Prof Desmond Bowen


Dr Desmond Bowen was professor of ecclesiastical and Irish history at Carleton University, Ottawa, from 1953 to 1989. An ordained Anglican clergyman, he served in several Canadian parishes and, at one stage in his ministry, considered a parochial appointment in West Wicklow.

Desmond Bowen was a courteous, erudite Canadian whose historical researches brought him frequently to Ireland, where he probed deeply into the complex, controversial atmosphere of the 19th century. He was a prolific writer and a major historian of Irish Victorian Protestantism. His published works include Souperism: Myth or Reality? (1971); The Protestant Crusade in Ireland - 1800-1870 (1975); Paul, Cardinal Cullen (1983) and his magnum opus History and the shaping of Irish Protestantism (1995). His last book is a literary excursion through the triumphs and tensions of Irish ecclesiastical life from the Tudor Reformation to the present decade. An indication of Bowen's scholarly range is reflected in the inclusion of nearly 200 pages of endnotes!

Students of Irish history, especially the Victorian era, will consult Desmond Bowen's writings and find in them a rich vein of information and interpretation. While his findings and conclusions will continue to provoke discussion and debate among scholars, students and historians, the thoroughness and integrity of his work will remain as his most enduring legacy. Desmond had a special affection for Ireland and the Irish and he was dedicated to the process of reconciliation as a Fellow of the Institute of Irish Studies in Belfast.

His lectures at Trinity College, Queen's University, University College, Galway and the Church of Ireland Theological College were characterised by scholarly competence and the distinctive style which was natural to him. He was fascinated with Ireland's first cardinal, Paul Cullen, and wrote of the "Cullenisation" of Irish Catholicism in the 19th century. Because of failing health during his last visit to Ireland he was unable to fulfil a longstanding wish to visit "Prospect", Ballytore, where Cullen was born.

All who knew Desmond and worked with him and under his supervision, will remember him as a modest, gracious scholar with a wry twinkle in his eye and a warm heart.

His wife Jean, sons Kurt and Paul, daughters Deirdre, Paddy and Cathy gathered with many colleagues and friends at St Matthew's Church, Ottawa to give thanks for his life and work. The service was conducted by the Rector, Rev Desiree Stedman, daughter of the late Archbishop of Dublin, Alan Buchanan. The ancient Irish hymn "Be Thou my vision" was sung during the service. Desmond would have liked these links with the spiritual heritage of the Emerald Isle. His Christian faith inspired and informed all his teaching, writing and thinking. He is remembered with appreciation on both sides of the Atlantic.