Ph.d at the University of York and went to work at Queen's.

His scholarly preoccupations were with rural long-term social change in Ireland from the 17th to the 20th centuries. In conversation with Liam you'll find yourself talking about bastardy in rural Ireland or delving into family folklore about dowries. An unsung hero, for decades he has been challenging paramilitaries of all stripes over their brutal treatment of the vulnerable in their communities. He has the mannerisms of the preoccupied scholar he is, but also an acute eye and ear for what goes on around him in Belfast, where he has lived for almost 30 years.

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