Seán Farragher: teacher, Renaissance man and pillar of Blackrock College for more than 60 years

Historian and archivist was a Mayo farmer’s son who never forgot his roots

Seán Farragher, who has died aged 91, was a true Renaissance man. He filled his filled his years working as a priest, a teacher, a writer and historian, a student of fine arts, continuing to contribute until his final illness a few months ago. A native of Co Mayo, he became a pillar of Blackrock College, in south Co Dublin. There he taught Irish, English and religion, encountering an eclectic bunch of pupils who included Bob Geldof, and making many friends including past pupil Éamon de Valera. He had a good eye for art, with a lifelong interest in the work of stained-glass artist Evie Hone, and was a prizewinning amateur photographer, who established the college photography society.

Farmer's son
A farmer's son who never forgot his Mayo roots, Fr Farragher was proud that an uncle of his had been active in the 1880s campaign to ostracise Captain Boycott, the land agent. A highlight of the last year of his life came when the Mayo minor and senior footballers chose to limber up on All-Ireland semifinal Day this year on the playing fields of Blackrock College.

John Peter Farragher, the middle child of 11, was first educated by the Christian Brothers in Ballinrobe, then attended Rockwell College in Co Tipperary, run by the Holy Ghost Fathers (now Spiritans), which he was to join. He graduated from University College Dublin in 1943, later achieving a diploma in education and winning the Sarah Purser scholarship in the history of European painting.

Ordained in 1948, he was appointed the following year to the teaching staff of Blackrock College. From 1952 he began to collect materials on the history of the college and the Holy Ghost order. He published continuously since 1954 a series of articles providing a valued source of information on secondary education in Ireland in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. These also deal with the Catholic University from 1861 to 1881, and the Royal University of Ireland from 1881 to 1908.

His publications include A Centennial Tribute to Éamon de Valera and Pádraic Ó Conaire (1983); Dev and his Alma Mater (1985); Père Leman (1826-1880), Educator and Missionary (1988), for which he was awarded a PhD; Led by the Spirit: the life and work of Claude Poullart des Places (1992), about the founder of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit; Blackrock College 1860-1995 (1995); and Irish Spiritans Remembered (1998).

Theological adviser
He also wrote potted biographies of some 800 members of the order and an examination of the work of the Irish missionary Bishop Joseph Shanahan. His final work was The French College Blackrock 1860-1896, a handsomely illustrated volume that was published in 2011. Fr Farragher was also a theological adviser in the process that may lead to the canonisation of des Places and Bishop Shanahan.

Appointed archivist in Blackrock College in 1957, he continued to assist with archive queries into his last months. He saw history as a guide, not a jailer, and welcomed change and development.

Seán Farragher is survived by his sisters Bride Cheeseman, Kitty Trainor and Sr Mary of the Poor Clare order.