Maurna Crozier was born in Belfast in 1942, the daughter of Robert Frizzell, the first general manager of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, and his wife Molly (née Tandy). Educated at Richmond Lodge School in Belfast, then Wycombe Abbey School in Buckingamshire, she attended Queen’s University from 1959 for two years reading English. She then married Julian Crozier, a district officer in what was then Northern Rhodesia (today, Zambia), and lived there for four years. Returning to Queen’s, she graduated in 1966, after which she worked in UTV and BBC Northern Ireland, before returning to Queen’s to research her doctorate.
Working from the late 1980s at the Institute of Irish Studies at the Queen’s University of Belfast, where she had taken a PhD in social anthropology in 1985, she and her colleagues in the Cultural Diversity Group there drove, as Duncan Morrow of the University of Ulster described it, “a new public culture of pluralism which both acknowledged and vindicated the many faces of the North, but also sought ways to bring them into dialogue with each other.”
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, she organised two conferences on the themes of varieties of Irishness and Britishness of Northern Irish traditions. These resulted in books, published in 1989 and 1990 respectively. In 1991 another volume followed, on the European aspect of the North’s traditions, all edited by Crozier herself.
When the Community Relations Council was set up in 1990, she became its first programme director for cultural diversity, overseeing the production of a wide variety of projects including films, books, touring exhibitions, festivals and grass-roots community projects such as Derry’s Different Drums initiative, the latter bringing together Lambeg drummers from the Orange Order with traditional Irish bodhrán players.
Other projects included an anti-sectarian project for primary schools, An Ulster Wean’s A-Z, and community theatre projects. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, she served as president of Belfast’s Linen Hall Library at what a most important time of its development, involving a £3 million extension to house its unique Northern Irish political literature section. She was very committed to peace and reconciliation, and had an intuitive understanding of people and their feelings, as well as having the ability to get things done.
With a lifelong commitment to improving cultural as well as community life in Northern Ireland, she served on the boards and committees of many of Northern Ireland’s major cultural institutions, including the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (2000-2003); National Museums and Galleries for Northern Ireland; Northern Ireland Museums Council; Museums, Libraries and Archives Council; Advisory Committee for British Cultural Studies at the British Council; BBC NI Broadcasting Council; BBC General Advisory Council; Ulster Historical Foundation; Crescent Arts Centre; Linen Hall Library; Community Foundation for Northern Ireland; NI Heritage Lottery Fund; Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and the Federation for Ulster Local Studies.
Dr Brian Walker, Professor Emeritus of Irish Studies at Queen’s, remarked that her work “was an important part of the debate about civic responsibility which wasn’t just about politicians, and, at the end of the day, major political groups became more inclusive,” in part as a result of her work. He said that a “whole host of local publications” dealing with aspects of different traditions that began to make their way into print from the late 1990s onwards, were facilitated by her work on identities. She was also instrumental in reaching out to non-traditional aspects of Northern society after 2001, including projects involving the Chinese and Jewish communities.
In a comment on her life and work the historian Jonathan Bardon remarked that in her work of reconciliation between Northern Ireland’s two communities she had shown “an unrivalled ability to find out those – however obscure – who were helping to make a difference and never to forget their names thereafter.”
Predeceased by her husband, she is survived by two sons, Daniel and Matthew, a daughter Briony, and grandchildren.
Maurna Crozier: Born 22 January 1942 – died 2 January 2015