The death occurred on 2nd February 2009 of Professor George Watson, former Director and Associate Director of the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies. George Watson was born in Portadown, Co Armagh, and educated at St Patrick’s College Armagh, Queen’s University Belfast and Wadham College Oxford, where he took his BLitt degree in 1966. He was appointed Lecturer in English at Aberdeen in the same year, and spent his entire career at the University until his retirement in 2005. He was the last head of the English department before the setting up of the School of Language and Literature in 2001.
Professor Watson began academic life as a scholar of Early Modern English and wrote a widely influential study of the theatre (Drama: An Introduction, 1983). As his career developed, however, he gravitated more and more towards commentary on the literature of his native Ireland. He won international renown for Irish Identity and the Literary Revival (1979; repr. 1994), a meticulously researched illumination of the political context of the achievement of W. B. Yeats, James Joyce, John Millington Synge and Sean O’Casey. He was instrumental in establishing Irish Studies on a seriously interdisciplinary footing through his work for the British Association of Irish Studies, of which he was a founding member in 1985, and he brought his experience at BAIS to bear on the creation of the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies at Aberdeen, one of his signal achievements. His wide network of friends and contacts among the poets, novelists, scholars, historians and politicians of Ireland and Scotland was crucial to the success of the Institute in its early years. George Watson was appointed Assistant Director of RIISS in 2001, when Prof T. M. Devine was Director, and subsequently was appointed Director. He was also a distinguished Director of the Yeats International Summer School in Sligo, 1998-2000. The large attendance at his funeral service at King’s College Chapel on 9th February included leading writers and academics from Scotland, England and Ireland. George was legendary for his cheerful pursuit of high academic standards, his sense of humour, his gift for mimicry and his loyalty to his wide circle of friends. He will be sorely missed. RIISS extends deepest condolences to his widow Jo, daughters Anna and Judith, son Conor, grandchildren and wider family.