A Marist priest and Irish historian, he is known for his writings and his rejection of revisionist Irish history and historians. He relayed in an interview with History Ireland that he felt stifled in UCD and ironically, it was in Cambridge, which was originally the origin of revisionism, that he found the data and evidence that backed up a view of Irish history that was regarded as true by the general populace. He felt that history has to be studied holistically using the emotional, spiritual and moral content of its time.
Born in Limerick, he was reared in St. Mary’s Parish. His father, Kevin, took the anti-Treaty side and fought in the Civil War, afterwards becoming a local Fianna Fáil politician and twice mayor of Limerick. He ran a small mineral-water business which developed later into the well known soft drinks brand OLO (Our Lady’s Own) minerals. His mother, Annie Harrison, worked in her family’s retail business before becoming a full-time homemaker; her family were pro-treaty.
Father Bradshaw had deep rooted, widespread and ongoing family connections to his home city. The late priest lectured in Mary Immaculate College (MIC) during the 1970s, where he played an instrumental role in establishing the institute’s history department and where he worked closely with other historians among them Dr. John Logan.
He worked initially in the Dept of Posts and Telegraphs and then joined the Marist Order, an order of priests with a special devotion to Mary, in 1960. He went on to achieve a BA Honours degree in Irish and history and an MA in history at the University College Dublin (UCD).
Fellow scholar Professor Eamon Duffy said that Father Bradshaw’s brilliance was spotted by his UCD professor Rev FX Martin, himself a priest, who encouraged him to study at Cambridge. Despite protestations from his order, following his ordination in 1969, he received a scholarship to complete his PhD at the university.
His Cambridge supervisor Geoffrey Elton came to consider him as the brightest of all his pupils. “If you have any idea of the roster of distinguished tudor historians Elton trained, you’ll grasp what an accolade that was,” Professor Duffy said. He became one of the first Catholic priests to study in Cambridge in 400 years, since the time of the reformation.
From his interview with History Ireland:
“One of the dangers of universities is that we think they are places making people think for themselves but, in fact, often what they do is simply feed students with the latest intellectual orthodoxy. That consensus was then fostered in Irish academe and that is where we are at present.”
Among his major publications are
- The Dissolution of the Religious Orders in Ireland under Henry VIII (1974);
- The Irish Constitutional Revolution in the 16th Century (1979);
- Humanism, Reform and Reformation: The Career of Bishop John Fisher (ed., with Eamon Duffy, 1989);
- The British Problem c. 1534-1707:
- State Formation in the Atlantic Archipelago (ed., with John Morrill, 1996);
- British Consciousness and Identity: The Making of Britain 1533-1707 (ed., with Peter Roberts, 1998);
- Christianity in Ireland: Revisiting the Story (ed., 2003);
- Representing Ireland: Literature and the Origins of Conflict 1534-1660 (ed., with Andrew Hadfield and Willy Maley, 2009);
- And So Began the Irish Nation: Nationality, National Consciousness and Nationalism in Pre-Modern Ireland (2015).