by Pat Devlin
Doreen Corcoran, who died on 3 August 2013, was a prominent figure in local history and heritage circles throughout Ireland for a period of almost 40 years. Her commitment to and enthusiasm for heritage and local studies is widely acknowledged and her loss is felt not only in her home place of Carrickfergus but throughout the whole of Ireland where she had many friends and colleagues.
Born Doreen Luney on 12 July 1934 in Carrickfergus, Doreen was educated at Greenisland Primary School and Methodist College, Belfast. She took up employment in the GB Civil Service in London where she met her future husband, John X.P.W. Corcoran, an Archaeologist and expert on Neolithic Chambered tombs. John having secured a lectureship at the University of Glasgow the couple set up home in Scotland. Doreen became involved in John’s work, travelling with him throughout Britain and Ireland. When John died in 1975 Doreen returned to Carrickfergus where she was employed in the local library and in Hopefield School.
Never one to take the easy option, Doreen soon became involved in local events. She was a founder member of the Carrickfergus and District Historical Society and subsequently held the Offices of Hon. Secretary (1980-1990), Chairman – she always insisted on this nomenclature, including in the Ulster History Circle (1991-1995) and Life President from 1996.
Not content with helping to run and develop local studies in Carrickfergus, Doreen’s Walking History Tours around the town were well-known and well attended, not least by colleagues from historical societies north and south of the border. She appeared frequently on local radio and television historical programmes about the East Antrim area. Her book, A Tour of East Antrim, published by Friar’s Bush Press in 1990, incorporated photographs from the WA Green Collection.
In the mid 1970s a group of local historians came together to form the Federation for Ulster Local Studies. Doreen was drawn into this activity and was co-opted to the Executive Committee in 1978. Such was her commitment that she served for several years as Secretary. She was elected Vice Chairman in 1980 for two years, followed in 1988 for two more years as Chairman. Between 1987 and 2000 Doreen researched, compiled and produced 10,000 copies of a mainly twice-yearly roundup of local historical society events in the publication ‘Local History Link’, a total of 23 editions. She also contributed to the Federation’s journal Ulster Local Studies and its successor Due North. In recognition of her many years of devoted service she was elected as honorary vice president in 2008. When the Federation set up the Ulster History Trust in 1980 to promote the publication of local history in Ulster Doreen acted as appeal co-ordinator and subsequently served as Trustee for many years, sometimes helping to organise, speak at, and occasionally chair, some of its biennial Conferences.
Doreen was instrumental in developing close and enduring ties between the Federation and its sister body in the Republic of Ireland, the Federation of Local History Societies, chairing the first joint meeting, and in helping to plan and participate in many of the joint events and trips, throughout Ireland and Britain and on the Continent of Europe. She continued to participate in the joint events until shortly before she died.
Doreen on the 2010 trip to Leuven in Belgium when the group visited WW1 cemeteries and battlefields
In the mid 1990s Doreen was invited by Dr James Hawthorne, former Controller of BBC NI, to join the Ulster History Circle. The Circle had been set up by him in 1983 to celebrate the achievements of individual men and women who had contributed significantly to the life and history of the province of Ulster. The Circle erects blue plaques on buildings associated with the individual. Doreen took to this new challenge with her usual dedication, resulting in her election to the office of Chairman in 1998, which she held until 2009. Under her leadership the meetings were focused and productive, accompanied by much fellowship and merriment and a joy to attend. She was an elegant and assured Master of Ceremonies at its plaque unveiling events.
Doreen was a member of the Historic Buildings Council (1994-2000) and the Historic Monuments Council (1994-2000). She was also a member of the Ulster Archaeological Society and a Trustee of the Ulster Historical Foundation.
In 2009 Doreen’s contribution to heritage in Northern Ireland was recognised when she was awarded the MBE.
Doreen’s public life was underpinned by her joy in and commitment to her family, who were her bedrock. Her immense contribution to the recording and dissemination of local historical research will stand as a monument to her life.