Father at the centre of Fethard furore


Sean Cloney, who died on October 19th, was better known for the furore surrounding his personal life than for his achievements, but these were not inconsiderable.

He will be forever associated with the controversy around his native village of Fethard-on-Sea in Co Wexford, arising from the attempt by the local parish priest to force his wife to send their children to the Catholic school, and her efforts to resist it. These included fleeing to Northern Ireland and Scotland with the two children. Their flight and the ensuing boycott of Protestant businesses are immortalised in the film, A Love Divided, which appeared earlier this year.

But Sean Cloney was also a highly-respected, local historian, widely published, with a unique expertise in certain areas. He lectured widely and was a close friend of UCD historian Professor Ronan Fanning and TCD's Professor Louis Cullen.

He was born on September 5th 1926 into a prominent south Wexford family - one of his ancestors was Gen Thomas Cloney, a leader of the United Irishmen in 1798. The family had been in the area for almost a century, the only Catholic family in the Pallotine settlement of Old Ross, where they had a water mill.

The story of the United Irishmen and the 1798 Rebellion was one of Sean Cloney's main research interests. He was the historical adviser to Comoradh, the Wexford 1798 commemorative committee, and responsible for the Scullabogue memorial, commemorating those who died in the massacre there, which was unveiled during the celebrations. He is credited with writing the definitive piece on the Scullabogue massacre. Because of his family's involvement in 1798 he had an extensive archive and his uncle was a leading figure in the 1798 commemoration which took place in 1948.

His interests and expertise went beyond this. He was also the major expert on the Colclough family of Tintern Abbey, and an expert on water mills. He was a regular contributor to the journals of the Wexford Historical Society - one of his articles will appear in a special issue of the journal on December 12th. Widely read, he never owned a television, preferring the radio.

He also had a more practical side, and he and his wife Sheila - with whom he celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last week - are credited with inspiring much of the recent restoration and enhancement of Fethard. He was described by a friend as "an intellectual giant in a very modest way, a gentleman in the old sense of the word."

Sean Cloney is survived by his wife Sheila and two daughters.

Sean Cloney: born 1926; died October, 1999