Craig, Maurice James Waldron (1919–2011), architectural historian, writer and poet, was born 25 October 1919 at 11 University Square, Belfast, elder of two sons of James Andrew Craig, a leading ophthalmic surgeon, and Blanche Craig (née Alice Blanche Sara Waldron), an Englishwoman. His paternal grandfather was a businessman in Ballymoney, Co. Antrim, in ironmongery, hardware, building materials, clocks and watches ('the usual country mixture … I never heard that it included undertaking, but it would not surprise me' (Craig, Elephant, 20)), whose widow after his death ran the business for fifty years into the 1920s, trading as 'James Craig, Ballymoney'. Maurice received primary education from age eight as a boarder at Castle Park School, Dalkey, Co. Dublin (his father's fervent determination that he be cleansed of a strong childhood Belfast accent dictating the choice of school), and secondary education at Shrewsbury School, Shropshire, England (where, 'an awkward schoolboy, scholarly and unathletic', he resisted 'any efforts to turn me into a little Englishman', and nurtured a lifelong Irish identity (Ir. Times, 17 June 1999)). Family holidays in France and Germany broadened his horizons and solidified his command of the languages, as did a spell (sans famille) in Paris during the summer prior to his matriculation as a scholarship student at Magdalene College, Cambridge (1938), where after reading history his first year he switched to English and graduated with a 2.1 degree ('as most of the brighter people do, leaving intellectually insecure obsessives to collect firsts' (Ir. Times, ibid.)).
His childhood and adolescent aspirations to become either a painter or a composer having been dashed by his evident lack of talent in either art, during the Paris summer he determined to become a writer. Upon leaving Cambridge, he moved to Dublin (it being the cultural capital of the country with which he most identified), where for the next decade he managed to live largely on the £300 annual income from the trust established for him by his father (who had deemed the sum a safety net, not a living income). Musing upon the idea of writing a book on the English poet Walter Savage Landor (1775–1874) – whom he considered a compelling subject, for his having straddled the romantic and Victorian periods – Craig acted upon the suggestion of Patrick Kavanagh (qv) that he do so as a doctoral thesis, and thus obtained a Ph.D. in general language and literature from TCD (1944). (Over half a century later, Craig edited and introduced a handsomely produced selection of Landor's poetry (1999).)
Frequenting Dublin's Palace Bar and its notable literary set, during the 1940s Craig published poems in little magazines and three slim volumes of poetry. His most famous poem, inspired by a line that he erroneously thought to be traditional, had its genesis in a request by James Joyce (qv) – whom Craig visited in Paris in 1938 – that he trace the source of the line in question. By the time Craig ascertained the line to have originated in a mediocre poem by an obscure poet about Thomas Russell (qv), Joyce was dead and Craig himself had written 'Ballad to a traditional refrain' (published by Robert Greacen (qv) in Poems from Ulster (1942)), appropriating the line to close each of his four stanzas:
That his composition came to be widely regarded as a folk poem, known by far more people than ever heard of him, Craig said, 'gives me great pleasure' (Elephant, 59).
Craig's first published prose work was a biography of James Caulfeild (qv), 1st earl of Charlemont, entitled The volunteer earl (1948). The choice of subject was telling, Charlemont representing all that Craig regarded as best about eighteenth-century Georgian Ireland. Refined and reserved, both civilised and a civiliser, Charlemont was an arbiter of taste, a patron of art and architecture, and in politics a whiggish nationalist, a stalwart of the protestant patriot position. Craig's research was based almost entirely on the Charlemont papers in the RIA (of which Charlemont had been a founding member and first president).
In the same year, Craig co-authored, with Henry Aimers Wheeler, The Dublin city churches of the Church of Ireland: an illustrated handbook (1948). His interest in the city's architecture thus stimulated, and combined with an especial interest in the architectural and social heritage of Georgian Dublin arising from his research on Charlemont and consequent discovery of and affection for the Casino at Marino, he next wrote his magisterial treatment Dublin 1660–1860: the shaping of a city (1952). Taking the architecture of the period as his starting point, Craig narrated a social history of the city, graced with illuminating and entertaining vignettes. Having been asked, amid the critical success of the Charlemont biography, to write another book treating eighteenth-century Dublin (this, and all his subsequent books, were written to publishers', agents' or collaborators' suggestions), Craig completed his text in 1949, only to have publication delayed for three years by printing and binding bottlenecks. Rigorously researched and comprehensive in scope, elegantly written, and handsomely illustrated with line drawings and photographs, the book became the standard (and eminently readable) reference work on post-restoration, Georgian and early Victorian Dublin.
Presenting the as-yet-unpublished manuscript of the Dublin book to the interview board, Craig took a position as inspector of ancient monuments in the Ministry of Works, London (1952–70). The work took him throughout Britain and sharpened his understanding of the fundamentals of architecture, by allowing him see 'buildings in a state of undress … how buildings are made, the bones' (Ir. Times, ibid.). Addressing another scholarly passion, he published a book begun before the move to London, Irish bookbindings, 1600–1800 (1954). The subject satisfied Craig's perfectionism, being strictly defined in scope, and amenable to thorough treatment. The book of which he was most proud, for both his treatment of the subject and the beauty of the design and production, it became in its turn a definitive study.
Preoccupied by the responsibilities of his job, Craig produced little independent, original writing for the next two decades. The reissue of Dublin 1660–1860 under a new and more aptly descriptive subtitle (A social and architectural history) by Allen Figgis in 1969, while described by Craig as 'a squalid little paperback' for its mediocre production values, secured both the book's and Craig's reputation, appearing as it did amid growing public awareness of and mobilisation against the threat to Dublin's architectural heritage posed by ill-conceived and inadequately regulated urban redevelopment. Attaining a much wider readership than the hardbound first edition, the reissue informed and animated the preservationist movement, and won many converts thereto, by providing a learned appraisal, both authoritative and accessible, of the aesthetic and historic significance of the built environment the movement sought to protect. Craig designed for Allen Figgis a second, more attractive paperbound edition (1980). (From the awakening of his interest in architectural history in the late 1940s, Craig made representations to relevant Irish authorities on varied preservation issues, often to no avail, and would later bemoan the widespread 'silent demolitions' of the period.)
Returning to Ireland, Craig was full-time executive secretary of Ireland's national trust, An Taisce, for the single year the post was funded (1970–71), after which he was a consultant to An Foras Forbartha (1971–5). Renewing and expanding his researches into Irish architectural history, he published Classic Irish houses of the middle size (1976; new, redesigned ed., 2006), comprising a textual survey of various categories of architectural detail prefacing chronologically arranged, meticulously captioned photographs and drawings of plans and elevations. Having twice turned down approaches to undertake a comprehensive history of Irish architecture – pleading his insufficient knowledge of the subject, and the dearth of existing published material thereupon – he spent seven years researching and writing The architecture of Ireland: from the earliest times to 1880 (1982). Addressing a genre only scantily treated in the latter book, he collaborated with his son, the artist and illustrator Michael Craig, on Mausolea hibernica (1999), writing descriptive and contextual text to accompany the thirty-three plates of Michael's pen-and-ink drawings, and an introductory essay; while an impressionistic treatment favouring the picturesque, not a comprehensive study, the book includes examples from throughout Ireland, and covering the range of dates, styles and religious denominations.
Craig's other books include two collaborations with Desmond Fitzgerald (1937–2011), Knight of Glin: Irish architectural drawings (1965), a catalogue accompanying a touring exhibition, and (with D. Newman Johnson) Ireland observed: a handbook to the buildings and antiquities (1970), an expanded republication in a separate volume of the Irish section of a 1968 Automobile Association publication on the treasures of Britain and Ireland. He edited, introduced and annotated facsimile reprints of The life of James Gandon (1969; 1st ed., 1846) by James Gandon junior; Memorable Dublin houses (1971; first ed., 1890) by Wilmot Harrison; and The neighbourhood of Dublin (1971; 1st ed., 1939) by Weston St John Joyce. The elephant and the Polish question (1990), described by Craig as being in the tradition of belles-lettres, is a compendium of autobiographical reminiscence, sketches of friends, relatives and public figures, and reflections on sundry matters. The handsomely produced Notes on my books (2006) gives short accounts and assessments of the origins, composition, production and reception of Craig's diverse publications. Craig's own photographs were an essential element of his architectural research and publications. The Irish Architectural Archive hosted an exhibition, 'Maurice Craig: fifty years of photographing Ireland' (2006), and Craig chose a selection of his work, published posthumously as Photographs (2011).
Elected MRIA in 1971, Craig served on the academy's council (1976–80 and 1982–6) and as a vice-president (1977–8) and senior vice-president (1983–4 and 1985–6). He wrote a brief pamphlet history of Academy House; was an editorial adviser to the RIA's Dictionary of Irish Biography project; and was awarded the academy's Cunningham medal (2001). He was a member of the Maritime Institute of Ireland, Ulster Archaeological Heritage Society and the Industrial Archaeology Society of Ireland. An unorthodox Festschrift, Decantations (1992), edited by his partner, Agnes Bernelle, comprised not only the customary scholarly essays by peers on the recipient's specialist subject, but also poems, drawings, appreciations, assessments and photographs, addressing the motley of Craig's interests.
Though lacking any relevant academic qualification, Craig was widely regarded as Ireland's foremost architectural historian. His holistic approach to Dublin's architectural heritage, encompassing its aesthetic and social dimensions, and concentrating on the relationship of individual major buildings to the larger cityscape, was founded on a fundamental conception of the city itself as a work of art. Less than enamoured by most twentieth-century Irish architecture (his comprehensive survey ended at 1880), and decrying the proliferation of Georgian pastiche office blocks, he expressed a liking for certain structures that were evidently modernist but did not 'quarrel' with their surroundings, citing Búsaras, the US embassy in Ballsbridge, and Dún Laoghaire town hall extension. He deplored the 'untold damage' to the city's fabric wreaked by traffic engineers catering for the motor car, but found hope in such pockets of community consciousness as Stoneybatter.
Eminently civilised as both writer and man, he possessed 'that felicitous art … of being able to write and speak with equal mellifluousness and clarity', so that his 'magisterial conversation' both 'edified and entertained' (Peter Harbison in Decantations, 73). A meticulous, methodical perfectionist, he wrote very slowly but always in a single draft, and valued the design, printing and binding of a book at least as much as the textual content. (He dropped a poem in hexameter from his Landor selection when informed by the publisher that near every line would over run, which he deemed unsightly.) Grave, aloof and austere in demeanour, consciously erudite and intensely cerebral, he nonetheless had a wry wit and humour that was evident in intimate company and on the written page. Ship modelling and antiquarian book collection were both passionately pursued recreational interests.
Craig married firstly (1945) Beatrix Marjorie Hurst, with whom he had one daughter, Catherine (b. 1949), and one son, (James) Michael (b. 1951); after repeated separations and reunions, the marriage was dissolved. He married secondly (1960) Jeanne Mary Edwards (d. 1970), with whom he travelled widely in Europe and South America; they had no children. For the three decades after his second wife's death, his unmarried partner was the German-born singer and actress Agnes Bernelle (1923–99), who also predeceased him. She being an extrovert, flamboyant personality, they were outwardly an incongruous couple, though in Bernelle's words they were 'very much alike in that we only do things we believe in' (Ir. Times, 4 May 1993). They lived at 97 Strand Road, Sandymount, Dublin; Craig also owned a small terraced house at Quarrybank, Bullock Harbour, Dalkey, Co. Dublin. Craig's last years were spent in accommodation for the elderly on Seapoint Avenue, Blackrock. He died 11 May 2011 at St Vincent's University Hospital, Dublin. The funeral was from Monkstown parish church (Church of Ireland) to Mt Jerome crematorium, Harold's Cross.