Michael Richter

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 5 (Sept/Oct 2012), Letters, Medieval History (pre-1500), Volume 20

Sir,—Robin Frame in his interview (HI 20.3, May/June 2012) on the history of medieval Ireland rightly emphasises the value of approaching the subject from outside the narrow and insular perspective that has often been the practice in the past. He decries the ‘tendency of Irish historians to address themselves to their own kind’. He is lauded for his success in ‘communicating the significance of medieval Ireland to a wider audience’ and for his insistence that ‘medieval Ireland makes sense in wider contexts, which might be European as much as . . . British’.
If your article had replaced the name of Robin Frame with that of Michael Richter, precisely the same comments could have been made on the approach to medieval Ireland and on the importance of taking a wider, European (including British) perspective. At the time of his death in May 2011 Michael Richter was probably the leading medievalist from continental Europe taking a keen and sustained interest in medieval Ireland. Prior to his arrival in Ireland in 1972 he had already developed an interest and expertise in Welsh and British history. When he returned to his native Germany some years later his interest in medieval Ireland grew, but always in the context of Ireland in the wider world of Europe. His Medieval Ireland—the enduring tradition was published in German in 1983 before appearing in its first English edition in 1988. His subsequent forays into medieval Irish history were written mostly in English. The title of his 1999 study, Ireland and her neighbours in the seventh century, makes clear that his approach was always one of Ireland in relation to her neighbours and vice versa. In more recent years he did much original research on Columbanus and his monastic foundation in Bobbio, leading to his 2008 work Bobbio in the early Middle Ages.
It seems to me that Michael Richter’s contribution to Irish medieval studies has not received the attention it deserves. It is disappointing that in the year since his death his contribution has not been marked in any way by History Ireland. It may well be that Professor Richter ruffled many local and insular feathers among his Irish colleagues and, in fairness, I recognise that for some of these colleagues he was himself a formidable academic opponent.
The measure of his overall contribution was, however, recognised by his colleague Professor Próinséas Ní Chatháin, who in a foreword to the 2004 edition of Medieval Ireland—the enduring tradition wrote:
 
‘Here we have a book which could not have been written with the same authority by either an Irishman or an Englishman. […] Professor Richter strikes a good balance which may sometimes ruffle insular feathers but which is fresh and free from prejudices and preconceptions. He is singularly equipped to synthesise the complex tangle of early and medieval Ireland. His sojourn in Wales and experience of Welsh sources . . . his familiarity with the writings of Bede, his work on Carolingian literacy and learning are all brought to bear on the Irish evidence . . . he immersed himself in Irish scholarship with more dedication than many an Irishman.’
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—Yours etc.,
FINTAN BUTLER
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