A distinguished scholar of Irish literature who was also an acclaimed novelist, poet and playwright has died.
Bob Welch was born in Cork on 25 November 1947 and graduated in English and Irish from University College Cork (1968) before going on to complete a master’s (1971). He then studied for a PhD at the University of Leeds (1974) while lecturing both there (1971-73) and at the University of Ife, Nigeria (1973-74). He remained at Leeds until 1984, gaining wide recognition for his work on the links between the Gaelic tradition and Irish poetry in English, a topic to which he would devote much of his career.
It was at this point that Professor Welch moved to the newly established University of Ulster as professor of English and head of the department of English, media and theatre studies, although he gave up the latter position in 1994 to devote more time to research. He later returned to a senior managerial role as dean of the Faculty of Humanities (later the Faculty of Arts) from 2000 to 2008.
A great enthusiast for putting together teams and securing funding for large research projects, Professor Welch was editor of the best-selling Oxford Companion to Irish Literature (1996) and a leading contributor to, as well as a general editor of, the multi-volume Oxford History of the Irish Book (from 2006). He was author of monographs including Irish Poetry from Moore to Yeats (1980), Changing States: Transformations in Modern Irish Writing (1993) and a history of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, The Abbey Theatre 1899-1999: Form and Pressure (1999).
Alongside his career as a scholar, Professor Welch enjoyed equal success as a creative writer, publishing several volumes of poetry, novels in both English and Irish and a much-acclaimed memoir of his son Egan, Kicking the Black Mamba: Life, Alcohol and Death (2012). His play Protestants (2004), a series of monologues by characters ranging from Queen Elizabeth I to a soldier in Cromwell’s army and an American snake-handler, opened in Belfast before touring all around Northern Ireland, Edinburgh and London.
Gerry McKenna, former vice-chancellor and president of the University of Ulster, remembers Professor Welch as “a warm, generous and stimulating man, possessed of unusual self-belief, inordinate wit, and an abundance of intellectual and moral courage. Although he had been suffering from cancer since 2009, this did not deter his prodigious written output or dampen his enthusiasm and good humour.”
Professor Welch died on 3 February 2013 and is survived by his wife Angela, a daughter and two sons.