Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott
In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed David Gray, a member both of the WASP elite and his own family circle, to be ambassador to Ireland. Officially the U.S. envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary, Gray’s relationship with the host country and Taoiseach Eamon de Valera famously soured early on, though he would remain in the post until the early days of the Cold War in 1947.
“Gray has always been deeply unloved by Irish nationalists. My introduction makes it clear that he became very bitter about Ireland and reached exaggerated conclusions,” Professor Paul Bew said of the Royal Irish Academy’s edition of Gray’s memoirs. “However, it points out that he loved Ireland and had a serious intellectual engagement with it before his appointment. He raises real issues based on documentation in the German archives about Irish foreign policy when the fate of the democratic world was at stake in 1940.”
Editor Bew’s introductory essay to “A Yankee in de Valera’s Ireland” is the latest in a very long, illustrious bibliography that begins with “Land and the National Question in Ireland 1858-1882.” That revisionist 1978 work concentrated as much on the clash of interests between better-off and poorer tenants as on the struggle against landlords.
He teamed up with fellow left-wing academics Henry Patterson and Peter Gibbon to write “Northern Ireland 1921 -1972” (published in 1979, with several updates and editions since), which was critical of the state, but not from a nationalist perspective.
He was, like Patterson, an early civil rights marcher with Peoples’ Democracy, and was later sometimes identified with the Workers Party, of which Patterson was an active member.
A Guardian profile of Bew in 2004 suggested that with his ability and his Cambridge PhD, he could have had his choice of academic positions, but chose in the mid-1970s to go home to Belfast to teach at Queens University, where he is professor of politics.
He has acted as an informal advisor to former Unionist Party leader David Trimble, but told the Guardian in that profile: “I don’t write as a unionist.” Indeed, the paper also noted that he has written sympathetic biographies of three nationalist leaders: Charles Stewart Parnell, John Redmond and Sean Lemass. The one constant in Bew’s approach, the profile argued, has been his sympathy for those who have sought reconciliation between the two traditions.
Professor Bew, who acted as an historical advisor to the Bloody Sunday Tribunal, was appointed a life peer to the House of Lords in 2007 and sits as a (non-party) crossbencher.
Date of Birth: Jan. 22, 1950
Place of Birth: Belfast
Spouse: Professor Greta Jones
Children: Dr. John Bew
Residence: Jordanstown, Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim.
Selected Works: “C.S. Parnell,” 1980; “Conflict and Conciliation in Ireland 1890-1910. Parnellites and Radical Agrarians,” 1987; “Ideology and the Irish Question; Ulster Unionism and Irish Nationalism, 1912-16,”(1994); “John Redmond” (1996); “Ireland. The Politics of Enmity,” (2007); “The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement,” 2007; “Enigma; A New Life of Charles Stewart Parnell” (2011); Co-Authored with Henry Patterson, “The State in Northern Ireland,” 1921-72 (1979, with Peter Gibbon); “Sean Lemass and the Making of Modern Ireland Dublin,” 1982; “The British State and the Ulster Crisis,” ; The Dynamics of Irish Politics London (1989, with Ellen Hazelkorn); “Northern Ireland: Between War and Peace (1997, (with Paul Teague); Co-authored with Gordon Gillespie: “Northern Ireland. A Chronology of the Troubles 1968-1993; “The Northern Ireland Peace Process,” 1996; “Passion and Prejudice: Nationalist/Unionist Conflict in Ulster in the 1930s and the Origins of the Irish Association Belfast,” (1993, with Kenneth Darwin); “A Journey in Ireland 1921” by Wilford Ewart (with Patrick Maume).
What is your writing routine?
I write everything longhand and then pay someone to type it.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
What book are you currently reading?
Peter Jay Conradi’s “A Very English Hero: The Making of Frank Thompson.” This is a biography of the brother of the historian E.P. Thompson. Frank Thompson was a man interesting in his own right. In the SOE, he died in Bulgaria in 1944, tortured by the Fascists after a special operation went wrong.
Is there any book you wish you had written?
Marianne Elliott’s “Wolfe Tone.”
Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by?
Regis Debray’s “Praise be our Lord. The Autobiography.”
If you could meet one author living or dead who would it be?
What book changed your life?
Raymond Williams’s “Culture and Society.”
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
The Oval, home of Glentoran Football Club.
Your Irish if…
As Thackeray says: Once you find an Irishman, you will find another not very far away. I am Irish in that sense.
PHOTO OF PAUL BEW BY EOIN CRISTIAN CONNELLY