R. J. Hunter @ PRONI

The R.J. Hunter Papers in PRONI comprise the working papers of the historian R.J. (Bob) Hunter (1938–2007) mainly relating to his research on English settlement in the western counties of Ulster, c. 1603–41 and on the history of Ireland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Life and career

Robert John Hunter was born in Ashbourne, County Meath and educated at Wesley College and Trinity College, Dublin. He began postgraduate study under Professor T.W. Moody in 1951 and was awarded a MLitt for his dissertation on ‘The Ulster Plantation in the Counties of Armagh and Cavan, 1608–41’ in 1969.

In 1963 Bob was appointed an assistant Lecturer in history at Magee University College, Londonderry from where he moved to the New University of Ulster (later University of Ulster) on its formation in 1968. Bob spent the rest of his working life at Ulster, where he specialised in the teaching of early modern Irish history. He also taught on a number of extra mural and local studies courses.

Although he did not publish a great deal during his lifetime, Bob was an indefatigable researcher. The main focus of his research was the Plantation of the western counties of Ulster in the early seventeenth century and in particular the English settlers in the area. He was also interested in trade between Ireland and Britain, the military history of the period and the Anglicisation of Ireland from the seventeenth century onwards. Another interest was the history of Londonderry, particularly the nineteenth century city and its cultural and intellectual life.

The archive

Bob’s surviving papers reflect his intellectual interests and the depth of his research. He never embraced the PC and his notes are nearly all hand written. Early poverty had made him wary of wasting paper and his notes and draft articles were written on a wide variety of pieces of paper ranging from examination booklets to cigarette packets and Kit Kat wrappers. Most of these fragments were filed in a series of folders which give the archive its structure, although the contents of a folder do not always match the description which Bob gave them. These folders are listed in section D4446/A. In later years he was able to acquire copies of a number of the important sources for his period and these have been deposited with the papers and are listed under D4446/B and MIC721.

During his lifetime Bob published around 20 major articles as well as contributing to the Dictionary of National Biography and other reference books. Since his death the R.J. Hunter Committee has overseen the completion of two major projects that Bob had commenced, with the publication of editions of the Ulster Port Books, 1612–15 and the Ulster Muster Rolls of 1630. His thesis on the Plantation in Counties Armagh and Cavan was also published in 2012, along with his collected essays and a study of the Plantation in Strabane Barony which he produced with a local history class.

A number of Bob’s projects remain uncompleted. Among these was to be a major study of the origins and recruitment of the English settlers who were granted estates in the western counties of Ulster during the Plantation. He carried out extensive research in English county archives and in printed sources such as local histories and heraldic visitations. In later years he also explored (via friends and students) online genealogical sources such as the International Genealogical Index. His notes and the associated research material are included with the archive and together they form an important resource for anyone undertaking a similar study. They will also be of interest to genealogists and local historians. The research notes for this project are listed under D4446/A/12 and D4446/A/13, with some of the more obscure printed sources at D4446/H/2.

Other projects represented in the archive include a proposed narrative history of Ulster during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, based on his ‘Ulster in Transformation’ lecture series, and a history of Derry as the principal Plantation town. His interest in Derry extended into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with a particular focus on the intellectual life of the city and of Magee College. This interest led him to research a number of now obscure literary and scientific figures such as James Robinson Leebody (see D4446/A/14 and 15). A number of other areas of interest can be identified in the archive, some of which are not represented in Bob’s published output. These include: the wider context of the Ulster Plantation, particularly parallels with settlement in America; the development of schools as part of the Plantation process; the import and use of tobacco in Ireland; the architecture of the plantation and its physical remains; gravestones and monumental sculpture; the book trade and publishing from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries; and subscribing and circulating libraries.

As well as research material the Hunter Archive contains papers relating to Bob’s professional life and outside interests. The files in the Teaching and Research section provide information on the direction of his research and the projects in which he was interested. His concerns about the merger of Magee College with the New University and subsequent disputes about the provision of teaching in Derry are also represented, as is his campaign to prevent the dispersal of Magee’s older library holdings (D4446/C). Bob’s interest in the physical heritage of the Plantation period is reflected in the extensive collection of photographs which he took recording gravestones, monuments, buildings and especially the changing face of Derry (D4446/E). His interest also had a practical application and he was involved with bodies such as the Foyle Civic Trust and the Derry and Raphoe Library Project.

As well as making available the background material for Bob’s published work the R.J. Hunter archive will provide a useful starting point for anyone conducting research on the Plantation period or any of the other subjects in which Bob was interested. The collection will also be of interest to genealogists and local historians, not least because it brings together in PRONI a wide range of previously obscure material.

The list can be viewed on the PRONI ecatalogue under the reference D4446. Further, the e-catalogue itself is available at: http://applications.proni.gov.uk/LL_DCAL_PRONI_ECATNI/

Search Finding List

An initial finding list to the documents was prepared by Dr Brian Trainor, which was subsequently provided to PRONI to aid the cataloguing process. The finding list is available here as a basic research tool for anyone interested in using the R.J. Hunter papers.

Use the search form below or browse by box number using the links on the right.


For further information contact:

Public Record Office of Northern Ireland,
2 Titanic Boulevard,
Belfast, BT3 9HQ

E-mail: proni@dcalni.gov.uk
Tel: 028 9053 4800
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