Obituary: Professor Frank Wright (CORRECTED)

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Frank Amyas Wright, political scientist, born Oxford 4 June 1950, Lecturer in Politics Queen's College Oxford 1973-93, Professor of Peace Studies University of Limerick 1992-93, died Oxford 10 February 1993.

AMONG THE MANY contributors who tried to understand and to relieve Northern Ireland's present trauma, Frank Wright will be especially valued.

His secondment from Queen's College, Oxford, in April 1992 to the new Chair of Peace Studies at the University of Limerick was testimony to his past intellectual achievements and practical work, and a signpost of important things to come. The tragedy of his premature death leaves a gap in the academic world, and an empty space in the hearts of many friends and colleagues.

Inspired by his father's career, Frank Wright initially entered Trinity College, Oxford, to read chemistry, but soon turned, in those heady days of the late 1960s, to Philosophy, Politics and Economics, winning the Gibbs Prize for Politics in 1969, and graduating with First Class Honours in 1970. He was appointed to a lectureship in comparative politics at Queen's in 1973, after beginning research in the Institute of Irish Studies and at New College.

His first publication in 1973 was a pathbreaking analysis of the structure and historical continuity of Protestant political ideology. It early revealed, not just the genuine scholarship and enormous attention to detail which marked all his work, but a commitment to explore empathetically the beliefs and felt experiences of those caught up in ancient antagonisms.

Thereafter, along with his colleague Adrian Guelke, he pioneered an approach towards Northern Ireland which studied it, not as a unique and anomalous social and political problem, but through parallels with other divided societies forged by history on the frontiers between different cultures and societies. The main offshoot of this was his difficult, but widely respected, book Northern Ireland in Comparative Perspective (1988). In the course of this research, Wright was one of the few external academic observers to realise, long before the onset of its current troubles, the significance of Yugoslavia for the study of ethnic and communal relationships, and to appreciate the latent violence which underlay the fragile veneer of order and peace in the region. He discovered a deep affection for the country, and more recently became active in the work for peace there. Wright's special area of research, however, continued to be Northern Ireland. In 1989 he completed his doctorate, modestly entitled Developments in Ulster Politics 1843-1886, a detailed and sophisticated study of the emergence of the nationalist-unionist divide, which will be published in the near future.

Frank Wright's life and work were driven by more than just intellectual curiosity, important though that was. Underlying it lay deep moral and religious convictions: his is surely the only modern text in comparative politics which ends with a chapter on the meaning of the Resurrection. His spirit was that of a liberal, ecumenically minded Protestant, intent on striving for a wider Christian understanding. A radical by instinct, he yet had a real sense of human frailty, not least with regard to himself, which engendered both tolerance and realism. He was deeply committed to the practical work of the Corrymeela Community, a Christian group for reconciliation based in Co Antrim, and latterly the 'Understanding Conflict . . .' project.

He was, in many ways, an academic of an earlier generation: appalled by managerial imperatives; indifferent to creature comforts: able to survive off bread, cheese, and a good library; and convinced of a university's overwhelming responsibility to pursue truth and the moral improvement of humanity. Passionate in his urge that others should understand, he could spellbind a lecture audience, entrance students anxious to learn, and drive a seminar to distraction by the requirement that they should think.

He had little time in recent years to cultivate his talent for painting. But the fine landscapes and sometimes idiosyncratic portraits which hang on many walls throughout the province are not the least of the things which he leaves to remind us of his great and varied qualities.


There was an unfortunate confusion in Saturday's obituary. Professor Wright was Lecturer in Politics not at Queen's College, Oxford, but at Queen's University, Belfast. He was born in 1948, not 1950.