Noted historian and museum keeper

Sat, Mar 12, 2011, 00:00

WILLIAM ALEXANDER MAGUIRE:WILLIAM ALEXANDER Maguire, who has died at the age of 78, was a distinguished headmaster, historian and museum keeper.

Known always as Bill, he was born a son of the Methodist manse at Ballina, Co Mayo, on April 22nd, 1932, but spent his childhood in Co Donegal. His parents were the Rev Reginald and Sarah Maguire.

He became a boarder at Methodist College, Belfast, in 1943. Later he won a scholarship to St Andrew’s University in Scotland, from where he graduated with a double honours MA in medieval history and English.

His first job was as a teacher at The Friends’ School, Lisburn. In 1964 he became head of history at Belfast Royal Academy.

Next he was appointed headmaster of Regent House School, Newtownards, in 1969, and remained there until 1979.

Meanwhile, he had been pursuing his great interest in history, and in 1962 he began work on a doctoral thesis at Queen’s University Belfast on the Downshire landed estates in Ireland, 1801-45.

He completed the thesis at Exeter College, Oxford, in 1967, where he had been awarded a schoolmaster fellowship.

His book on the subject was published by Clarendon Press in 1972. It proved to be a seminal study on Irish landed estates. A selection of the correspondence of the third marquess of Downshire, 1809-45, was also published.

He continued to work on other landed families, including the Maguires of Tempo and the Chichesters of Belfast.

His book, Living like a Lord, was a biography of the second marquess of Donegall.

In 1980 he joined the staff of the Ulster Museum where he was appointed originally as keeper of local history and then as head of the division of human history. He retired in 1997, having served as acting deputy director.

He was responsible for organising a number of very important exhibitions and developing the collection of local and historical material at the museum.

The two exhibitions for which he will be best remembered are Kings in Conflict, relating to the tercentenary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1990, and Up in Arms!, marking the bicentenary of the 1798 rebellion in 1998.

He made a very important contribution to the history of photography and the history of Belfast.

In 1986 he published Caught in Time: the Photographs of Alexander Hogg of Belfast, 1870-1939, to be followed in 2000 by A Century in Focus: Photography and Photographers in the North of Ireland.

His work on Belfast included Belfast: site and city, published in 1991 and republished in 2009 as Belfast: a History. He will also be remembered for his great kindness, humour and charm.

He is survived by his wife Joan, son Ian and daughter Caroline.


Bill Maguire: born April 22nd, 1932; died January 10th, 2011