Tony Farmar – An Appreciation

Deeply committed contributor to the world of Irish books

Tony Farmar: publisher,  social historian,  teacher, author and  active member of  professional associations

Tony Farmar: publisher, social historian, teacher, author and active member of professional associations


Tony Farmar, who died of cancer in Our Lady’s Hospice on December 15th, 2017, was a deeply committed contributor to the world of Irish books for over 40 years, as a publisher, a social historian, a teacher, and an active member of a number of professional associations.

Born in Kent in England, on July 2nd, 1946, he was educated at Downside School in Somerset, and read law at Pembroke College, Oxford, where he edited the Cherwell Guide to Oxford and was news and production editor of Isis. After graduating, he stayed on in Oxford, spending a year in the university’s libraries in an independent study of history, funded by a legacy from his grandfather.

In 1970, he joined Macmillan UK (Basingstoke and London), specialising in print production and print buying, and spent six months in Ibadan, Nigeria, to train Macmillan Nigeria’s production manager.

In 1977 he moved from London to Dublin with his family to join the publications section of the Institute of Public Administration.

There he oversaw the production of the annual Administration Yearbook and Diary, the journal Administration, and the Young Citizen newspaper for schools, in addition to editing books by senior academics and civil servants.

After five happy years with the IPA, he left the security of the State-sponsored sector and established a publishing services consultancy, while also acting as quality manager of Microprint computer manual specialists. He loved the craft of typesetting and printing, and expected the highest standards from suppliers, as can be seen in the books published by the imprint he and his wife Anna founded in 1992. A&A Farmar, based in Ranelagh, published a wide range of titles, specialising in Irish history, but including poetry, classic novels, food and wine books, memoirs, and guides to Dublin.

He was a long-serving member of CLÉ – The Irish Book Publishing Association, now Publishing Ireland. In the 1980s he was the Irish correspondent for the Bookseller and a frequent contributor to Books Ireland.

He also edited and produced the CLÉ Manual of Book Publishing, and the CLÉ Directory of the Irish Book Trade, subsequently developed as the CLÉ Directory of the Irish Book World.

He was a founding member and first chair in 1986 of the Association of Freelance Editors Proofreaders and Indexers, he was treasurer of CLÉ in 1981/2 and president in 2005/6. In 1996 he joined the board of the Irish Copyright Licensing Agency and served as its chairman from 2006 to 2010.

He was a born teacher, and loved to share his deep knowledge of all aspects of book publishing, teaching courses for CLÉ, the IPA and the School of Library and Information Studies in UCD. He contributed to the Oxford History of the Irish Book and the Caen symposium on Irish book history.

Tony was a respected social and business historian, as well as a publisher, with over a dozen titles to his name, including histories of St Luke’s Hospital, Bewleys, the accountancy profession in Ireland, Holles Street Hospital, Craig Gardner, and Heitons.

What might sometimes seem arid subjects were transformed under his gaze, and in his lively writing style, into fascinating vignettes of Irish life.

As Seamus Heaney wrote in his foreword to Tony’s history of Concern, Believing in Action: “Tony Farmar has a gift for wise generalization, a wonderful instinct for the telling detail or revealing statistic and a fair way of letting different personalities reveal themselves and the values they expouse.”

His study of Dublin’s middle classes, Privileged Lives, was described by President Michael D Higgins as a “wicked and intellectually sinful pleasure”.

His final work was a history of book publishing in Ireland.

The many tributes paid to Tony by friends and colleagues since his death all speak of his humour, his intellectual rigour, his witty and allusive conversation, his conviviality, kindness and generosity.

His great sorrow was the death in 1985 at the age of 12of his eldest child, Róisín, from leukaemia.

During his own illness he remained lively and stoical, always in command and a true English gentleman.

He is survived by his wife, Anna, and children, Hugh and Katherine.