PhD Research


Big Houses of the North: the challenge to landed society in the north of Ireland 1880-1950

There has been some excellent research into the decline of the Irish Big House in recent years. The specific, and in some respects unique, experience of the northern landlord class has been less well-documented. Using private correspondence, estate papers, parliamentary returns and contemporary newspaper reports, this study by full-time PhD student, Olwen Purdue, investigates the economic, political and social challenges faced by big house society in the six counties that were to form Northern Ireland. The study traces the rising challenge to northern landlords by their tenants and highlights the economic impact of land acts, loss of rental income and the rise in taxation and death duties on big house life. It also examines the extent to which Ulster gentry were affected by the social and political pressures that contributed to the total collapse of big house society in the rest of Ireland.


Technology and the big house in Ireland, c. 1800 – c. 1930

Charles Carson is a full-time PhD research student. He is focussing on the use of technology by big house owners to support their independence and status and their contribution to the broad modernisation of Ireland. Extensive use is made of material from estate papers held in the National Library of Ireland, the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, Tullynally Castle Archive, Birr Castle Archive and the Beverley Local Studies Library Regional Collection. Also incorporated are extant examples of big house technology, garnered from site visits throughout Ireland.

The main areas of research are:

  • Water supplies
  • Heating for people and plants
  • Summer ice
  • Lighting the big house
  • Estate improvement and innovation


A Political Biography of the Seventh Marquess of Londonderry (1878-1949)

Lord Londonderry is most notable for his controversial policy of aerial bombing while in charge of the British Air Ministry (Royal Air Force) in the 1930s, his contacts with senior Nazis including Hitler after 1936, and radical attempts to remove sectarianism from Northern Ireland schools in the 1920s.

The study, by Neil Fleming, explains the successes and failures of his career in the historical, social and political contexts.

In consultation with the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, the research concentrated on the extensive Londonderry papers held at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland and state papers at the Public Record Office in London.

'Lord Londonderry and Ulster Politics, 1921-26' in Joost Augusteijn and Marian Lyons (eds), Irish History: a Research Yearbook, vol.2 (Four Courts Press: Dublin, 2003). This article can be purchased from Four Courts Press.
'New Ireland, same old heroes' in Fortnight, no. 405 (June, 2002).
'Lord Londonderry and education reform in 1920s Northern Ireland' in History Ireland, 9, no. 1 (Spring, 2001), p 36-39.


"The reality of his fictions": An Exploration of the Nature of the Dramatic Achievement of Sam Thompson (1916-65)

Drawing on extensive archives in Belfast, as well as privately held papers, this study reassesses Sam Thompson and analyses why he referred to Northern Ireland as 'the Siberia of the Arts'. Thompson is best known for his controversial play Over the Bridge, his indictment of the social inequality and sectarian hatred he witnessed in the Belfast shipyards (which were to him a microcosm of Northern Ireland). The study, by Maura Megahey, examines Over the Bridge as a product of the social and political circumstances in which it was written and eventually staged. This close consideration of Over the Bridge is set in the context of Thompson's other plays; The Evangelist, Cemented With Love, and The Masqurade, through which his evolution as a playwright might be mapped. Thompson's work is evaluated within the framework of Northern Irish drama in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Sam Thompson archive is held in Belfast Central Library.


The Management of Landed Estates in Ulster

Ann Casement researched 'the Management of Landed Estates in Ulster in the Mid-Nineteenth Century, with special reference to the career of John Andrews as Agent to the 3rd and 4th Marquess of Londonderry from 1828-1863.'


Belfast Murals on Google maps

Over time the Institute of Irish Studies has undertaken various research projects that have looked at the use of public space in Belfast. As such we have tried to make some of the data on murals, memorials and flags available to the public via this Google map.  Parts of this research have been undertaken thanks to research funding from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland..


Each of the murals will be marked on Google map so that visitors can click a point and see which mural is located there.  The same will be done for memorials located in Belfast.  Finally historical images will be added so that visitors can see how the murals and memorials have changed over time.  Doing this allows for a visual representation of the changes that have occurred over time. The map is not yet comprehensive and we will be adding more images over the next few months.


Data has been collected by staff, PhD research students and students on the Irish Studies MA. Our thanks go to: Gordon Gillespie, Betta Viggiani, Liam Kelly, Ruari McBride, Cliff Stevenson, Nancy Anderson, Daniel Brown, Jamie Rollins, Dominic Bryan, Jonathan Bell

Google map