T W Moody


Theodore William Moody was born in Belfast in 1907 to parents belonging to the Plymouth Brethren sect.

Moody held Protestant beliefs but was committed to fostering unity and inclusiveness within Ireland. He was spurred on by his values of pacifism, an abhorrence of violence and social and political justice.

Growing up in Belfast, Moody witnessed the conflict in Northern Ireland from an early age. In 1913, Moody witnessed the riots in Belfast and saw the burning of the houses of Catholic workers. This was just three years before the Easter Rising which took place in Dublin in 1916. The tidal wave of radical nationalism which was released eventually led to the partition of Ireland under the ‘Government of Ireland Act’ in May 1921.

In his adult life, Moody was influential within Irish politics. Whilst a fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, Moody was key in reconciling Trinity College, the Catholic Church and the Irish State after the hierarchy of the Catholic Church had introduced a ban on Catholics attending the College. It was events such as these where Moody was passionate about his nation that shine through his work.

He continued to work up to his death and died in Dublin in 1984 aged 77. His wife survived him.

Education and Life Events

  • 1920-1926, studied at the Royal Belfast Academy Institution
  • 1926-1930, studied at Queen’s University Belfast where he received a BA
  •  1930, Institute of Historical Research, King’s College, University of London
  •  1934, Moody was elected as a fellow of Royal Historical Society
  • 1935, Moody became a lecturer in Irish History
  • February 1936, played a key role in founding the Ulster Society for Irish Historical Studies
  • March 1938, Moody created Irish Committee of Historical Sciences with Robin Dudley Edwards
  • Moody founded Irish Historical Studies journal. The first issue was published in March 1938 (co. ed. with R. D. Edwards)
  • 15th June 1939, Moody was appointed to fellowship in Trinity College Dublin
  • 1940, Moody was elected member of Royal Irish Academy 

Noted Works

A New History of IrelandThis is a nine volume work that Moody was incredibly influential in. Moody himself wrote four of the nine volumes. It’s a comprehensive work that covers Irish history from the earliest geological and archeological evidence to the modern day.

The Ulster Question, 1603-1973 – This focuses on the history of Ulster as a British colony from 1603. Moody examines the origins of the colony and the events which took place over the following centuries and contributed to Ulster remaining under British rule.

Davitt and Irish Revolution, 1848-1882 – This is a biography of Michael Davitt, a republican and agrarian leader who was highly influential in the land war. Moody places the events of Davitt’s life during this time period in the wider social, political and economic framework.

Reputation and Impact

  • 1969 “if history at its best is not made available to the educated public as a whole, it fails in one of its essential social functions” TW Moody
  • 1978 “If history is used in its proper sense of continuing, probing, critical search for truth about the past, my argument would be that it is not Irish history but Irish mythology that has been so ruinous to us and may prove even more lethal” TW Moody

Moody was a pioneer of modern Irish historiography, and he insisted on an academic, research-based history in order to dispel the myths he saw as being perpetuated by the writings of others. This profoundly challenged a tradition within Irish history of adopting a more personal  focus to the subject. 

Moody had a commitment to fostering inclusiveness in Irish life. He sought to ensure that Ireland had a standard level of historical enquiry. Irish history to this day remains intensely fraught and contested, and Moody understood the role of myth in perpetuating sectarian divisions. Moody was instrumental in forcing Irish society to take history seriously and revive history’s use as a political tool without it being used as a tool for grudge bearing. It was Moody’s efforts to dispel wat he considered as myths and his work in bringing Irish History to the wider public that makes him so important within Irish History.

Moody was passionate about education. In particular, the use of radio and television as a means to reach the wider public. In 1966 alongside Professor F.X. Martin, Moody initiated a series of 21 lectures which were published in 1967 as The Course of Irish History which brought scholarship to the people.

Moody’s work did not pass without opposition and scrutiny. This was particularly evident in the 1980s. Ben Bradshaw criticized Moody’s austere methods and attempted to desensitize Irish history whilst claiming that Moody was politically naïve. Bradshaw’s view has since been disputed but it did change the way in which Moody and his work has been viewed.  

Bibliography/Reading List


Curtis, L.P. Jr. Review of Davitt and the Irish Revolution, 1846-82 by T W Moody. The Journal of Modern History. Vol. 56, No. 1 (Mar., 1984), pp. 147-149

Martin, F.X. ‘Theodore William Moody.’ Hermathena. No. 136 (Summer 1984), pp. 5-7

Miller, Kirby A. Review of A New History of Ireland, Volume IV: Eighteenth-Century Ireland 1691-1800 by T. W. Moody, W. E. Vaughan. Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies. Vol. 19, No. 2 (Summer, 1987), pp. 315-319

Nicholson, Ronald, John W. Boyle. Review of The Ulster Question, 1603-1973 by T W Moody. The Scottish Historical Review. Vol. 55, No. 159, Part 1 (Apr., 1976), pp. 69-74

O’Broin, Leon. Review of Davitt and the Irish Revolution, 1846-82 by T W Moody. Hermathena. No. 133 (Winter 1982), pp. 73-74

Oxford DNB, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/38720

Further Reading

Tuathaigh, Gearoid O. ‘Commemoration, public history and the professional historian: an Irish perspective’ Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies. Annual, 2014 Issue 9, pp. 137-145


Tara Mccauley