McCoy, Gerard Anthony Hayes- (1911–75), historian, was born 15 August 1911, third child of Thomas McCoy and Mary Kathleen McCoy (née Wallace), in Galway city, where he received his early education from the Patrician brothers. A mild-mannered person of liberal catholic convictions, he attributed his abiding interest in military affairs to the tattoos of the Connaught Rangers which, as a boy, he saw enacted opposite his parental home on Eyre Square: a hairdressing establishment ‘for gentlemen’. This interest was cultivated, and diverted into historical channels, by Mary Donovan O'Sullivan (qv), his history professor at UCG.
After a distinguished student career at Galway (1928–32), Hayes-McCoy proceeded to the Ph.D. degree in history (1934) of the University of Edinburgh. After his work in Scottish archives, and having familiarised himself with the topography of western Scotland, Hayes-McCoy proceeded (1934–6) to the Tudor seminar of J. E. Neale at the Institute of Historical Research, London, where R. Dudley Edwards (qv), T. W. Moody (qv), and D. B. Quinn (qv) were among his fellow students. There, supported by a travelling studentship of the NUI, he converted his Edinburgh Ph.D. thesis into a book, Scots mercenary forces in Ireland, 1565–1603 (1937). This was characterised by meticulous archival research, and it anticipated by sixty years the much vaunted New British History of the late twentieth century by tracing the interconnections between events in England, Ireland, and Scotland. The broad perspective, matched with the lucidity of Hayes-McCoy’s prose, ensured that this book, together with two articles – ‘Strategy and tactics in Irish warfare, 1593–1601’, IHS, ii (1940–41), 255–79, and ‘The army of Ulster, 1593–1601’, Ir. Sword, i (1951), 105–77 – matched the best historical work then being published in the English language.
Despite his exceptional merits there was no academic post available to Hayes-McCoy in the Ireland of the 1930s, and he made his first career (1937–59) as assistant keeper in charge of the historical, arms, and textile section in the National Museum. During these years, Hayes-McCoy also cultivated a broad interest in military history through the Military History Society of Ireland (of which he was a founding member) and its journal The Irish Sword (which he edited 1949–59), through public exhibitions in the Museum (notably that of 1941 commemorating the 1916 rising), through children's programmes on Radio Éireann, and through historical pageants.
A second career was opened to Hayes-McCoy after 1959 when he succeeded Donovan O'Sullivan as professor of history at UCG. He then had the opportunity to teach undergraduates, to supervise historical research, and to lead by example through publishing. He relished these new responsibilities, but he still sought after a wider public through the Irish Sword, through Thomas Davis lectures, through columns in the Sunday Press, and occasionally on television. A tension was now evident between the Hayes-McCoy who had been trained as an academic historian, and the museum collector and conservator of twenty years standing who yearned for a popular audience, and he sought to satisfy several publics. In academic terms, the more influential works of his second career were Irish battles (London, 1969), which set the framework for future work on the military history of Ireland, and Ulster and other Irish maps, c.1600 (Dublin, 1964), which set a new standard in Irish historical cartography. Hayes-McCoy also wrote the political narrative section on Ireland, 1534–1603, for T. W. Moody, F. X. Martin, and F. J. Byrne (ed.), A new history of Ireland, III: Early modern Ireland, 1534–1691 (Oxford, 1976). On the popular front, his undoubted triumph was Irish flags, published posthumously (Dublin, 1979).
Hayes-McCoy married (1941) Mary O'Connor; they had two sons and three daughters. During his professorial years, he was dogged by ill-health, and his life was further complicated because his wife and children resided in Dublin while he took rooms in the Great Southern Hotel, Galway, from Tuesday to Friday during term. His ‘non-residence’ was frequently cited against him in the university politics of Galway, but his real transgression was in being a strident, public opponent of the application of an Irish-language test to all who aspired to hold any position in any faculty at UCG. Here he hoped more to keep the debate alive than to see the relevant enactment abolished in his lifetime, and he derived a quiet satisfaction from knowing that he enjoyed a higher standing, both with students and in the world of scholarship, than most of those who decried him for speaking against the orthodoxy that legitimised their existence. Perhaps both sides to the debate thought it fitting that his untimely death (27 November 1975) was in his room in the Great Southern Hotel overlooking the square where, as a boy, he had been transfixed by the passing parade of the red coats.