Professor Roy Foster

Carroll Professor of Irish History


Roy Foster came to Hertford as Carroll Professor of Irish History in 1991, the first incumbent of the only endowed chair of Irish history in Britain, which is attached to Hertford. A graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, where he was a Foundation Scholar in history, he subsequently became Professor of Modern British History at Birkbeck College, University of London, as well as holding visiting fellowships at St Anthony's College, Oxford, the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and Princeton University. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1989, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1986, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1992, and an honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy in 2011, and has received honorary degrees from the University of Aberdeen, The Queen's University of Belfast, Trinity College, Dublin, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, the National University of Ireland, and the University of Edinburgh as well as an Honorary Fellowship at Birkbeck College, University of London. He specialises in Irish cultural, social and political history in the modern period but has also written about Victorian political history, and is the author of the authorized two-volume biography of the poet W.B.Yeats. 

His books include Charles Stewart Parnell:  The Man and His Family (1976), Lord Randolph Churchill:  A Political Life (1981), Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (1988), The Oxford Illustrated History of Ireland  (1989), The Sub Prefect Should Have Held His Tongue:  Selected Essays of Hubert Butler (1990), Paddy and Mr Punch:  Connections in Irish and English History (1993), The Irish Story:  Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (2001), which won the 2003 Christian Gauss Award for Literary Criticism, W.B. Yeats, A Life. I:  The Apprentice Mage 1865-1914 (1997) which won the 1998 James Tait Black Prize for biography, and Volume II: The Arch-Poet, 1915-1939 (2003); Conquering England: The Irish in the Victorian Metropolis (2005), co-written with Fintan Cullen, to coincide with their exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Luck and the Irish: a brief history of change 1970-2000 (2006), a book deriving from the Wiles Lectures which he delivered at Queen’s University Belfast, in 2004; Words Alone: Yeats and his inheritances (2011), derived from his Clark Lectures at the University of Cambridge; and most recently, Vivid Faces: the revolutionary generation in Ireland (2014), based on the Ford Lectures which he delivered at Oxford in 2012.  He is also a well-known critic, reviewer and broadcaster.

Undergraduate teaching 

Much of Professor Foster’s teaching is directed towards postgraduates, but he teaches undergraduates who take his Further Subject on politics, culture and nationalism in Ireland, 1870-1922, and delivers lecture series on Irish history from the 18th to the 20th centuries.

Postgraduate teaching 

Since coming to Oxford Professor Foster has supervised over 30 doctoral dissertations on Irish history and culture, as well as teaching on the History Faculty’s MSt programmes.


Professor Foster’s many books include biographies of politicians such as Charles Stewart Parnell and Lord Randolph Churchill, a large-scale history of Ireland from the 17th century, the two-volume biography of Yeats, and many essays on Irish culture and politics, including a book on the ‘Celtic Tiger’ phenomenon of the 1990s. A recent book, Words Alone: Yeats and his inheritances (2011), presents a re-reading of Irish literary history throughout the nineteenth century and places Yeats and his inspirations in apposition to a much wider range of literary and political precursors than is usually the case.  He is also interested in the discipline of biography, and is a founder member of the European Network for the Theory and Practice of Biography, based at the University of Valencia, and sits on the advisory board of the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing at Wolfson College.  His most recent research for which he was awarded a three-year Wolfson British Academy Research Professorship in 2009, again concerns biography and a revision of history: it is a portrait of the Irish revolutionary generation of c 1890-1916, looking particularly at the radicalization and ‘conversion- processes’ of unexpected figures from middle-class backgrounds, and concentrating upon groups such as journalists, teachers, civil servants, and activities such as feminism, suffrage agitation, agit-prop theatre and cultural propaganda. The idea is to break down the inflexible or hagiographical way in which key figures have been presented, highlight the way that circles of activists overlapped and interacted, and emphasize the importance of ideas from outside Ireland, and foreign parallels.  These themes were aired in his Ford Lectures delivered in the University in early 2012, and are developed further in his recent book Vivid Faces: the revolutionary generation in Ireland 1890-1914.  He is currently working on a history of Irish literature.



Vivid Faces: the revolutionary generation in Ireland 1890-1923 (London, 2014)


‘Revolutionary States’ in Barbara Dawson (ed.), Revolutionary States: Home Rule and Modern Ireland (Dublin, 2012)


Words Alone: Yeats and his Inheritances (Oxford, 2011)


 ‘Forward to Methuselah: the progress of nationalism’ in Terence Dooley (ed.), Ireland’s Polemical Past: views of Irish history in honour of R.V.Comerford (Dublin, 2010)

 ‘Yeats and Fascism’ in David Holdeman and Ben Levitas, W.B.Yeats in Context (Cambridge, 2010)

 ‘The Novelist’s Nose: the progress and uses of Irish fiction’ in Princeton University Library Chronicle, vol lxxii, no. 1 (Autumn 2010)


[with Alvin Jackson] ‘Parnell and Carson: Men for all Seasons?’ in Robert Gerwarth (ed.), European History Quarterly, vol. 39 no. 3 (July 2009) ‘Special Issue: Hero Cults and the Politics of the Past, Comparative European Perspectives’;

‘Trevor-Roper’s Scotland’ in Wm Roger Louis (ed.), Ultimate Adventures with Britannia: personalities, politics and culture in Britain (London, 2009)


‘A Strange and Insistent Protagonist’: Colm Toibin and Irish History’ in Paul Delaney (ed.), Reading Colm Toibin (Dublin, 2008)

 “A Family Affair: Lane, Gregory, Yeats and educating the nation’ in Barbara Dawson (ed.), Hugh Lane: Founder of a Gallery of Modern Art for Ireland (Dublin, 2008)


Luck and the Irish: a brief history of change, c 1970-2000 (London, 2007)

‘Changed Utterly? Transformation and continuity in late twentieth-century Ireland’, Historical Research vol. 80 no. 2009 (August 2007)

 ‘”Now Shall I Make My Soul”: approaching death in Yeats’s life and work’, Proceedings of the British Academy 151 (2007)

  ‘The Gift of Adaptability: Yeats, Joyce and modern Ireland’ in N.Allen and E.Patten (eds.), That Island Never Found (Dublin, 2007)


‘’”Something of us Will remain”: Sebastian Barry and Irish History’ in C.Mahony, Out of History: essays on the writings of Sebastian Barry (Dublin, 2006)


[with Fintan Cullen}, Conquering England; the Irish in Victorian London  (London, 2005)

‘Orpen and the new Ireland’ in Robert Upstone (ed), William Orpen: politics, sex and death (London, 2005)

 ‘”Old Ireland and Himself”: William Orpen and the Conflicts of Irish identity’ in Estudios Irlandeses: a Journal of Irish Studies, no 1 (Burgos, 2005)


W.B.Yeats, A Life, II: The Arch-Poet, 1915-1939 (Oxford, 2003) [Shortlisted for British Academy Book Prize]

‘”Our Chosen Colour is Blue”: Yeats and the Blueshirts’, Dublin Review 11 (2003)

 ‘Something to Hate: intimate enmities in Irish history’, Irish Review 30 (2003)


‘Yeats, Group Claims, and Irishry’ in E.Barkas and R. Bush (eds.), Claiming the Stones, Naming the Bones: cultural property and the negotiation of national and ethnic identity (Los Angeles, 2002)

 ‘”Hearts With One Purpose Alone”: Yeats’s political reconstruction’ in B. Stewart (ed.), Hearts and Minds: Irish Culture and Society under the Act of Union (Gerrard’s Cross, 2002)

 ‘Das national und das Normal’ in Sinn und Form (Nov.2002)


The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (London, 2001) [Awarded Christian Gauss prize for literary criticism by Phi Beta Kappa Society, and short-listed for Orwell Prize]

 ‘Remembering 1798’ in I.McBride (ed.), History and Memory in Modern Ireland (Cambridge, 2001)

 ‘Yeats at War: poetic strategies and political reconstruction from the Easter Rising to the Free State’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th series, ii (2001)


‘Good Behaviour: Yeats, Synge and Anglo-Irish etiquette’ in N.Grene, Interpreting Synge (Dublin, 2000)

 ‘Poetry, Politics and Possessiveness: Yeats and Irishness’, Actas de Encontro XX de Associacao Portuguesa de Estudos Anglo-Americanos (Porto, 2000)