Distinguished and prolific historian of women of Ireland

Margaret Ó hÓgartaigh: July 10th, 1967 - December 17th, 2014

 

Margaret Ó hÓgartaigh, who has died aged 47, was one of a talented group of Irish historians who opened up new fields of research in Irish social history, in her case that of women working in professional occupations in the 19th and 20th centuries.

A native of Killaloe, Co Clare, she was one of eight children of James and the late Eileen Whelan. She attended St Anne’s Secondary School, Killaloe before studying history and English at NUI Galway, where she was also awarded a first class honours MA in 1991 for her research on the historian Edward Hay.

She was later to publish this research as Edward Hay: historian of 1798 (2010). From 1996, Margaret’s work focused primarily on the role and contribution of women in many of the professions – accountancy, medicine, nursing, sport and education – as well as the contribution of women in religion.

The subject of her doctoral thesis in UCD in 1999 was “‘Far from few’; professional women in Ireland, 1880-1930”, a topic she addressed in many of her more than 60 published articles, a number of them published in 2011 as Quiet revolutionaries: Irish women in education, medicine and sport, 1861-1964.

Boston sojourn

In 2000 Ó hÓgartaigh was awarded a Fulbright scholarship and spent the following year at Boston College. Her husband, Ciarán, was awarded a Fulbright in the same year and was based at Northeastern University in Boston; they were the only married couple to date to be Fulbright scholars from Ireland in the same year. She was later to return frequently to teach at Boston College and Harvard.

In Ireland she taught at the University of Limerick, St Patrick’s College Drumcondra, All Hallows, and NUI Maynooth. From 2006 to 2008 she lectured on the history of medicine in New Zealand.

Her university teaching was framed by her earlier second-level teaching experience at St Fergal’s College, Rathdowney and St Louis Secondary School, Carrickmacross.

Ó hÓgartaigh’s energy and zest for life were legendary and her research interests wide-ranging. Her seminal biography, Kathleen Lynn: Irishwoman, patriot and doctor, was published in 2006; Gender and medicine in Ireland 1700-1950 (edited with Margaret Preston) in 2012; His Grace is Displeased: The selected correspondence of John Charles McQuaid 1940-1972 (edited with Clara Cullen) in 2013.

She was engaged in research for two new and very different books, a collection of essays on business history and a biography of Nano Nagle, before her untimely death.

Authoritative

She also contributed to bibliographies and wrote authoritative articles in reference works like the Encyclopaedia of Ireland (2003), the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) and the Dictionary of Irish Biography (2009).

A Fellow of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland, she was an active member of several historical and cultural societies and was happy to give her time and lecture to local history societies and at conferences in Ireland and abroad.

Her activities and interests were not restricted to matters academic. A resilient cross-country runner and field-eventer, she won athletics titles in New Zealand and five All Ireland medals, and gained a silver medal for Ireland in the hammer at the European Masters’ Games in Sweden (2008).

She has left a rich legacy of published work – a very significant contribution to historical scholarship in Ireland.

One of her greatest legacies will be her generosity in sharing her knowledge with her fellow historians, most recently acknowledged by Michael Laffan, Senia Paseta and Roy Foster in their latest publications.

She also offered enormous support and help to many early career historians and was unfailingly generous in crediting and citing other scholars’ work in her own writings. Like the women whose lives she researched, Margaret Ó hÓgartaigh, in the words of her great friend Margaret Mac Curtain, was one of life’s “intrepid adventurers”.

“No sad” was the wish she expressed at the onset of her illness and this sentiment was shared by her husband with the large congregation of her family, friends and colleagues who gathered in Booterstown parish church on December 19th to mourn her passing after her six-month battle with cancer.

It epitomises the generosity, determination and courage which were typical of Margaret Ó hÓgartaigh’s too short life. Survived by her husband, Ciarán, she will be mourned by the many who were privileged to know her.