Tributes paid to John Coolahan, the ‘father of Irish education’

Kerry-born teacher was pivotal figure in Irish education for more than 50 years

Professor John Coolahan, a pivotal figure in Irish education policy for more than 50 years, has died.

He was an academic, a researcher, an author, a primary and second-level teacher and an adviser to successive governments on the drafting of educational policy.

He is widely credited with shaping a modern vision for Irish education, underpinned by legislation, and most recently he chaired the Irish Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the primary sector.

Minister of State at the Department of Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said he was a “colossus in Irish education”.


“I had the honour of being taught by Prof Coolahan in my undergraduate studies and he supervised me for my masters in education. His sharp intellect and massive experience in education will be sorely missed in the formation of Irish education policy.”

The Teaching Council, the regulatory body for the profession, described him as "the father of Irish education" and said his life was an inspiration for all who care about teaching, learning and research.

Catherine Byrne, chair of The Ark, a cultural centre for children in Dublin where he served as chair of the board until last year, said he was a passionate advocate for the rights of all children to fulfil their creative potential.

"The greatest tribute we can pay Prof Coolahan is to continue to campaign for his vision of an Ireland where every child would have access to the highest quality art and cultural experiences."

Aideen Howard, The Ark’s director, added that he was a “wise, far-seeing advocate who championed the artist and child equally”.

Mr Coolahan, who was professor emeritus of education at Maynooth University, lectured extensively in Ireland and abroad. He wrote three books, including Irish Education, its History and Structure (1981), and published more than 120 articles in Irish and international journals.

He was a founding member and president of the Educational Studies Association of Ireland and was editor of Irish Educational Studies.

He had numerous public service roles and served on a range of ministerial committees and on the boards of educational and cultural bodies.

At international level, he was a member of the OECD’s review team of education and was vice-president of the EU committee on education.

He was also a consultant to the World Bank and the Council of Europe; a member of the review body on education in Northern Ireland; and the co-founder and co-chairman of the standing conference on teacher education, North and South.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent