R.J. (Bob) Hunter was 68 when he died – a few weeks before his 69th birthday, in Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland. He devoted his life to the study of all aspects of the Ulster Plantation, its origins and legacy. Among his interests were English migration, Anglicisation, urban colonisation, trade and intellectual life, and reflecting these broad subject areas his voluminous research notes were extracted from archives all over the UK and Ireland.
Bob was a great collector – of people (the odder or more eccentric the better); of information (ideas and facts as well as fantastical stories); of shards of ancient pottery and the thin red bricks he claimed to be seventeenth-century. He collected artefacts from antique shops and from charity shops. All these were stored, together with crowbars, saws (he remained a countryman at heart) and bits of ancient furniture behind the green door at 67 Clarendon Street.
Bob was a familiar figure in Derry/Londonderry, well known to a remarkably wide range of local people, many of them former students. He could often be seen, standing on his doorstep at the top of the hill, smoking a cigarette and saluting car drivers as they stopped at the traffic lights or engaging in conversations with passers-by, his familiar voice booming out over the roar of traffic. Some of those he spoke to would be allowed to pass on, a select few invited in-doors while others would be carried off to a nearby coffee house (he was an inveterate coffee drinker) for further (and more sustained) conversation.
Other nocturnal passers-by might catch a glimpse of him in the early hours of the morning (he was a notorious late-night worker – see anecdotes) as he paced behind the front first floor windows of the room in which he stored his library (now housed in the Linen Hall Library) or worked on his research notes (now in the possession of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland).
Bob toured the landscape with an eye for church, bawn, bridge and mill. He knew every patch of ground as if little had changed since the end of the 17th century. Yet he was more than aware of the encroachment of the present on the past. Preserving the heritage that he knew so well was one of his primary goals; it spurred him on in his work and drove him to campaign on behalf of libraries and buildings throughout the province.
When it came to his writing, Bob was a perfectionist through and through. He would emerge from long periods in his study proudly reporting the creation of a new ‘sentence’. He was crippled by his own impossible standards, and it was his major regret before he died that he had been unable to produce more in print. Yet he left behind a vast treasure trove of writings both published and unpublished as well as research notes and detailed transcripts.
After his death, family, friends, colleagues and former students joined to form the R.J. Hunter committee. By making available his writings and research, they hope to allow others to continue where he left off. This aim is to be achieved by publishing his original thesis on the plantation in Armagh and Cavan 1608–41; a collection of his more substantial essays; bringing to fruition his work on the muster roll of c. 1630 and the Ulster port books 1612–15; and a series of smaller works on the various aspects of the Plantation in which he was engrossed. This website is part of this legacy to enable other researchers to exploit the breadth of Bob’s knowledge and research, and to publicise and disseminate further research findings which arise out of the continuation of aspects of his work by present-days scholars and researchers. It is hoped that thereby his projects may one day be completed, and the major contribution he made to the study of this period of Irish history may be more fully appreciated.
In addition to these R.J. Hunter legacy projects:
- His books were donated to the Linen Hall Library, Belfast (www.linenhall.com);
- His notes were given to the Public Record Office, Northern Ireland (www.proni.gov.uk);
- Various items of research, by or inspired by R J Hunter, are soon to be published;
- On this website researchers can also find a number of his unpublished writings;
- A bursary scheme will be launched, shortly, to facilitate research into the subject areas of interest R.J. Hunter.