Obituary: Professor Kevin Boyle

Many in Northern Ireland and much further afield will be deeply saddened to hear news of the the death of Professor Kevin Boyle, who passed away yesterday.

Prof. Boyle was one of the UK and Ireland’s leading human rights academics, as founding director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway and later director of the Human Rights Centre in the University of Essex.

Originally from Newry, Kevin Boyle became a civil rights leader while at Queen’s University in the late sixties, active in People’s Democracy and then the NICRA.

In a distinguished career, he also found time to serve as the director of human rights NGO Article 19, act as special advisor to Mary Robinson during her time as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and practise as a barrister with Doughty Street Chambers, being acclaimed as UK Human Rights Lawyer of the Year 1998.

His writing covered many human rights themes and places, from Northern Ireland (including the influential Northern Ireland: The Choice, 2004, with Tom Hadden) to north Africa (Human Rights and Democracy: The Role of the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt, 1996, ed with Adel Omar Sherif).

He will be missed, not just by his family and friends, but by several generations of human rights students, academics and activists.


  • JAH

    Very sad news indeed.

    I was lucky enough to be taught by Kevin and David Trimble together on a course of Irish Legal History that they both devised at Queen’s. Taking a legalistic and objective perspective on the Irish history it gave me a solid basis for understanding the conflict ever since.

    It’s a pity for the North that he saw his career over the border because his version of Republicanism lost one its strongest voices.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Notwithstanding his later appointments, essentially he was a person who made his biggest cntribution to Life at a very early age. A genuinely nice guy.
    In October 2008, I attended a seminar about the contribution of QUB to the Civil Rights Movement…hosted without any hint of irony by…..Queens University.
    Attended by such luminaries as Kevin Boyle, Lord Bew of Burntollet, Michael Farrell, Erskine Holmes and Tom Hadden….it was too self congratulatory for my taste.
    Most of that generation of QUB failed to deliver anything. Kevin Boyle was the honourable exception.

    Rather like Sinn Féin and SDLP claiming (with varying degrees of justification) to be the inheritors of the Civil Rights Movement, it was somewhat irritating to see a group of academics and Queens itself claiming it was them wot won it.
    Still Kevin Boyle left a legacy that will live on.

  • Brian Walker

    The latest in an epidemic of sadly premature deaths.

  • Padraigin Drinan

    I was very lucky that on my first day at Queen’s I had Kevin Boyle to tutor me in criminology.
    Not only was he impressively intelligent, but he made it all so interesting. And then when People’s Democracy started Kevin was the only lecturer to become involved with the students. He was with us all the way to Derry on the Burntollet March.
    Then when I started work my very first case was a challenge to Internment and Junior Counsel in the case was Kevin Boyle.
    When he went to Galway he continued to argue for Human Rights, taking up the cause of Travellers when it was not the easy road to choose.
    Kevin was always gentle, charming and diplomatic but not afraid to challenge authority.
    He made a big difference to the lives of many of us.

  • PD: Miriam Daly was another QUB lecturer who involved herself in civil rights. She paid for it with her life. But then again, she was in the IRSP…..

    Boyle made the right move moving South as Provism made any further advances in the North impossible.

    I was sadder at the passing of Tipp legend John Doyle but he had also served out the allotted three score and ten. Still, at least Ryan timed it well, what with Tipp being in a temporary ascendancy right now.

  • Cynic2

    ” Miriam Daly was another QUB lecturer who involved herself in civil rights. ”

    Yeah as I recall INLA did a lot of ‘human rights’ work but seem to have missed out Article 2. Still perhaps they just turned over 2 pages at once.

  • Munsterview

    Never had the opportunity to really discuss anything with Kevin one to one the few times our trails crossed. However I did hear quite a bit about him second and third hand. He was quite a remarkable guy and his contribution was overshadowed by the peace process and the mundane slog that is mainly Northern Irish politics these days.

    Kevin deserves a one day or weekend seminar to disentangle his contribution fro politics generally and put his achievements in perspective. Hopefully both Galway and Belfast will combine in the effort.

    Pip and Co…… noted ! Hope ‘it’ is just home for the holidays or ‘it’s’ handlers are in for a quick check out on things. John Philphott Curran was right, ” Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty ” Just because I took a few days off for Xmas…… is nothing sacred ?

  • The Word

    Just missed Kevin as my commercial law lecturer. Had to put up with the great Tom Hadden instead. But Kevin was a giant in those circles.

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    Thats sad news indeed. I only just found this out when browsing through Slugger for the first time in a while. Kevin Boyle was my law professor at Essex and I really enjoyed his insights as my human rights law teacher. I always admired his intelligence and decency and his tireless belief in human rights. An abiding memory for me was arguing in a class in favour of the freedom of an artist to publish pro Nazi propaganda and finding that I was on my own until Kevin jumped in to defend the point with me, to the surprise i think of the rest of the class. Not that either of us was in favour of the Nazi’s but we both felt that freedom of speech means all speech not just that which you agree with. This point seemed to be lost on my, mostly very left wing, classmates but not on Kevin and I think it was a good example of his passionate belief in the importance of human rights. A great man and a great teacher.