Dr Stephen Kelly


Dr Stephen Kelly.

Churchill Archives Centre Archives By-Fellowship Report, 2016–2017

I am immensely grateful and proud to have spent the Lent-Term as Archives By-Fellow at Churchill College, University of Cambridge in 2016–2017. I am equally thankful to have been awarded the John Antcliffe Memorial Fund in relation to my research project, ‘Margaret Thatcher and the Northern Ireland Troubles, 1975–1990.’

During my two-months residency at Churchill College, the bulk of my time was spent at the Churchill Archives Centre, examining the personal papers of Margaret Thatcher and other prominent British political personalities, including Julian Amery, Lord Hailsham and Enoch Powell.

Thatcher’s personal papers contain a treasure trove of material related to the late British Prime Minister’s private attitude to Northern Ireland and more widely Anglo-Irish relations. In conjunction with the Margaret Thatcher Foundation (which has digitised and placed online a large collection of Thatcher’s personal papers dealing with her premiership), the ability to read and analyse original documents, allowed me to gain a first-hand insight into Thatcher’s political thinking.

Spending time diligently reading through a plethora of Thatcher’s letters (many of them handwritten), memoranda and policy documents, I began to appreciate the complexities of her attitude to Northern Ireland, helping to dismantle the myth that she allocated little energy or resources to this perennial issue. For example, I uncovered new material related to Thatcher’s relationship with her colleague and friend Airey Neave, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, 1975 to 1979; her disdain for terrorism, specifically the activities of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA); and the motivations behind her decision to sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

In conjunction with the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021, the information I acquired in the Churchill Archives Centre will be invaluable as I begin work on my new monograph, ‘Margaret Thatcher and the Northern Ireland Troubles, 1975-1990’, together with several peer-reviewed articles that I am currently piecing together.

The Churchill Archives Centre is a world-class institution. I was impressed by the professionalism and dedication to excellence which staff members employed; I owe a particular word of thanks to Andrew Riley, Senior Archivist. A further word of gratitude must be extended to Melinda Gilbert and everyone involved with the John Antcliffe Memorial Fund for their kind support. I hope that my ongoing research relating to Thatcher will help to preserve the memory of the late John Antcliffe.

I also used my time at Churchill College to research beyond the Churchill Archives Centre. I made several trips to London, including visits to the National Archives of the United Kingdom and the Parliamentary Archives (which house the personal papers of Airey Neave). I also visited the Bodleian Library in Oxford to view the Conservative Party Papers.

The time spent at Churchill College also permitted me the opportunity to make friends and establish new professional links. I will fondly remember my conversations with an array of brilliant academics, including Dr Pieter Van Houten, Barry Phipps and Emilio Saenz-Frances.

Dr Stephen Kelly, Senior Lecturer in Modern History, Liverpool Hope University, April 2017.

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