On 12 May 2017, the month in which he reached his 90th year, the Ulster Historical Foundation organised a special day to honour Dr Brian Trainor for his many years of involvement in promoting the study of historical records in Ireland. Brian Trainor was born in Coleraine and educated at St Columb’s College, Derry, and Queen’s University, Belfast, and from there went to the Institute of Historical Research in London. He returned to Belfast where he lectured for several years at Queen’s before becoming, in 1956, an assistant archivist in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI).

He was Director of the Record Office from 1970 to 1987, during which time he was also Director of the Ulster Historical Foundation and then subsequently Research Director of the Foundation. Brian also served twice as chairman of the Irish Manuscripts Commission in 1976–7 and 1987–98. He holds two honorary doctorates: a Doctorate of Letters from the New University of Ulster (1984) and a Doctorate of Law from the National University of Ireland (1995).

Dr Trainor day in PRONI

Of his many achievements, not least in developing the collection and storage of archives in Northern Ireland and enhancing the reputation of PRONI, his work with colleagues and collaborators in popularising the records and making them accessible to a wider section of the public stands out, especially the international dimension of promoting the archives of the island of Ireland overseas.

Brian started attending international conferences in the late 1970s and was a keynote speaker at the world conference on records held in Salt Lake City in 1980. This lead to regular, and then from 1989, annual lecture tours in North America, first undertaken on his own, and from 1997 with the executive directors of the Ulster Historical Foundation, who he tutored in this important promotional role until his last tour in 2013 in his 85th year. Altogether he undertook nearly 40 tours in North America as well as visiting Australia and New Zealand, Britain, and even China during his career. He was married to Pilar and they had three children and five grandsons.

The event which was funded by the Big Lottery Fund under its ‘Celebrate’ funding stream was one of two programmes staged by the Foundation in May 2017 to mark its sixtieth anniversary. Dr Trainor’s event was held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) and was both informative and entertaining as a distinguished line-up of speakers give presentations on a range of subjects related to their research areas.

The speakers represented the various organisations with which Dr Trainor has been involved and can testify personally to the role that he played in promoting, developing and sustaining them. Those who took part included: Trevor Parkhill, Prof. William J. Smyth, John Killen, Cathy Hayes, Tom Quinlan, Dr Ray Refaussé, Dr William Roulston, Prof. Cormac Ó Gráda, Dr Kay Muhr, Dr Bill Macafee, Wesley Geddis, Dr Noel Kissane and Dr Brian Lambkin, each of whom gave a short address on a subject related to Dr Trainor’s work.

The Foundation’s President, the Duke of Abercorn, presented Dr Trainor and his family with a series of framed prints showing Dr Trainor at work in Ireland and around the world. Dr Donal McCracken, Dr Anthony Malcomson and Dr Éamon Phoenix were also present and contributed to the proceedings. In addition, many contributions were received from people living overseas or who could not be present that day. It was not possible to read them all out but some were shared with the audience.

They included David Rencher who provided a video message, plus expressions of goodwill from amongst others: Richard Reid (read by Perry McIntyre), Keith Johnson, Gary Hawbaker, Clare Lawler, Catherine Blumsom, Peter Smyth, Mary Russell, Terry Eakin, Jane Rymer & Ann Thompson, Michael Byrne, Florence Gracey, Mary Wack, Jennifer Harrison, Gordon & Shirley Lindsay, Steve Myers, Madison & Katharine Brown, Bill Birch, George Hancocks, Kathleen McGale, Trevor Fulton, Jennifer Cunningham, Pamela Ottaviano, Brian Donnelly, Pat Loughrey and Frances Brennan.