An Appreciation

Mon, Jul 16, 2012, 01:00

JOHN DARBY, BA, PhD, OBE, died in his home in Portstewart on June 2nd, 2012. He had been suffering from motor neurone disease for some time. He will be very sadly missed by all who knew him or worked with him, as a friend, as a good and loyal colleague and as a distinguished scholar. He will be particularly missed by his wife Marie, his sons Patrick and Michael, his extended family, and by his many life-long and faithful friends in Portstewart and Portrush.

John began his career as a history teacher in 1963 in St Malachy’s College Belfast. When the Troubles began in the early 1970s he was appointed research and publications officer to the Northern Ireland Community Relations Commission where he initiated a career as a creative and gifted researcher on conflict studies.

In 1974 he was appointed lecturer in social administration in the then New University of Ulster at Coleraine, where he – with two colleagues – established the Centre for the Study of Conflict, a research unit which began a series of studies into the origins, causes and manifestations of conflict generally and in Northern Ireland in particular.

John was a much respected teacher, researcher and writer. His subject was conflict and ethnic studies, and his first book, Conflict in Northern Ireland: the Development of a Polarised Community was published in 1976. It was immediately recognised and praised as an original, scholarly and thought-provoking work, and was succeeded by a sequence of further studies and publications. His output was extraordinary, and has been a central influence on the growth and development of ethnic and conflict studies both in Northern Ireland and internationally.

While in Ulster he was also closely involved in the creation in 1991 of INCORE (a joint programme of the Tokyo-based United Nations University and the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland), with the then vice chancellor, Prof Trevor Smith (now Lord Smith) and other colleagues.

John was on the staff of the University of Ulster for 25 years, before moving to the Kroc Institute in the University of Notre Dame in the US as professor of comparative ethnic studies. The responses to his death from his colleagues at Notre Dame make clear the depths of their affection and respect for him, both personally and professionally. A long list of responses and regrets has been published on the Notre Dame university website.

During his time in the US, he continued to initiate and develop new studies and researches, and to publish widely, and was rewarded with many tributes and honours. Perhaps an indication of the breadth of his interests is indicated by his life-long interest in cartoons and conflict, which led to the publication in 1985 of Dressed to Kill: Cartoons and the Northern Ireland Conflict.

Altogether he wrote or edited 15 books and 120 other academic publications, mostly dealing with international conflict resolution and peace processes. Three of the books were listed for international awards, and one was short-listed for the American Sociological Association “Distinguished Scholarly Publication” award.

He also held visiting positions in Harvard and Duke Universities, and was a fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation in Bellagio (1990), the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington (1992), the United States Institute of Peace (1998), and the Fulbright New Century Scholars Program (2003).

He will be sadly missed. – SEAMUS DUNN