‘Professor Coolahan was a giant of education’ – Minister Bruton

Stephen Fernane

A deep sadness hangs over Tarbert and north Kerry following the sad passing of Professor John Coolahan, who died peacefully on Sunday surrounded by his family in Dublin.

A pivotal figure in Irish education, John Coolahan was Professor Emeritus of Education at NUI Maynooth and was this week described by Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, as a ‘giant of Irish education’.

John was deeply immersed in all aspects of education both as a teacher and educational innovator, as he was known for his policy-driven enthusiasm in developing initiatives for the Department of Education.

But while John left his mark on the educational profile of Ireland, his native Tarbert and north Kerry was never far from his thoughts. His loss is keenly felt there this week.

Secretary of Tarbert Development Association Joan Murphy, said ‘Johnny’ – as he was affectionately known – was a great friend of Tarbert and he loved Kerry.

“My husband is a first cousin of Johnny’s and we were always very friendly with him and his family. He came to Tarbert every summer and for any other occasion that was held here. He never missed a New Year’s Eve in Tarbert during my lifetime and would be on parade and singing a song in The Square. Even though he was a very busy man, he was always a part of Tarbert,” Joan said.

Moyvane Poet Gabriel Fitzmaurice, whose wife Brenda is a niece of John’s, said he was a tremendous people-person and anywhere John went people immediately took to him.

“He was a gregarious, outgoing and loving person and we’re all devastated. He loved socialising and singing songs. Johnny was always the same and his generosity and affability of spirit never wavered. There were no high notions with Johnny, he was just one of us.

“The sense of loss among his family and friends is palpable. Brenda has received calls from so many people involved in education and they’ve all been personally affected by this,” Gabriel said.

Prof Coolahan leaves behind a rich legacy. He is a former chair of the ‘Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector’ which was set up five years ago to make recommendations on the divestment of Catholic primary schools; he published three books and over 100 articles in several Irish and international journals; he lectured extensively abroad and was a member of the OECD review teams in education in ten countries which took place across four continents. He also served as a consultant to the World Bank and Council of Europe.

John’s remains will repose at St Mary’s Funeral Home in Tarbert from 6 – 8pm on Wednesday, with removal afterwards to St Mary’s Church. He will be buried following Mass on Thursday, June 7, in the adjoining cemetery. He is survived by his wife Mary, daughters Marie-Louise, Iseult and Deirdre, son William, his grandchildren, relatives and friends.