Professor J. C. Beckett was born and educated in Belfast where he became a lecturer in Modern History at Queen's University; and in 1958 Professor of Irish History there. After his retirement from the chair in 1975 Professor Beckett spent 1976 as Cummings Lecturer at McGill University, Montreal and was visiting Professor at the Univeristy of Tulane, New Orleans in 1977. In 1980 he was awarded an honorary D. Litt. by Queen's University, Belfast.
Professor Beckett died in 1996.