Professor James Francis Michael Lydon:
Biography and bibliography
Niall C.E.J. O’Brien
On 25th June 2013 Professor James Francis Lydon, M.A., Ph.D., D.Litt. M.R.I.A., of Trinity College, Dublin and former Lecky chair of Modern History at the college died. This article provides a short biography of his life along with a bibliography of his published works. Addition material is included to add a personal touch and appreciation.
James Francis Michael Lydon was born in 1928 as the tenth child of eleven children. His father was a baker while his mother was a native Irish speaker. As both his parents came from Connemara this inheritance was not out of place in 1920s Galway. His parents had a strong belief in their children having a good education. After finishing secondary school Lydon entered third level education at University College, Galway.
At U.C.G. he studied English and history and graduated in 1950 with first class honours. Lydon stayed in Galway to complete his master’s degree. He joined one of the oldest societies at Galway, The Historical Society (renamed An Cumann Staire in 2007) and was a suggested editor for a journal in 1953 but the project was never completed. In 1953 he gave a paper to a conference at Cork held by the Irish University History Student's Association. His teacher at Galway was history professor, Mary Donovan O’Sullivan. Professor O’Sullivan had been Professor of History at U.C.G. since 1914.
A native of Galway Professor O’Sullivan displayed great merits at the Dominican College and secured a honours M.A. degree in modern languages at University College, Galway. Following sometime at the University of Marburg she returned to Galway where she took up a lecture position at the University. In 1914 she was appointed to the newly established chair of history. Professor O’Sullivan was a most diligent teacher and an extensive writer on national and local history. She was editor of the journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society from 1932 to 1951.
Professor O’Sullivan was highly regarded as a distinguished scholar and as a woman of independent mind. She was a member of numerous academic and cultural bodies including member of the Irish Manuscripts Commission from 1943 to her death in 1966. Yet in this busy life Professor O’Sullivan took was an untiring advocate of the causes of her students. She recommended to young James Lydon that “Ireland's contribution to the military activities of the English crown in the thirteenth century might be a subject that would repay investigation”. Her husband, Major J. O’Sullivan may have given encouragement for this suggestion but Professor O’Sullivan’s membership of the Military History Society of Ireland since 1950 also played its part.
In pursuit of this inquiry James Lydon travelled to London where he attended the University of London. By day he read manuscripts in the Public Record Office and by night attended gatherings of the Institute of Historical Research. At the I.H.R. he was introduced to the great Welsh historian John Goronwy Edwards. They both got on “like a bomb” and developed a lifelong friendship. On his return to Galway in 1952 (to finish his masters) Lydon received a letter inviting him for a research fellowship by the I.H.R.
At the interview day a Tudor specialist asked what Lydon intended to study and on hearing of Irish involvement in England’s wars during the medieval period he dismiss the idea as nonsense. Professor Edwards (also on the interview panel) stepped in and dismissed the Tudor man and gave the fellowship. By such an encounter an Englishman, a Welshman, and an Irishman came together to help open the door for Ireland, in the wider medieval world. Using the sources in the Public Record Office at Chancery Lane Lydon produced his thesis in 1955 entitled - Ireland's participation in the military activities of English kings in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
James Lydon’s mentor at London was Professor Sir Frederick Maurice Powicke. Professor Powicke taught at Belfast, Manchester and Oxford. At Oxford he made the University a leading centre in historical study. As a medieval historian Professor Powicke wrote numerous books but he also dealt with modern subjects like Bismarck and the Origin of the German Empire (1914). Professor Powicke had a few connections with Ireland apart from teaching at Belfast where he was Professor of Modern History for ten years. From 1949 he was a Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy.
With a year still to run on his Travelling Fellowship from the National University of Ireland Lydon was told by Professor Powicke to travel Europe and see the people and places while staying away from archive libraries. The “Grand Tour” opened Lydon’s eyes to the variety and richness of European culture and Ireland’s place and contribution to that experience.
While away in England Lydon was not forgotten back in Ireland. Rather he was considered in be in a useful position to help further historical research about Ireland. At a meeting of the Irish Manuscripts Commission in November 1953 there was a big discussion among the members on how best to calendar medieval documents at the Public Record Office in London. Professor Otway-Ruthven suggested hiring an American scholar to go to London and edit the Irish material. Professor Dudley Edwards regarded this as a ‘piecemeal’ approach and that they should ‘plan out carefully the best approach to take’. He cited the organised system of the Calendar of Papal Registers as an example. Professor Mary Donovan O’Sullivan suggested James Lydon as a possible investigator of material at the PRO. She recommended such areas as the Irish Treasury Accounts of Edward II, the Exchequer Accounts in the Pipe Rolls, Ancient Correspondence, Ancient Deeds and Chancery Miscellanea.
Much of this large shopping list was left to the later work of Dr. Philomena Connolly but James Lydon did go to the British Museum in 1955 and 1956. There he edited and calendared material principally from the Pipe Rolls of Henry III.
On his return to Ireland James Lydon took up a teaching position at U.C.G. where he taught history through Irish and English. In 1959 he was accepted for a junior lecturer position at Trinity College, Dublin. He soon advanced up the academic ladder becoming a full lecturer in 1962, a fellow in 1965, and an associated professor in 1969.
Photo from John Hind postcards
In the late 1960s Professor James Lydon became general editor along with Margaret MacCurtain of The Gill History of Ireland project. The project envisioned the publication of a series of stand-alone books dealing with different periods of Irish history. The idea was conceived by T.W. Moody and R. Dudley Edwards. It was for Lydon and McCurtain to get the individual authors and see the project to publication. Professor Lydon wrote one of the volumes in 1973 called Ireland in the later middle ages.
In the preface to the volume by Gearóid Mac Niocaill, Ireland before the Vikings, the general editors said that “The study of Irish history has changed greatly in recent decades as more evidence becomes available and new insights are provided by the growing number of historians … Diversity of analysis and interpretation is the aim … it is the hope of the editors that the series will help the reader to appreciate in a new way the rich heritage of Ireland’s history”.
Professor Lydon had done more than most to make available the evidence of Ireland’s past. When as a student at Galway he went to the Public Records Office at the Four Courts, Dublin to search for medieval material he was told there was not such material. In 1966 Lydon’s survey of medieval documents in Ireland disproved this idea and his further research in London opened up the rich storehouses available for Irish medieval historians.
In October 1980 Professor James Lydon succeeded Professor Annette Jocelyn Otway-Ruthven as Lecky Professor of Modern History at Trinity College, Dublin. The Lecky chair was established in 1913 from a substantial endowment made by the widow of the great historian of eighteenth century Ireland, William Edward Hartpole Lecky.
England and Ireland in the Middle Ages: essays in honour of J. Otway-Ruthven, edited by James Lydon (1981)
As a lecturer Lydon used his drama skills acquired at Galway to make the barons and chamberlains of medieval Ireland come alive. When a name is put to dry statistics, the spirit of the human touch is made.
Professor Lydon did not believe that academia would produce the full history of Ireland all of itself. His “Grand Tour” of Europe had opened his eyes beyond the college gate. In the preface to his book The Lordship of Ireland in the Middle Ages, James Lydon wrote that “In many ways the real history of medieval Ireland lies in the localities and while some progress has been made in the study of different areas and the families in control, much still remains to be done”.
The Lordship of Ireland in the Middle Ages by James Lydon (1972, 2003)
Outside of Trinity Professor Lydon was elected as Member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1967. Membership of the Academy is recognition of academic excellence and one of the highest academic honours in Ireland. It also allows a person to place M.R.I.A. behind their name. With this position he helped organise a meeting of the British Academy with the R.I.A. in 1982. The meeting helped to bring Ireland into the British history yet it also showed how Ireland was indispensable in studying British history.
Professor Lydon was president of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland from 1981 to 1984.
On 3 December 1981 he joined the board of the Irish Manuscripts Commission. His name appears for the first time in the list of members published in January 1982 in Analecta Hibernica, No. 30 (1982). Also joining at that time were Nicholas Canny and Gearóid McNiocaill, both of University College, Galway (Lydon’s old university) along with David Harkness (QUB) and Donal McCartney (UCD). Professor Lydon remained a member of the Commission until 2006.
In 1986 James Lydon appeared with thirteen other academics in the Consultative Committee for the Calendar of Papal Registers project. He was still on the Consultative Committee in 2005 with the title of Lecky Professor Emeritus since he had retired from the Lecky chair of History at Trinity College, Dublin in 1993.
In 1988 the National University of Ireland honoured him with the degree of Doctor of Letters, which was conferred, fittingly, at Galway.
Law and Disorder in thirteenth-century Ireland, edited by James Lydon (1997)
In 1974 Robin Frame remarked that “If at times Professor Lydon is provocative rather than measured, that may be no bad thing. In a sense it is the price we willingly pay for the sheer vigour of his thought and writing”.
It is for others who knew Professor Lydon on a personal level, to judge if he merits the title of affection given at Trinity as given to his predecessor as Lecky chair (J. Otway-Ruthven), that of a great character. Professor James Francis Michael Lydon, M.R.I.A., died on 25 June 2013.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Bibliography of Professor James Francis Lydon
This bibliography of the works by Professor Lydon is far from absolute and errors and omissions may have occurred but it gives a good idea of his contribution to Irish history and medieval history in particular.
‘The hobelar: an Irish contribution to medieval warfare’, in the Irish Sword, ii, 1954-6, pp. 12-16
Ireland’s Participation in the Military Activities of English Kings in the Thirteenth and Early Fourteenth Century, Ph.D. Thesis, University of London, 1955
‘The Irish Exchequer in the Thirteenth Century’, in Irish Committee of Historical Science, Bulletin, No. 18
‘An Irish army in Scotland, 1296’, in the Irish Sword, 5, 1961-2, pp. 184-90
‘Irish Levies in the Scottish Wars, 1296-1302’, in the Irish Sword, 5, 1961-2, pp. 207-17
‘The Bruce invasion of Ireland’, in Historical Studies, iv, edited by G.A. Hayes-McCoy, 1963, pp. 111-25
‘Richard II’s expedition to Ireland’, in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, xciii, 1963, pp. 135-49
‘Edward II and the revenues of Ireland in 1311-12’, in Irish Historical Studies, xiv, 1964, pp. 39-57
‘The Irish church and taxation in the fourteenth century’, in Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 103, 1965, pp. 159-65 [reprinted in Proceedings of the Irish Catholic Historical Committee, 1964 (1967), pp. 3-10
‘William of Windsor and the Irish Parliament’, English Historical Review, lxxx, 1965, pp. 252-67
‘A Survey of the Memoranda Rolls of the Irish Exchequer, 1294-1509’, in Analecta Hibernica, 23, 1966, pp. 49-134
‘Three exchequer records from the reign of Henry III’, in Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 45, C, 1, 1966, pp. 1-27
‘The medieval English colony, c.1300-c.1400’, in The Course of Irish History, edited by T.W. Moody & F.X. Martin, Mercier Press, Cork, 1967, pp. 144-57
‘The problem of the frontier in medieval Ireland’, in Topic, 13, Washington, PA, 1967, pp. 5-22
The lordship of Ireland in the middle ages, Gill & Macmillan, Dublin, 1972
Ireland in the later middle ages, Dublin, 1973 (Gill History of Ireland, vi)
‘The Braganstown massacre, 1329’, in the Louth Archaeological Society Journal, 19, 1977-80, pp. 5-16
‘The county of Uriel account, 1281-3’, in the Louth Archaeological Society Journal, 19, 1977-80, pp. 197-205
‘The city of Waterford in the later middle ages’, in Decies, 12, September 1979, pp. 5-15
England and Ireland in the later middle ages: essays in honour of Jocelyn Otway-Ruthven, edited by James F. Lydon, Dublin, 1981
‘Preface’, in England and Ireland in the later middle ages: essays in honour of Jocelyn Otway-Ruthven, edited by James F. Lydon, Dublin, 1981, p. ix
‘Edward I, Ireland and the war in Scotland, 1303-1304’, in England and Ireland in the later middle ages: essays in honour of Jocelyn Otway-Ruthven, edited by James F. Lydon, Dublin, 1981, pp. 43-61
‘A fifteenth-century building account from Dublin’, in Irish Economic and Social History, ix, 1982, pp. 73-5
‘The enrolled accounts of Alexander Bicknor, treasurer of Ireland, 1308-1314’, in Analecta Hibernica, 30, 1982, pp. 7-46
The English in medieval Ireland: proceedings of the first joint meeting of the Royal Irish Academy and the British Academy, Dublin, 1982, edited by James F. Lydon, Dublin, 1984
‘The medieval English colony (13th and 14th centuries)’, in The Course of Irish History, edited by T.W. Moody & F.X. Martin, Mercier Press, Cork, 1984, pp. 144-57
‘The middle nation’, in The English in medieval Ireland, edited by James F. Lydon, Dublin, 1984, pp. 1-26
‘A land at war’, in A new history of Ireland, ii: medieval Ireland, 1169-1534, edited by Art Cosgrove, Oxford, 1987, pp. 240-74
‘The expansion and consolidation of the colony, 1215-54’, in A new history of Ireland, ii: medieval Ireland, 1169-1534, edited by Art Cosgrove, Oxford, 1987, pp. 156-78
‘The impact of the Bruce invasion, 1315-1327’, in A new history of Ireland, ii: medieval Ireland, 1169-1534, edited by Art Cosgrove, Oxford, 1987, pp. 275-302
‘The years of crisis, 1254-1315’, in A new history of Ireland, ii: medieval Ireland, 1169-1534, edited by Art Cosgrove, Oxford, 1987, pp. 179-204
‘Lordship and crown: Llywelyn of Wales and O Connor of Connacht’, in The British Isles, 1200-1500, edited by R.R. Davis, Edinburgh, 1988, pp. 48-53
‘The Dublin purveyors and the war in Scotland, 1296-1324’, in Keimelia: studies in medieval archaeology and history in memory of Tom Delaney, edited by Gearóid Mac Niocaill & P.F. Wallace, Galway, 1988, pp. 435-48
‘The medieval city’, in Dublin through the ages, edited by Art Cosgrove, Dublin, 1988, pp. 25-45
‘John de Courcy (c.1150-1219), and the medieval frontier’, in Worsted in the game: loser in Irish history, edited by Ciaran Brady, Dublin, 1989, pp. 37-46
‘Obituary for Professor Annette Jocelyn Otway-Ruthven’, in Analecta Hibernica, 35, 1992, p. x
‘The Scottish soldier in medieval Ireland: the Bruce invasion and the galloglass’, in The Scottish soldier abroad, 1247-1967, edited by Grant Gray Simpson, Edinburgh, 1992, pp. 1-15
‘Medieval Wicklow: “a land of war”’, in Wicklow: history and society: interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish county, edited by Ken Hannigan & William Nolan, Geography Publications, Dublin, 1994, pp. 151-89
‘Ireland and the English crown, 1171-1541’, in Irish Historical Studies, 29, 1994-5, pp. 281-94
‘Nation and race in medieval Ireland’, in Concepts of national identity in the Middle Ages, edited by Simon Forde, Lesley Johnson & Alan V. Murray, Leeds, 1995, pp. 103-24
‘Obituary for Professor George Osborne Sayles’, in Analecta Hibernica, 36, 1995, pp. xv-xvi
‘Preface’, in The Register of Milo Sweteman, Archbishop of Armagh, 1361-1380, edited by Brendan Smith, Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin, 1996, p. viii
Law and Disorder in the Thirteenth-Century Ireland: The Dublin Parliament of 1297, Edited by James F. Lydon, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 1997, pp. 1-171
‘Ireland in 1297: ‘At peace after its manner’, in Law and Disorder in the Thirteenth-Century Ireland: The Dublin Parliament of 1297, Edited by James F. Lydon, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 1997, pp. 11-24
‘Parliament and the Community of Ireland’, in Law and Disorder in the Thirteenth-Century Ireland: The Dublin Parliament of 1297, Edited by James F. Lydon, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 1997, pp. 125-38
The Making of Ireland: from Ancient Times to the Present, Routledge, London, 1999
‘Historical revisit: Edmund Curtis, A history of medieval Ireland (1923, 1938)’, Irish Historical Studies, 31:124 (1999), pp. 536–40
‘Preface’, in Registrum Octaviani, Alias Liber Niger: The Register of Octavian de Palatio, Archbishop of Armagh, 1478-1513, edited by Mario Alberto Sughi, 2 vols. Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin, 1999, p. xii
‘Dublin in transition: from Ostman town to English borough’, in Medieval Dublin, II, edited by Sean Duffy, Dublin, 2001, pp. 128-41
The Lordship of Ireland in the Middle Ages, 2nd edition, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2003
‘Preface’, in The Register of Nicholas Fleming, Archbishop of Armagh, 1404-1416, edited by Brendan Smith, Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin, 2003, p. ix
Works of appreciation
Colony and frontier in medieval Ireland: essays presented to J.F. Lydon, edited by Terry Barry, Robin Frame & Katherine Simms, London, 1995
In the acknowledgement page of nearly all history books (I have not seen every history book ever written and so can’t say “all” without using “nearly”) the author thanks various people for their help in bringing the book from an idea to the published product. Below I extract a few comments made in acknowledgements by a few authors as they thank people and make a special mention of Professor James Lydon. There may be other books that such be noted but I have yet to read “all” the history books: work in progress.
Mary D. O’Sullivan said “… while I am especially grateful to Dr. James F. Lydon, Trinity College, Dublin, for having so kindly placed at my disposal his as yet unpublished thesis for the doctorate of London University. This makes a notable contribution to the history of Anglo-Irish relations in the later Middle Ages. It was particularly useful to me in dealing with certain aspects of the export trade of Ireland in the thirteenth century”, in M.D. O’Sullivan, Italian Merchant Bankers in Ireland in the Thirteenth Century (Allen Figgis & Co. Dublin, 1962), p. 2
T.B. Barry said “I must acknowledge the stimulus and encouragement given to me by the then head of department [of Medieval History, T.C.D.], Professor Jim Lydon … “, in T.B. Barry, The Archaeology of Medieval Ireland (Routledge, London, 1987), p. xiii
Bernadette Williams said “I owe an immense debt of gratitude to Professor James Lydon, both for the exceptional supervision I received from him as a postgraduate student in Trinity College, Dublin, and in recent times for his infinite encouragement and valued friendship”, in Bernadette Williams (ed.), The Annals of Ireland by Friar John Clyn (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2007), p. 7
Arlene Hogan said “I should also like to express thanks to Professor James Lydon, without whose initial encouragement I would not have returned to research … “, in Arlene Hogan, The Priory of Llanthony Prima and Secunda in Ireland, 1172-1541: Lands, patronage and politics (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2008), p. 9
Interview with Professor James Lydon by Sean Duffy in 1994
 www.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Francis_Lydon accessed on 30 June 2013; www.cumannstaire.com/fograi/38-Passing-of-James-Lydon.php access on 2 July 2013
 Gerard A. Hayes-McCoy, ‘Obituary of Mary J. Donovan O’Sullivan’, in Analecta Hibernica, No. 26, 1970, pp. xii-xiii
 Michael Kearney & Deirdre McMahon, Reconstructing Ireland’s past: A history of the Irish Manuscripts Commission (Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin, 2009), p. 172
 G.A. Hayes-McCoy, ‘Obituary of Mary J. Donovan O’Sullivan’, in Analecta Hibernica, No. 26, 1970, p. xii
 G.A. Hayes-McCoy, ‘Obituary of Mary J. Donovan O’Sullivan’, in Analecta Hibernica, No. 26, 1970, pp. xii-xiii
 Peter Crooks (ed.), Government, War and Society in Medieval Ireland: Essays by Edmund Curtis, A.J. Otway-Ruthven and James Lydon (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2008), p. 34
 Michael Kearney & Deirdre McMahon, Reconstructing Ireland’s past: A history of the Irish Manuscripts Commission, pp. 123-4
 Peter Crooks (ed.), Government, War and Society in Medieval Ireland: Essays by Edmund Curtis, A.J. Otway-Ruthven and James Lydon (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2008), p. 36
 Gearóid Mac Niocaill, Ireland before the Vikings (Gill & Macmillan, Dublin, 1972), preface
 Peter Crooks (ed.), Government, War and Society in Medieval Ireland, pp. 36-7
 Peter Crooks (ed.), Government, War and Society in Medieval Ireland, p. 1
 James Lydon, The lordship of Ireland in the Middle Ages (Dublin, 1972, new edition, 2003), p. 7
 http://www.cumannstaire.com/fograi/38-Passing-of-James-Lydon.php accessed on 2 July 2013
 Peter Crooks (ed.), Government, War and Society in Medieval Ireland, p. 39
 Michael Kearney & Deirdre McMahon, Reconstructing Ireland’s past: A history of the Irish Manuscripts Commission, p. 175
 Anne P. Fuller (ed.), Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland (Stationery Office, Dublin, 1986), Vol. XVI, p. x; Anne P. Fuller (ed.), Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland (Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin, 2005), Vol. XX, p. ix
 http://www.cumannstaire.com/fograi/38-Passing-of-James-Lydon.php accessed on 2 July 2013
 Peter Crooks (ed.), Government, War and Society in Medieval Ireland, p. 42