Dolley, (Reginald Hugh) Michael (1925–83), numismatist and historian, was born 6 July 1925 in Oxford, England, the son of A. H. F. Dolley, a civil servant, and Margaret Dolley (née Horgan). His father had Co. Galway antecedents while his mother's were from west Co. Limerick. Michael (his confirmation name, by which he later came to be known) was educated at Wimbledon College and at King's College, University of London, where he obtained a BA in ancient and medieval history. He held museum posts at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (assistant keeper, 1948–51), and at the department of coins and medals, British Museum (1951–63). Feeling drawn to Ireland, he came to QUB to become lecturer in medieval history (1963–9) and subsequently reader in the department of modern history (1969–75). His massive and unique contribution to scholarship resulted in the creation of a personal chair there of historical numismatics (1975–8).
Dolley served on the committee for the commemoration of the 1916 rising, and was associated with the National Democratic Group, which became, in 1965, a political party. Later he was on the first committee of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (1969). Although he made no secret of his political views, his pamphlet Law (?) and orders: the Belfast ‘curfew’ of 3–5 July 1970 (1970) was published under the pseudonym ‘Seán Óg Ó Fearghail’ with a preface under a Gaelicisation of his name, ‘Micheál Ó Dathlaoich’. He openly feared that he might be assassinated even while teaching, and eventually settled his family in England (at Mavis Bank, 33 Higher Brimley Road, Teignmouth, Devon), but took up a post himself at the University of New England, Armidale, Australia, as lecturer (1978), senior lecturer (1980), and associate professor of history (1981). He was an effective teacher, influential with students and colleagues, and inspiring others to research and to publish.
His prestigious output of almost 900 publications included numerous articles and eleven books and books jointly authored. A Festschrift, which became perforce essays in his memory (Anglo-Saxon monetary history (1986), cited below) contains an extensive, detailed bibliography by R. H. Thompson, including the poetry written by Dolley when he was young. The introduction to the bibliography includes a list of the several names under which he wrote. Most of his publications were numismatic researches. He revolutionised numismatic studies, not only being an authority on coin identification but also advancing the study of context of coins and coin hoards, visiting excavations in progress, and, where possible, examining find spots. He was influential in establishing the importance of numismatics to the understanding of archaeology and history. His time in Ireland coincided with the excavation of Wood Quay, Dublin, site of the Viking trading centre of the tenth century, when coinage first became established in Ireland.
His numismatic studies were very wide but can be divided roughly into three: Anglo-Saxon and English medieval; Irish; Manx. He wrote the British Museum guides, Anglo-Saxon pennies (1964) and Viking coins of the Danelaw and of Dublin (1965), and edited and contributed to Anglo-Saxon coins: studies presented to F. M. Stenton . . . (1961), all of which are significant. With Stenton, he was a major promoter of the British Academy series on coins. With W. A. Seaby, director of the Ulster Museum, he co-edited the fasicule of the museum's coins of kings John to Edward III, which remains a standard reference work. His Medieval Anglo-Irish coins (1972) is a new approach, and the only reference of its type for Ireland. The high-point of his later career was ‘A Hiberno-Manx coinage of the eleventh century’ (item 709 in Thompson's bibliography), in which he identifies a separate Hiberno-Manx coinage. He also wrote a useful volume in the Gill and Macmillan History of Ireland series (Anglo-Norman Ireland (1972)).
He became a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (1955), an MRIA (1964; senior vice-president,1972–3), and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society (1965). A foreign corresponding member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities (1970) and a foreign member of the Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters (1979), he was a medallist of the Swedish (1979), British (1981), Norwegian (1982), and American (1983) numismatic societies. A few months before his death he was awarded an honorary D.Litt. from the University of London. A late photographic portrait is to be found with his obituary in the British Numismatic Journal; no less than thirteen obituaries, mostly by Irish, British, and Scandinavian colleagues, are listed in the preface of this number. Anglo-Saxon monetary history includes a half-length portrait photograph (1977) as frontispiece.
In 1950 Dolley married (Phyllis) Mary Harris, who had been a fellow student at King's; they had four daughters and two sons, and also adopted a daughter. In Belfast he lived first at 458 Ravenhill Rd. and later in Malone Avenue. Although ill for at least the last two years of his life, he strove to continue research and writing. He flew to Cork, hoping to be able to accept in person his final honour, an honorary D.Litt. from the NUI, of which he was very proud; sadly, it was awarded in absentia, and he died in the city five days later on 29 March 1983. His noted eccentricity can be exemplified by his claiming descent from Brian Bórama (qv) and his desire to be buried on the Cork–Kerry border, a wish not fulfilled; he was, in fact, buried with his mother in Cuckfield, Sussex.